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John Wilks BOOTH (1838-1865)
Chapter 2.

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The family patriarch, JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH, Sr.; b. May 1, 1796, in London, England; 6. pg387 He died of Fever Nov. 30, 1852, at the age of 57 years, on the steamboat J. S. Chenoweth while returning home from a California tour; 6. pg387 He made his London debut in 1813 (debut in 1815 as per 6. pg387 and, with his portrayal of Richard III in 1817, became the chief rival of the celebrated EDMUND KEAN. He Married 1st, Date Unknown) in London, England to ADELAIDE DELANNOY; 6. pg387 b. Unknown; d. Unknown; Daughter of Unknown Parents; They had One Son born to this First Union; 6. pg387 He Eloped to America in 1821, with his Second Wife Miss MARY ANN HOLMES; [REF:#6. pg387 b. Unknown; d. Unknown; Daughter of Unknown Parents; They hand Ten Children born to this Second Union; In America he helped to promote the tradition of tragic acting on the American stage:

2nd Son: JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH, Jr., b. Dec. 22, 1821, d. Sept. 16, 1883, at the age of 62 years, was the eldest of his ten children. Although himself an actor, JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH, Jr. had a more profitable career as a theater manager notablt in California and New York.

3rd Son: EDWIN THOMAS BOOTH, b. Nov. 13, 1833, on his father Maryland Farm; d. June 7, 1893, at the age of 59 years, carried on his father's tradition by becoming the finest internationally known American tragedian of the 19th century. He debuted with his father at the age of 16. In 1854 he toured Australia with actress LAURA KEENE, and in 1861 he appeared in London, although without much success. This is probably because his acting style was more restrained and subtle than that to which audiences were accustomed. EDWIN THOMAS BOOTH also managed (1863-67) New York's Winter Garden Theater, acted a record 100 consecutive performances in the role of Hamlet, and built New York's BOOTH's Theater (still in use) after the Winter Garden burned down. His career ebbed after his brother JOHN WILKES BOOTH assassinated President ABRAHAM LINCOLN, but it revived again in the late 1800s. He helped to found The Players Club in 1888, which is still located on New York's Gramercy Park.

4th Son: JOHN WILKES BOOTH, born on his fathers farm near Bel Air, MD. May 10, 1838; (born 26 Aug. 1838 as per 2., but 3. & 6. both list 10 May. ..prs) He was killed on Apr. 26, 1865, at the age of 26 years, 11 months and 16 days, at RICHARD GARRET'S farm, near Boling Green, VA; He was also a noted Shakespearean actor. Yet his wild and erratic behavior prevented him from achieving genuine acclaim as an actor. His advocacy of slavery and support of the Confederacy during the Civil War engendered a deep hatred in him for the newly elected President ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

JOHN WILKES BOOTH grew up there in Belair, Maryland as a wild young lad, handsome in appearance like all the BOOTHs, but, also like them, erratic and unpredictable. He began his career in the theater at an early age and was earning more than $20,000 a year in his early 20's 3 pg vi. In 1861, JOHN WILKES BOOTH, age 23, was himself a popular actor. He sided with the Confederacy although his family generally supported the Union. JOHN WILKES BOOTH did not serve actively, but continued to perform in the North, possibly a Confederate secret agent spying for the South.

He spent the winter of 1864 in Washington, D.C., hatching out a wild scheme to kidnap ABRAHAM LINCOLN alive and take him down to Richmond, Virginia.

After General ROBERT E. LEE surrendered and Richmond was captured, he changed his plans. He would kill LINCOLN, GRANT, Vice President JOHNSON, and Secretary of State SEWARD. To help him, he got together a weird band that could hardly have carried out a plan to rob a corner newsstand. The plot to kill GRANT and JOHNSON went astray. 3 pg vi.

It was at Mrs. MARY E. (JENKINS) SURRATT, Boarding House on 541 H Street. (Today the house stands at 604 H Street...prs) that the plot to kidnap or assassinate ABRAHAM LINCOLN and all of the others by JOHN WILKES BOOTH and eight or nine other conspirators, four which were convicted and hanged.

But their several attempts failed. Learning that the president was to attend a performance by LAURA KEENE in Our American Cousin at Washington, D.C.'s Ford Theatre (Good Friday, Apr. 14, 1865), JOHN WILKES BOOTH and his band hastily mapped out a plan to assassinate not only LINCOLN but also Vice- President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward, hoping to thus promote the South's victory in the war.

JOHN WILKES BOOTH entered the unguarded presidential box during the third act of the play, shot LINCOLN through the back of the head with a pistol, and then leaped down onto the stage, shouting "Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!" He managed to escape to a waiting horse through a rear alley despite a broken left leg.

Assassination of LINCOLN Secretary Stanton's Official Announcement This evening at about 9:30 P. M., at Ford's Theater, the President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. LINCOLN, Miss Harris, and Major Rathbone, was shot by an assassin who suddenly entered the box and approached the President. The assassin then leapt upon the stage, brandished a large dagger or knife, and made his escape in the rear of the theater. The pistol-ball entered the back of the President's head and penetrated nearly through the head. The wound is mortal. The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted and is now dying.

