Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    John Wilkes Booth Autograph Letter Signed "J.W.B. / alias Billy Bow Legs", 1 page, 8.5" x 10", Harford [County, Maryland], April 30, 1854. To "My Dear Friend" (Samuel William "Billy" O'Laughlen, brother of future Booth conspirator Michael O'Laughlen). A rare letter written ten days before his sixteenth birthday. He is doubtless writing from "Tudor Hall", the new house which his father had built on the family farm in rural Harford County. The letter is signed with a nickname whose origins are uncertain: John may have inherited to some degree his father's bandy-legs, but it doubtless owes something to the already well-known Seminole warrior who led his people in their third war (1855-58) against the encroaching Americans (ironically the real Billy Bowlegs would later fight alongside the Union army and against Booth's beloved Confederacy).

    The present letter of high spirits and humor indicates that the teenaged Booth was already familiar with drinking establishments; foreshadows his involvements with the opposite sex; and reflects an indifferent education. "...I have been here from school so long that I have forgot how to spell and write, so you must excuse it. There was a ball in Bel-Air night before last. I was invited but did not attend on account of the storm. The country is beautiful now, everything is in blossom and in about three weeks time squirrels will be fit for shooting. I should like you to come up then and give them a round. It was very stormy up here all last week, and the lightning knocked down nearly every telegraph post... I have got my eye on three girls out here. I hope I'll get enough. The next time you go to the Ne Plus drink my health and charge it to me... Give my respects to all who ask after me, and to those that don't, tell them to kiss my Bumbelbee. Thine till death." A capitalized postscript pleads, or orders: "ANSWER SOON." Booth's mention of squirrel-shooting suggests that one legacy of his father, at least, had been cast aside: the elder Booth, a whole-souled lover of nature, had forbidden the killing of any living thing on his farm, even flies.

    A thin strip of lined paper has been affixed along the left margin; with some soiling and a bit of paper loss affecting just two words at the close of the letter. Very bold ink and in near fine condition.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2008
    20th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,677

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Sold on Nov 20, 2008 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2021 September 25 - 26 Including the Mahoney Collection of George Washington Inaugural Buttons. Americana & Political Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    You reach a customer base that is in many ways completely unknown to the major auction houses, and your marketing to this base is as professional as one could hope for. As I continue to wind down my holdings.
    Michael Z.,
    Hawthorne, NY
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search