The Assassin’s Ring

3/19/2020 Chris Wills

​One of the most hated men in American history is John Wilkes Booth. But this was not always the case. Before assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865, he was a dashing actor who stole the hearts of many young women.

One of them was Isabel Sumner, who met Booth in Boston in June 1864, just about the time she turned 17.

Portrait of Booth he gave to Isabel Sumner
A photo of Isabel Sumner
Isabel Sumner

Booth the Romantic

The two corresponded for a while that summer, but Booth told her not to show the letters to anyone else. Instead of addressing his letters to her parents' house, Booth would send them to her post office where Sumner would pick them up.

He also gave her a pearl ring with "JWB to IS" engraved on the inside.

What Did Isabel Do With the Ring?

Sumner did not destroy the letters after Booth's crime. She kept them secret until her death in 1927. No other letters from Booth to young women are known to survive, so these documents offer a rare glimpse into that part of Booth's life. You can find them here.

The ring and letters are part of the Taper Collection, which the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation purchased for the presidential library.

Learn More: 

  • Link to a related blog post
  • exhibit page
  • library resource
  • Taper Collection

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