About the same hour an assassin, whether the same or not, entered Mr. Seward's apartments, and under the pretense of having a prescription, was shown to the Secretary's sick chamber. The assassin immediately rushed to the bed, and inflicted two or three stabs on the throat and two on the face. It is hoped the wounds may not be mortal. My apprehension is that they will prove fatal. The nurse alarmed Mr. Frederick Seward, who was in an adjoining room, and hastened to the door of his father's room, when he met the assassin, who inflicted upon him one or more dangerous wounds. The recovery of Frederick Seward is doubtful.

It is not probable that the President will live throughout the night. General Grant and wife were advertised to be at the theater this evening, but he started for Burlington at six o'clock this evening. At a cabinet meeting at which General Grant was present, the subject of the state of the country, and the prospect of a speedy peace was discust. The President was very cheerful and hopeful, and spoke very kindly of General Lee and others of the Confederacy, and of the establishment of government in Virginia. All the members of the cabinet, except Mr. Seward, are now in attendance upon the President.

I have seen Mr. Seward, but he and Frederick are both unconscious. Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. April 14, 1865. (Source: Dated 14 Apr. 1865; Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9 Pg.19-20)

Secretary of War EDWARD McMASTERS STANTON (1814-1869), born at Steubenville, Ohio; Charged that JOHN WILKS BOOTH had acted on the orders of the Confederate leaders. The United States government issued a proclamation stating that JEFFERSON DAVIS and two other Confederate officials had actually plotted the murder. Rewards were offered for their arrest. Many Northerners agreed with a Washington newspaper, which said that JEFFERSON DAVIS had "guided the assassin's trigger and dagger... The tragedy- cracked player who did the deed... was no such criminal as the cold-blooded politician who laid out the work." Later it became clear that JOHN WILKES BOOTH had acted on his own.

The Assassination Of LINCOLN By: John George Nicolay and John Hay [NICOLAY and HAY, from whose "Abraham LINCOLN: A History," this account is taken, by permission of the Century Company, were respectively Secretary and Assistant Secretary to President LINCOLN from the time he took office until his tragic death. Nicolay had been an Illinois newspaper editor, when he and LINCOLN formed a friendship. Hay, six years younger than Nicolay, studied law in LINCOLN's office at Springfield and accompanied the President-elect on his memorable journey to Washington. Both these biographers were present at the death-bed of the "Great Emancipator," who is here eloquently characterized as "the greatest man of his time, in the glory of the most stupendous success in our history, the idolized chief of a nation already mighty, with illimitable vistas of grandeur to come . . . . on whom quick death was to descend -- the central figure, we believe, of the great, and good men of the century.]

FROM the very beginning of his Presidency Mr. LINCOLN had been constantly subject to the threats of his enemies and the warnings of his friends. The threats came in every form; his mail was infested with brutal and vulgar menace, mostly anonymous, the proper expression of vile and cowardly minds. The warnings were not less numerous; the vaporings of village bullies, the extravagances of excited secessionist politicians, even the drolling of practical jokers, were faithfully reported to him by zealous or nervous friends. Most of these communications received no notice. In cases where there seemed a ground for inquiry it was made, as carefully as possible, by the President's private secretary and by the War Department, but always without substantial result. Warnings that appeared to be most definite, when they came to be examined proved too vague and confused for further attention. The President was too intelligent not to know he was in some danger. Madmen frequently made their way to the very door of the Executive offices and sometimes into Mr. LINCOLN's presence. He had himself so sane a mind, and a heart so kindly even to his enemies, that it was hard for him to believe in a political hatred so deadly as to lead to murder. He would sometimes laughingly say, "Our friends on the other side would make nothing by exchanging me for Hamlin," the Vice- President having the reputation of more radical views than his chief.

He knew indeed that incitements to murder him were not uncommon in the South. An advertisement had appeared in a paper of Selma, Alabama, in December, 1864, opening a subscription for funds to effect the assassination of LINCOLN, Seward, and Johnson before the inauguration. There was more of this murderous spirit abroad than was suspected. A letter was found in the Confederate Archives from one Lieutenant Alston, who wrote to Jefferson Davis immediately after LINCOLN's reelection offering to "rid his country of some of her deadliest enemies by striking at the very heart's blood of those who seek to enchain her in slavery." This shameless proposal was referred, by Mr. Davis's direction, to the Secretary of War; and by Judge Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War, was sent to the Confederate Adjutant-General indorsed "for attention." We can readily imagine what reception an officer would have met with who should have laid before Mr. LINCOLN a scheme to assassinate Jefferson Davis. It was the uprightness and the kindliness of his own heart that made him slow to believe that any such ignoble fury could find a place in the hearts of men in their right minds. Although he freely discussed with the officials about him the possibilities of danger, he always considered them remote, as is the habit of men constitutionally brave, and positively refused to torment himself with precautions for his own safety. He would sum the matter up by saying that both friends and strangers must have daily access to him in all manner of ways and places; his life was therefore in reach of any one, sane or mad, who was ready to murder and be hanged for it; that he could not possibly guard against all danger unless he were to shut himself up in an iron box, in which condition he could scarcely perform the duties of a President; by the hand of a murderer he could die only once; to go continually in fear would be to die over and over. He therefore went in and out before the people, always unarmed, generally unattended. He would receive hundreds of visitors in a day, his breast bare to pistol or knife. He would walk at midnight, with a single secretary or alone, from the Executive Mansion to the War Department, and back. He would ride through the lonely roads of an uninhabited suburb from the White House to the Soldiers' Home in the dusk of evening, and return to his work in the morning before the town was astir. He was greatly annoyed when, late in the war, it was decided that there must be a guard stationed at the Executive Mansion, and that a squad of cavalry must accompany him on his daily ride; but he was always reasonable and yielded to the best judgment of others.

