Peyton House (Port Royal)
Backstory and Context
Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, escaped into Virginia eight days after the shooting in Washington, D.C. Believing himself a hero for the deed, Booth was surprised at the lack of celebration and hospitality he received from Confederate sympathizers along the way. the further he fled, the less help he received.
The Peyton House, also known as the Brockenbrough House and the Brokenbrough-Peyton House, was one of Port Royal, Virginia’s first and most famous 19th century mansions. After owner Champe Brockenbrough’s widow died in 1849, the mansion was occupied by the Valentine Peyton family and the house became known as the Peyton House.
John Wilkes Booth and co-conspirator David Herold left Cleydael, the home of Dr. Stuart, with no more help than a begrudgingly-given warm dinner. Instead of the warm beds of Stuart’s gentlemanly estate, they were sent off to the nearby sharecropper’s shack belonging to William Lucas, a free black man. Booth was a notorious hater of blacks and so evicted the Lucas family so the fugitives could sleep in the house by themselves. The next morning, Booth hired Lucas’s son, Charley, to drive him to Port Conway on the Rappahannock River. While waiting for passage across the river, the fugitives met three Confederate soldiers—A.R. Bainbridge, Lt. Mortimer Bainbridge Ruggles, and William Jett. Herold could not protect the fugitives’ secret and proudly claimed "We are the assassinators of the President. Yonder is J. Wilkes Booth, the man who killed Lincoln." The two parties rode the ferry together to Port Royal.
On April 23, 1865, Willie Jett led the fugitives to the Peyton Randolph House. Desperate for welcome, the two Confederate conspirators were disappointed again. They were initially invited inside, believing Booth to be a wounded Confederate soldier. But Randolph Peyton was not home and his two sisters, Sarah and Lucy, balked at the men staying the night. They considered males guests without “the man of the house” present to be inappropriate and so Sarah suggested Jet take the men elsewhere. She first suggested the home of George Washington Catlett across the street but they were not home either. So Sarah suggested they find accommodations three miles down the road at the Garrett farm. Booth was once unceremoniously again sent away. He did not know it, but the Peyton House would be the last home Booth ever left alive.
Days later, on April 26, Union investigator Everton Conger of the 16th New York Cavalry learned of the five Confederates who crossed the Rappahannock together. They found Willie Jet at the Star Hotel in Bowling Green, dragged him out of bed, and demanded to know "Where are the two men who came with you across the river?" Jett told the soldiers what he knew, that they were on their way to Garrett’s farm.
Largely abandoned today, efforts are underway to restore the house.