Fleeing conspirators John Wilkes Booth and David Herold spent almost a week in Rich Hill gaining aid and comfort while federal soldiers scoured the region seeking those guilty of President Lincoln’s death. Confederate sympathizers and thick woods shielded the traitors until they could gain passage across the Potomac River.
Backstory and Context
Rich Hill is in what is now called Bel Alton, Maryland. The marker is located on Bel Alton Newtown Road.
John Wilkes Booth and David Herold were part of a plan to assassinate the top three executive officials of the U.S. government for the purpose of punishing the Union for its “aggression” against the Southern States and to allow the installation of more Confederate-leaning politicians. Booth had slain President Lincoln on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theater. Herold wounded but failed to slay Secretary of State William Seward. The two fled the nation’s capitol fleeing south to southern Maryland where Confederate sympathizers were expected to greet them as heroes.
The two fugitives had already left Dr. Mudd’s house where Booth received treatment and crutches for his broken left leg. From there they headed to Rich Hill where Colonel Samuel Cox might help them find their way to and across the Potomac River and freedom.
Despite getting directions from Dr. Mudd, Booth and Herold got lost. They stopped at random house, that of Oswell Swann, and paid him two dollars to guide them to “Hogan’s Folly,” the home of William Burtles, another Confederate sympathizer who lived two miles away. After gaining some whiskey from Swann, the two changed their minds and offered five more dollars if Swann would instead take them to Cox’s house. Herold made the mistake of threatening Swann if he told anyone about the two men. This created suspicion. Swann still helped the men, but days later Swann reported the two suspicious men to federal investigators.
On April 16, Booth and Herold arrived at Rich Hill, the home of Confederate sympathizer Colonel Samuel Cox. The two fugitives were given food and a place to sleep, but Cox’s home was too well known. Cox led the two men into a ‘pine thicket’ where they would wait for another sympathetic smuggler, neighbor Thomas Jones. Jones hid the men in a patch of woods near his house, giving them food and other aid. There Booth and Herold waited four and a half days until they got passage across the Potomac River. Cox was later convicted for assisting Booth’s escape.