Sergeant Thomas Patrick Corbett, also known as “Boston” Corbett, is famous for killing John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Corbett lived in Camden for several years, residing at 308 Mechanic Street and later on Pine Street below South 4th Street. He also briefly served as a pastor of the Memorial Methodist Protestant Church on Broadway below Kaighn Avenue.
While many accounts describe Corbett as mentally unstable, a more personal and accurate account can be found in Byron Berkley Johnson’s book, Abraham Lincoln and Boston Corbett, with Personal Recollection of Each, published in 1914. The book includes extensive quotes from Corbett himself.
Corbett served as a private in the 12th Regiment, New York State Militia in 1861 before enlisting as a Private in Company L, 16th Cavalry Regiment New York in August 1863 at the age of 31. He was promoted to Full Corporal but was later demoted to Full Private. Corbett was taken prisoner at Centrevill in Virginia in June 1864 and sent to the infamous Andersonville camp, from which he briefly escaped. He was paroled on November 19 and returned to his regiment after recovering from an illness he contracted at Andersonville. Corbett was promoted to Full Sergeant on October 31, 1864.
On April 25, 1865, Sergeant Corbett was part of a detail commanded by First Lieutenant E.P. Doherty that was tasked with arresting John Wilkes Booth, who had assassinated President Abraham Lincoln a few days prior. Although orders had been given to capture Booth alive, Sergeant Corbett shot and killed the assassin.
Doherty’s report of the incident praises Corbett:
I would call the attention of the commanding general to the efficiency of Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, who was untiring in his efforts to bring the murderers to justice. His soldierly qualifications have been tested before this occasion, and, in my judgment, are second to none in the service.First Lieutenant E. P. Doherty
After his encounter with John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865, Sergeant Corbett mustered out with Company L, 16th Cavalry Regiment New York on August 17, 1865 at Washington, DC.
According to George Reeser Prowell’s History of Camden County, New Jersey, Corbett served as the second pastor of Memorial Methodist Protestant Church on Broadway below Kaighn Avenue until 1867, after which he stayed in Camden until 1878. The 1870 Federal Census shows Corbett living with Isaac Boggs, his wife Sarah, and their daughter Anna in South Camden, where he worked as a preacher and a hatter, his pre-war occupation.
In 1877, a news article in the West Jersey Democrat reported that Corbett was living on Pine Street below South 4th Street. By 1878, he had become the pastor of the Independent Methodist Church at 328 Pine Street, where he also lived. That year, he moved to Cloud County, Kansas, where he struggled as a farmer on an 80-acre homestead.
In March 1880, Corbett was granted an invalid’s pension for his Civil War service. The G.A.R. helped him obtain a position as a doorkeeper for the Kansas State Legislature after the war. However, in 1887, he became unhinged and fired twelve shots, fortunately without injuring anyone. The next day, a judge declared him insane, and he was sent to an asylum.
In 1888, Boston Corbett managed to escape from the asylum. He paid a visit to a fellow ex-Andersonville prisoner, Richard Thatcher, in Kansas but vanished from public record soon after. Nobody knows what ultimately happened to Corbett. Several theories exist regarding his whereabouts, including dying in fires in Minnesota and Kansas, leaving the United States for Mexico, or spending his last days in Oklahoma. Over the years, many imposters came forward claiming to be Corbett, but all were eventually exposed as frauds.
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Camden Man Shot Lincoln’s Slayer
Philadelphia Inquirer – February 13, 1903 Boston Corbett, Who Killed Wilkes Booth, Remembered by Many Old Residents of the City.
Harper’s Weekly Excerpt
This is a half-page excerpt of a multi-page article about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, published in Harper’s Weekly. I
First Lieutenant Doherty’s Report
“Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry asked permission to enter the barn alone, which I refused. Booth all this time was very defiant and refused to surrender.”
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