History opens up
Sites of house and garden tour included Booth hideout
Charles County is an area rich with histor y.
From the Revolutionary War period with General William Smallwood’s participation as a patriot and Thomas Stone’s signing of the Declaration of Independence to being one of the areas in Maryland known to hide Confederate soldiers from Union officials during the Civil War, the county has much to offer.
But some do not know how large of a role the county played in shaping the narrative of the Civil War and United States history.
John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln just five days after the Confederacy surrendered to the Union, hid in places throughout Southern Maryland and Charles County has “quite a few” of those marks according to Lincoln assassination historian Dave Taylor.
The Huckleberry House, owned by Thomas Jones, a farmer and a Confederate sympathizer, was Booth’s last stop before making it to the Potomac River and crossing over into Virginia territory. The house was opened to the public as part of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage last weekend.
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of architecturally significant properties in Maryland and hosts a month-long tour of various historical sites in the state each year.
Jones had a house on the river, which normally signaled a person was a Confederate sympathizer, Taylor said.
“They’d often send signals across the river to other sympathizers and grant Confederate soldiers safe passage into Virginia,” Taylor said.
Jones explicitly knew what Booth had done by assassinating Lincoln, Taylor said, but later stated he “did not necessarily agree” with the assassination.
But because of his loyalty to the Confederacy, he said, he felt obligated to help him. Even after Union investigators offered a $100,000 reward to anyone with information on where Booth was hiding.
Jones did not let Booth enter the Huckleberry home where he and his children were staying, but he did have him hide in a pine thicket a few miles down the road where Union soldiers did not search. He brought him food, water and other essentials as needed.
Over a four and a half day period, Taylor said, Jones hid Booth in the pine thicket before helping him move across the river. After a successful pilgrimage across the Potomac, Booth was later killed at the Garrett Farm across the Rappahanock River in Virginia.
The Huckleberry House, located on the Loyola Retreat House grounds, is just a one and a half story home where there is not a lot of space, Sheila Smith, who is a member of the society for the restoration of Port Tobacco, said. But there are small cracks and crevices that lead to plenty of unexpected places.
“It’s set up kind of like a dormitory ... inside, this becomes a big house relatively speaking,” Smith said. “We were cleaning up yesterday, and there was a little door. I thought it was a pantry. Well, it was another small staircase.”
As a child, Smith said, she would see the house and see the historic marker on it. But, normally, historic markers come with larger “mansion” homes, she said. Huckleberry House is unique because of that.
Huckleberry was probably one of the most popular landmarks on display for the day, Taylor said. Its presentation of a relatively unknown story compared to that of Dr. Samuel Mudd’s is appealing. The stories are related to one another, he said. Mudd set Booth’s broken leg.
Jones has some descendants, Taylor said, and many of them are still alive today. There are some with different last names, he said, because he had a lot of daughters. But some stopped by the house that weekend to see the history, he said.
“When you have 10 kids, you’re going to have descendants,” Taylor said.
The house was opened to the public for the first time in the 1960s, Smith said. Taylor said there has been some remodeling done to the home, but it still looks similar to illustrations from Jones’ time as the owner.
And it served its purpose for Jones, Taylor said, in rescuing Booth from Union forces. Eventually, 20 years later after hiding Booth, Jones set out to make a profit off of the story.
He moved to Baltimore in that time period, Taylor said, and told his story to a reporter who did some digging on Booth’s escape.
Eventually, Jones had a book written on Booth’s escape and died a year later in 1895. There are some still left and preserved but most of them were burned.
Despite never really turning a profit on the books, Jones died with his story told and preserved in history. It’s relatively unknown, Taylor said, but Jones’ story is very important to United States’ history.
“This is where the history happened,” Taylor said. “And Thomas Jones is a big part of that.”