On the Edge of Discovery: Local Man Witnesses Lincoln's Assassination

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Originally posted April 27, 2012 

Kennett Square native, Isaac G.  Jaquette, Jr, witnessed Lincoln’s shooting in Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, five days after the surrender at Appomattox was a defining moment in America’s history that plunged the nation into a deep state of mourning.

 

 A telegram from U.H. Painter’s telegram collection says it best:

 West Chester April 15 [1865]

To Phila. Inquirer,

Our jubilant and joyous feelings over our late victories have been suddenly averted by the sad and horrible intelligence of the assassination of our beloved Chief magistrate every place public or private in the town is closed, bells tolling a solemn sound and the manifestation of grief beyond all description.  Signed S. M. P. [Samuel M. Painter]

  

This widely distributed CDV (carte-de-visite or photographic visiting card) of Lincoln ascending to heaven the in the arms of Washington found its way into the albums of many Chester County residents. According to photo historian William Darrah, this carte was known as “the apotheosis [glorification] of Lincoln” and was on the market one week after the assassination. CCHS’s copy has no photographer information, indicating that was probably a pirated copy. Photographs of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and the other conspirators sold briskly.

 That brings us to the story of a local person who witnessed history unfold. Isaac G. Jaquette, a saddler from Chatham, had served in Co H. 42nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, known as the Bucktails. He had been wounded at Chantilly Virginia and was discharged by Surgeon’s certificate September 15, 1862.  After the war he received an appointment as a clerk in the Adjutant General’s Office of the War Department and moved his family to Washington, D.C.

 It was on that fateful night in April that Jaquette was seated in the dress circle opposite Lincoln’s box in Ford’s Theatre. He could see the Lincolns with Major Rathbone who accompanied them when General Grant was called away on short notice to New York.

Jaquette recounts the scene in an article published in the Daily Local News, July 28, 1892, “The play was nearly through when the report of a pistol was heard…Lincoln had dropped his head on his arms apparently to rest them when suddenly there was a great shriek from Mrs. Lincoln, then a man jumped over the front of the box..” 

 Jaquette describes seeing Booth leap to the stage, injuring himself in the process. At first he thought it must be part of the play, but then pandemonium breaks out.

 “I and some others went up into the box after the President was carried out…” Jaquette describes seeing the preparations Booth had made to accomplish the deed including a whole cut in the wall that was wallpapered over to disguise it. He found a heavy stick which he used as a brace to hold the door closed once he entered the box.  “The stick..had dropped to the floor, and as they carried the President out his blood had nearly covered it. I picked it up and took it home.”  It was common for people in that era to collect “souvenirs” but this very gruesome one was in reality an important piece of evidence in the case against Booth and his accomplices.

 A week after the assassination, Jaquette learned that the soldiers were searching his rooms for the bloody stick. When he returned home, Jaquette was arrested. Detective Baker interviewed Jaquette, thinking he was another accomplice, instead he found a willing and credible witness. The pair went to Ford’s Theatre where Jaquette showed the detective what he observed when he visited the President’s box just after the shooting. Luckily, Jaquette was released and later was a witness at Booth’s trial. The stick was retained as evidence.

 This and other fascinating stories will be part of “On the Edge of Battle: Chester County in the Civil War” this fall.   Pamela Powell, Photo Archivist