Boston Corbett,
Killer of John Wilkes Booth

Thomas P. ("Boston") Corbett was born in London, England, in 1832. Along with his family, he came to New York in 1839. He eventually became a hatter in Troy. He married but his wife died in childbirth.


Later he moved to Boston and continued working as a hatter there. (Some have speculated that the use of mercury in the hatters' trade was a causative factor in Corbett's later mental problems). He became a reborn evangelical Christian while in Boston from which he took a new name (he had been named "Thomas" when born in England). Reform became his purpose in life. Trying to imitate Jesus, he wore his hair very long. Acquaintances considered Corbett to be "different."

One vivid example of Corbett's eccentricity took place on July 16, 1858. In order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, Corbett took a pair of scissors and castrated himself. He then went to a prayer meeting and ate a full dinner. He took a walk. However, he eventually had to see a doctor. He ended up at the Massachusetts General Hospital and was treated by Dr. R.N. Hodges. The actual hospital record of Corbett's self-castration and treatment still exists. It can be read on p. 59 of Dr. John K. Lattimer's book entitled Lincoln and Kennedy: Medical & Ballistic Comparisons of Their Assassinations.

Corbett eagerly joined the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War. He re-enlisted three times finally becoming a sergeant in the 16th New York Cavalry. On April 24,1865, he was selected as one of the 26 cavalrymen from New York's 16th to pursue John Wilkes Booth. On April 26 Corbett and the others cornered Booth in a tobacco barn on the Virginia farm of Richard Garrett.

The barn was set on fire, and David Herold gave up. Booth remained inside. As Booth moved about inside the burning barn, Corbett shot him with a Colt revolver from a distance of a few yards. He did this through a large crack in the barn. Corbett, a religious fanatic, explained his actions by saying, "God Almighty directed me." Booth's body was dragged from the barn, and he died a few hours later. His spinal cord had been punctured by Corbett's bullet. Corbett was placed under technical arrest, but the charges were dropped by Secretary of War Stanton. Stanton said, "The rebel is dead. The patriot lives." Corbett received his share of the reward money which amounted to $1,653.85. In his official statement of May 1, 1865, Corbett claimed he shot Booth because he thought Lincoln's assassin was getting ready to use his weapons.

Afterwards Corbett returned to being a hatter, first in Boston at Samuel Mason's shop and later in Connecticut and New Jersey. At a soldiers' reunion in Caldwell, Ohio, in 1875, he flashed his revolver in the faces of several men who had alleged Booth was not really killed by Corbett. In 1878 he moved to Concordia, Kansas. There Corbett lived in a dugout a few miles outside town; the site has been marked by a local boy scout troop. His home was nothing more than a hole in a steep hill with a brown stone front and a roof made of brush, clay, and clapboards. (Corbett's dugout is located southeast of Concordia.

To visit the site, drive south on US 81 to the Cloud County Landfill Road, go two miles east, three miles south and one-half mile east. The monument is on the south side of the road in a pasture. The Cloud County Historical Museum has a great deal of information about Boston Corbett. To call the museum dial 785-243-2866). Corbett slept on a homemade bed and kept a variety of firearms. He purchased a flock of sheep. He won local respect for his ability to bring down crows and hawks. Once he appeared at a Sunday farmers' sporting event and declared, "It's wicked to play baseball on the Lord's day. Don't do it." Sometimes he gave religious lectures which often turned into wild incoherencies.

In 1887 he was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. On Tuesday, February 15, 1887, overhearing a conversation in which the legislature's opening prayer was mocked, Corbett jumped to his feet, pulled out his revolver, and waved his gun (some sources say "opened fire") at the 'heretics.' No one was hurt. Corbett was arrested, declared insane, and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane.

On May 26, 1888, Corbett jumped on a horse that had been left at the entrance to the asylum’s grounds and escaped. He went to Neodesha, Kansas, and stayed briefly with Richard Thatcher, a man he had met during his imprisonment at Andersonville during the Civil War. He said he was heading for Mexico.

Although a few stories exist, there is no absolute proof that Boston Corbett was ever heard from again. It was possible he became a traveling salesman for W.W. Gavitt & Co., a proprietary medicine concern. His territory may have been Texas and the Oklahoma Territory with his headquarters at Enid, Oklahoma. His final demise, however, still remains a mystery.

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