David Kronemyer

Boston Corbett

March 15th, 2008 by David Kronemyer · 4 Comments

DAVID KRONEMYER: From my earliest days, I can remember my father telling me, “you are related to the man who killed John Wilkes Booth.” Booth, of course, shot Abraham Lincoln. The man who shot Booth – my ancestor – is Boston Corbett.

What makes this interesting is, in addition to killing Booth, Corbett went crazy. After killing Booth, he became “undisciplined and erratic.” He believed he was being pursued by anonymous Confederate sympathizers and members of secret societies. Somehow he became a delegate to a Republican County Convention. While there, he advanced to the platform, pointed a pistol at the Chairman, demanded silence, and proceeded to offer prayer. Later, as doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives, he brandished a large revolver, and declared the House adjourned. Following a Biblical injunction, he castrated himself, then went to live in a cave. He later was committed to a mental institution. See, e.g., “Boston Corbett Hopelessly Insane,” New York Times (Oct. 6, 1887).

I decided to see what I could do to track this down. I started with a website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormons. That site is www.familysearch.org. In addition to their general whackiness, the Mormons are known for their fastidiousness in maintaining genealogical records. Not just for themselves, but for everybody. Reason being, they think they can bless everybody retroactively, so they can go to Mormon heaven. I know this sounds crazy, and it is, but that’s what they believe. Consequently, they have the best genealogical records in the world.

I also found a couple of other informative sites, though for the time being I eschewed “pay” sites, which seem expensive, especially since you don’t know what you’re going to get. They most likely duplicate other information, simply compiling it differently (if that).

The Mormon site directed me to a link in the U.K., where I was able to confirm that Thomas P. Corbett (later p/k/a “BostonCorbett) was born on 1/29/1832 in Rochford, Worcester, England. Actually, that was the day he was christened, but that date frequently is substituted for birth date, in old records. Not too much of a difference, as they tended to christen their children quickly, so they’d get into heaven if they died soon after being born, as they frequently did.

His father was Thomas Corbett, and his mother was “Mary.” I can’t trace either of them back further.

There are several brief bios on the internet, all of which are based on a book by Byron Berkeley Johnson, Abraham Lincoln and Boston Corbett – with Personal Recollections of Each, published in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1914. A complete copy is downloadable at Google Books (thank you, Google!).

According to Personal Recollections, Corbett emigrated to the U.S. in 1839. There are, however, no records at Ellis Island in New York, which is the likeliest point of entry. There are some Corbetts in Nova Scotia, which maybe is an angle worth investigating – no reason he couldn’t have come in from London via Canada.

Boston COULD be the brother of Zoroaster, who was born on 5/12/1835. Zoroaster died on 2/28/1880. Zoroaster’s parents are Alexander Corbett, and Margarette Cook. Family lore has this spelled as “Marguerite,” which I knew wasn’t right immediately, as that’s an Hispanic spelling. “Margarette” most likely is French, which is much more plausible. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to go back any further.

I was able to confirm that Zoroaster married Josephine B. Cleveland on 10/2/1855. Lura Cleveland Corbett was born on 7/3/1870 (not in 1869, as per family genealogy). Zoroaster and Josephine had five children altogether; Lura was #3.

Zoroaster’s birthdate of 1835 syncs up nicely with Boston, who was born (christened) in 1832. The problem is, Zoroaster was born in Steuben County, New York, whereas we know Boston emigrated to the U.S. from the U.K. in 1839. Not a possible combination.

Further, none of the Boston bio information identifies any brothers or sisters. It doesn’t say he didn’t have any; it’s just silent on this point. Nor does Boston‘s bio identify his parents, and I haven’t been able to find any records about his parents, other than their names.

This is what makes me think that Thomas CorbettBoston‘s father – was Alexander’s brother. So Thomas Corbett‘s son – Boston – would be contemporaneous with Zoroaster. It fits, too, as “Zoroaster” is a weird name, and we know Boston was, shall we say, “Biblically inspired.” So, maybe he was influenced by his younger (by three years) cousin.

IF this is true, THEN: Boston is the son of the brother of my great-great-great-great grandmother.

Fun fact: I also can trace (through Josephine B. Cleveland) back to Grover Cleveland, the 22nd & 24th U.S. President. Cleveland was infamous for his various mistresses. In fact, in 1874, he fathered a child out of wedlock. The mother was Maria C. Halpin, a 33 year-old widow. The son was Oscar F. Cleveland. In an eerie echo of Mr. Corbett’s saga, Ms. Halpin later was committed to an insane asylum. In 1884, Cleveland was the Democratic candidate for President. Republicans made up the slogan, “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” The Democratic retort was: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”

Boston Corbett