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Lot #8028
Lincoln Assassination: W. Martin Jones

Riveting eyewitness account of Lincoln's death—"Sharp and clear amidst the silence that reigned in that vast theatre, breaking the stillness but for an instant, is the report of a pistol"

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Riveting eyewitness account of Lincoln's death—"Sharp and clear amidst the silence that reigned in that vast theatre, breaking the stillness but for an instant, is the report of a pistol"

Leather-bound ledger belonging to W. Martin Jones and containing his eyewitness account of President Lincoln’s assassination at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. The ledger measures 7 x 8.25 and is gilt-stamped on the front, “W. Martin Jones, G. W. C. T.—I. O. of G. T., Rochester, N. Y.,” with the first free end page dated “July 4, 1881,” and the balance consisting of 43 pages of detailed narrative relating to Jones’s work in the State Department, the political climate of both 1865 and 1881, and most interestingly, his personal account of the day and moment Lincoln was shot.

In part: “But I weary you again with accessories. What I have said, however, will explain to you the surprise that I experienced when, rising to my feet as more than a thousand people rose on that eventful night to waive with kerchief a welcome to, and to join in the glad chorus of cheers in honor of, Abraham Lincoln as he came cheerily and happily into the theatre in the middle of the first scene of the first act of The American Cousin, I observed that he came wholly unattended by guard or assistance other than his wife, Miss Harris and Major Rathburn…The fact of his being so unattended by guard was not due to any neglect of duty on the part of the faithful Secretary of War, Mr. Edwin M. Stanton…he had persistently declined such protection, and had gone for the most part of his administration in and out among his fellow citizens—often with little Tad by his side, blessings on the dear boy’s memory!…Of all the sweet smiles that I ever saw play upon the manly face of Abraham Lincoln that was sweetest and longest to be remembered that lit it up on that night of the 14th day of April, 1865, when, pausing at the door of the box that he was about to enter, he turned and bowed in grateful acknowledgment of an enthusiastic greeting that had welcome him to the play…How fresh it all comes back to me now. It seems, as I repeat the story to you tonight, almost as if it were but last evening that I sat watching the progress of the play as Laura Keene and her associates were making every effort to excel their best endeavors and gain an admiring approval from their distinguished auditors.

How vividly the picture comes before me now, when in the second scene of the third act the American Cousin salutes the retiring English relative with the remark ‘I guess I know enough to turn you inside out,’ and then stands alone upon the stage while the audience clap their hands in admiration. The applause subsides, the American Cousin moves toward the rear of the platform, apparently waiting for some one to join him, and the great house is still. Hark! What is that? Sharp and clear amidst the silence that reigned in that vast theatre, breaking the stillness but for an instant, is the report of a pistol. Then everything is quiet again…I saw a moment after…the well recognized assassin step to the front of the President’s box, place a hand upon the balustrade and instantly spring to the stage below. His foot caught in the folds of the flag that was gathered in graceful festoons about the President’s box and he fell to one side as he struck the stage. Rising quickly to his feet, lifting high above his head a glittering blade, with face almost as white as marble and hissing the words, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis!’ he strode diagonally across the stage and disappeared behind the scenes.”

Also of great interest is Jones’s mentioning of the condition of President Garfield, who himself had been the target of an assassin’s bullet only two days prior: “Fifty million united people are waiting tonight to hear the glad intelligence that James A. Garfield is out of danger, and as we listen to the click, click, click of the telegraph for the welcome words that shall convey still further assurance to us let us see if we cannot draw a lesson from the disaster that has come so near to shrouding the nation in mourning.” After showing initial signs of recovery, Garfield would die from infection in September. An additional six pages annotated in pencil by Jones are laid loosely within. In fine condition, with wear to the covers and some of the page edges.

Seated only twenty feet away from the presidential box, William Martin Jones was among the nearly 1,700 spectators packed inside Ford’s Theater on the night of April 14, 1865. A native of Manlius, New York, Jones served as the private secretary for Senator Edwin D. Morgan and then, in 1864, served as the private secretary to William H. Seward, then Secretary of State, and to his son, Frederick W. Seward, positions which led to his promotion as chief clerk of the Consular Bureau in the State Department. An engrossing and extremely detailed eyewitness account of the night Lincoln was killed, and perhaps the very finest and most exhaustive example ever offered for sale.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Letter Collection
  • Dates: #553 - Ended June 28, 2018