Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Boston Corbett

On April 14, 1865 President Abraham Lincoln was shot in Fords Theatre by John Wilkes Booth. Booth then leaped onto the stage below and shouted "Sic semper tyrannis" then escaped despite having a broken leg. Booth escaped on horse back toward southern Maryland and across the Potomac River into Virginia. Pursuers of John Wilkes Booth tracked him to Richard Garrett's farm in northern Virginia. The soldiers found Booth in the Garrett's tobacco barn. The soldiers set the barn on fire and Boston Corbett, saying he saw Booth raise and aim his gun, shot Booth through the neck piercing three vertabrae and partially severing his spinal cord. John Wilkes Booth died three hours later.

Corbett was born in London, England in 1832 and migrated to New York in 1839. Following his wife's death in childbirth, Corbett moved to Boston where he became a born-again evangelical Christian and changed his name from Thomas to Boston. In 1858, in order to avoid the temptation of prostitution, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors. Corbett joined the Union army at the start of the Civil War and re-enlisted three times eventually being promoted to sergeant. In 1864, Corbett was captured by the Confederate army but was exchanged and send back to his unit. In 1865, after shooting and killing John Wilkes Booth, Corbett was arrested for not obeying orders but the charges were dropped.

Shortly after being discharged from the Army, Corbett went back to his original trade of being a hatter in Boston, then Connecticut then New Jersey. In 1878, he moved to Concordia, Kansas where he lived in a hole dug in a gully. In 1887, he was appointed assistant doorkeeper at the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. Overhearing a conversation where the opening prayer was mocked, Corbett rushed in brandishing a gun. Corbett was arrested, declared insane and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. In 1888, Corbett escaped the asylum and went to Neodesha, Kansas and said he was going to go to Mexico.

It is said that Corbett instead took up residence in the woods near Hinckley, Minnesota. In 1894, the Great Hinckley Fire broke out due to a dry summer . The fire burned 420 square miles and it is known that Corbett was last seen in the area although it hasn't been proven that he died in the fire. "Thomas Corbett" is listed among the dead and missing. In Concordia, a local boy scout troop constructed a roadside monument to Boston Corbett and erected a sign marking the location of the hole Corbett once occupied.

Thomas "Boston" Corbett, circa 1860-1865. Picture from the Library of Congress.