Saturday, August 8, 2020

The First-Hand Story of Samuel Seymour, the Last Living Witness to President Lincoln's Assassination.

Samuel J. Seymour was from Talbot County, Maryland. His parents George and Susan Seymour had a farm near Easton, Maryland. He later lived in Arlington, Virginia. He worked as a carpenter and contractor and lived most of his later life in Baltimore, Maryland. He married Mary Rebecca Twilley. 

On April 14, 1865, when he was five years old, Sarah Cook, his nurse along with Mrs. Goldsborough who was Seymour's godmother (the wife of his father's employer) took him to see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., where they sat in the balcony across the theater from the presidential box. He saw Lincoln come into the box, waving and smiling. Later, "All of a sudden a shot rang out... and someone in the President's box screamed. I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat." Seymour watched John Wilkes Booth jump from the box to the stage. He remembers that not understanding what had happened to Lincoln, he was very concerned for Booth, who broke his leg in the jump.

Mr. Seymour gave his account of the assassination to biographer Frances Spatz Leighton. The article was published in the February 7, 1954 issue of The American Weekly.
This is an eyewitness account of one of history’s great tragedies — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln — told by the only living witness left to the fateful drama enacted at Ford’s Theater on the night of April 14th, 1865. The only living witness recreates the drama of that tragic night.

I Saw Lincoln Shot by Samuel J. Seymour

Even if I were to live another 94 years, I’d still never forget my first trip away from home as a little shaver five years old.

My father was overseer on the Goldsboro estate inTalbot County, Maryland, and it seems that he and Mr. Goldsboro has to go to Washington on business — something to do with the legal status of their 150 slaves. Mrs. Goldsboro asked if she couldn’t take me and my nurse, Sarah Cook, along with her and the men, for a little holiday.

We made the 150-mile trip by coach and team and I remember how stubborn those horses were about being loaded onto an old fashioned side-wheeler steamboat for part of the journey.

It was going on toward supper time — on Good Friday, April 14th, 1865 — when we finally pulled up in front of the biggest house I ever had seen. It looked to me like a thousand farmhouses all pushed together, but my father said it was a hotel.

I was scared. I had seen men with guns, all along the street, and every gun seemed to be aimed right at me. I was too little to realize that all of Washington was getting ready to celebrate because Lee has surrendered a few days earlier.

I complained tearfully that I couldn’t get out of the coach because my shirt was torn — anything to delay the dread moment — but Sarah dug into her bag and found a big safety pin.

“You hold still now, Sammy,” she said, “and I’ll fix the tear right away.”  I shook so hard, from fright, that she accidentally stabbed me with the  pin and I hollered, “I’ve been shot!  I’ve been shot!”

When I finally had been rushed upstairs, shushed and scrubbed and put into fresh clothes, Mrs. Goldsboro said she had a wonderful surprise.

“Sammy, you and Sarah and I are going to a play tonight,” she explained. “A real play — and President Abraham Lincoln will be there.”

I thought a play would be a game like tag and I liked the idea. We waited a while outside the Ford Theater for tickets, then walked upstairs and sat in hard rattan-backed chairs.

Mrs. Goldsboro pointed directly across the theater to a colorfully draped box. “See those flags, Sammy?” she asked. “That’s where President Lincoln will sit.”  When he finally did come in, she lifted me high so I could see. He was a tall, stern-looking man. I guess I just thought he looked stern because of his whiskers, because he was smiling and waving to the crowd.

When everyone sat down again and the actors started moving and talking, I began to get over the scared feeling I’d had ever since we arrived inWashington. But that was something I never should have done.

All of a sudden a shot rang out — a shot that always will be remembered — and someone in the President’s box screamed. I sawLincolnslumped forward in his seat. People started milling around and I thought there’d been another accident when one man seemed to tumble over the balcony rail and land on the stage.

“Hurry, hurry, let’s go help the poor man who fell down,” I begged.

But by that time John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, had picked himself up and was running for dear life. He wasn’t caught until 12 days later when he was tracked to a barn where he was hiding.

Only a few people noticed the running man, but pandemonium broke loose in the theater, with everyone shouting:

“Lincoln’s shot! The President’s dead!”

Mrs. Goldsboro swept me into her arms and held me close and somehow we got outside the theater. That night I was shot 50 times, at least in my dreams — and I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.
Two months before his death, Seymour appeared on the February 9, 1956, broadcast of the CBS TV panel show I've Got a Secret. 
I've Got A Secret - February 9, 1956

After arriving in New York City he suffered a fall, which left him with a large swollen knot above his right eye. Host Garry Moore, after bringing Seymour on stage, explained that he and the show's producers had urged Seymour to forgo his appearance on the show; that Seymour's doctor had left the choice up to his patient; and that Seymour very much wanted to go on.

During the game, Seymour was first questioned by panelist Bill Cullen, who quickly surmised from Seymour's age that his secret was somehow connected with the American Civil War, then correctly guessed that it had political significance and involved a political figure. Jayne Meadows then guessed that the political figure was Lincoln, and finally that Seymour had witnessed Lincoln's assassination. Because Seymour smoked a pipe rather than cigarettes, the show's sponsor, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company gave him a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco instead of the usual prize of a carton of Winston cigarettes.
Samuel J. Seymour
He died on April 12, 1956, at his daughter's house in Arlington, Virginia, survived by five children, thirteen grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren. Mr. Seymour is buried in Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.
Of the many firsthand accounts given in books like "We Saw Lincoln Shot" by Timothy Good, I prefer this one by Mr. Seymour. There is an innocence in his account that can’t be found anywhere else. While Major Henry Rathbone and others give more details regarding the actual event, young “Sammy” gives a unique perspective. We become more connected to this child and his young life. We can empathize in his sense of uncertain fear and even feel the disappointment he must have had when he experienced what a “play” truly was. Most of all, I marvel at Sammy’s kindness and compassion. Ignorant of the context of what had occurred, this boy only wanted to help the man that fell.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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