On the evening of April 14, 1865, a famous actor and Confederate sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC. But did you know that there was a child in the theater who witnessed his assassination?
Samuel J. Seymour witnessed Lincoln’s assassination as a child. He made a live television appearance to talk about the experience and died two months after filming the show “I’ve Got a Secret.”
The Child that Witnessed Lincoln’s Assassination
Samuel J. Seymour was a resident of Talbot County, Maryland. His parents, George and Susan Seymour, owned a farm near Easton, Maryland. Later in life, he settled in Arlington, Virginia. He was a carpenter and contractor who spent most of his later life in Baltimore, Maryland. Mary Rebecca Twilley was his wife.
On popular television, Seymour claims to be the last surviving witness to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. In 1956, he appeared on the television show I’ve Got a Secret.
Seymour was only five years old on March 28, 1860, in Talbot County, Maryland, when he and his father traveled to Washington with the plantation’s owner, George Goldsborough, on business that had something to do with the legal status of their 150 slaves.
Maryland had abolished slavery the previous year, and states were in the process of ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, which would end legal slavery nationwide. Even though Maryland had abolished slavery at the time, many formerly enslaved people had an ambiguous status between enslaved and free. This could be the company to which Seymour alluded.
Mrs. George S. Goldsborough, Seymour’s godmother, and his nurse, Sarah Cook, accompanied him to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. Seymour recalls sitting in the balcony seats across from the Presidential Box and seeing the President slump over, and John Wilkes Booth drops from the box. (Source: Fords)
Were Samuel J. Seymour’s Claims Factual?
Mourning Lincoln, a book by historian Martha Hodes, excludes memoirs and accounts of the Lincoln assassination taken by witnesses after the spring of 1865. According to Hodes, such accounts can be extravagant descriptions of the events that greatly embellish the historical truth.
Seymour did not tell his story publicly until he was 94 years old. While he was consistent both times he described his experience, it’s odd that he waited so long to reveal this childhood memory.
Historians such as Timothy S. Good, who compiled 100 witness accounts, including Seymour’s, in his book We Saw Lincoln Shot, argue that the best witness accounts came from seats directly across from the Presidential Box.
This was because those patrons were most likely in the best position to witness the assassination. However, at the time of the assassination, ticketed seating was available on all three levels of Ford’s Theatre. No documented record exists of who attended or where Seymour, or anyone else, sat. As a result, no accounts or documents prove that Sarah Goode or Mrs. Goldsborough attended the theatre.
While it’s entirely possible that Seymour told friends and family about his experience privately before appearing on I’ve Got A Secret, The delayed nature of his claims was so long that even historians can never truly confirm his side of the story. (Source: Fords)