Four years of threats and boastings, of alarms that were not founded, and of plots that came to nothing, thus passed away; but precisely at the time when the triumph of the nation over the long insurrection seemed assured, and a feeling of peace and security was diffused over the country, one of the conspiracies, not seemingly more important than the many abortive ones, ripened in the sudden heat of hatred and despair. A little band of malignant secessionists, consisting of:

JOHN WILKES BOOTH, an actor, of a famous family of players; LEWIS THORNTON POWELL, alias LEWIS PAYNE; PAINE; Rev. WOOD, a disbanded rebel soldier from Florida; GEORGE T. ATZERODT, formerly a coachmaker, but more recently a spy and blockade runner of the Potomac; DAVID E. HEROLD, a young druggist's clerk; SAMUEL B. ARNOLD, Maryland secessionists and Confederate soldier; MICHAEL O'LAUGHLIN, Maryland secessionists and Confederate soldier; and JOHN H. SURRATT, had their ordinary rendezvous at the house of Mrs. MARY E. (JENKINS) SURRATT, the widowed mother of the last named, formerly a woman of some property in Maryland, but reduced by reverses to keeping a small boarding-house in Washington.

JOHN WILKES BOOTH, was the leader of the little coterie. He was a young man of 26, strikingly handsome, with a pale olive face, dark eyes, and that ease and grace of manner which came to him of right from his theatrical ancestors. He had played for several seasons with only indifferent success; his value as an actor lay rather in his romantic beauty of person than in any talent or industry he possessed. He was a fanatical secessionist; had assisted at the capture and execution of John Brown, and had imbibed, at Richmond and other Southern cities where he had played, a furious spirit of partisanship against LINCOLN and the Union party. After the reelection of Mr. LINCOLN, which rang the knell of the insurrection, JOHN WILKES BOOTH, like many of the secessionists North and South, was stung to the quick by disappointment. He visited Canada, consorted with the rebel emissaries there, and at last -- whether or not at their instigation cannot certainly be said -- conceived a scheme to capture the President and take him to Richmond. BOOTH spent a great part of the autumn and winter inducing a small number of loose fish of secession sympathies to join him in this fantastic enterprise. He seemed always well supplied with money, and talked largely of his speculations in oil as a source of income; but his agent afterwards testified that he never realized a dollar from that source; that his investments, which were inconsiderable, were a total loss. The winter passed away and nothing was accomplished.

On the 4th of March, 1865 JOHN WILKES BOOTH, was at the Capitol and created a disturbance by trying to force his way through the line of policemen who guarded the passage through which the President walked to the east front of the building. His intentions at this time are not known; he afterwards said he lost an excellent chance of killing the President that day. There are indications in the evidence given on the trial of the conspirators that they suffered some great disappointment in their schemes in the latter part of March, and a letter from SAMUEL ARNOLD to JOHN WILKES BOOTH, dated March 27, 1865 showed that some of them had grown timid of the consequences of their contemplated enterprise and were ready to give it up. ARNOLD advised BOOTH, before going further, "to go and see how it will be taken in R----d." But timid as they might be by nature, the whole group was so completely under the ascendancy of BOOTH that they did not dare disobey him when in his presence; and after the surrender of General Lee, in an access of malice and rage which was akin to madness, he called them together and assigned each his part in the new crime, the purpose of which had arisen suddenly in his mind out of the ruins of the abandoned abduction scheme. This plan was as brief and simple as it was horrible. POWELL, alias PAYNE, the stalwart, brutal, simple- minded boy from Florida, was to murder Seward; ATZERODT, the comic villain of the drama, was assigned to remove Andrew Johnson; BOOTH reserved for himself the most difficult and most conspicuous role of the tragedy; it was HEROLD's duty to attend him as a page and aid in his escape. Minor parts were assigned to stage-carpenters and other hangers- on, who probably did not understand what it all meant. HEROLD, ATZERODT, and JOHN H. SURRATT had previously deposited at a tavern at Surrattsville, Maryland, owned by Mrs. MARY E. (JENKINS) SURRATT, but kept by a man named JOHN M. LLOYD, a quantity of ropes, carbines, ammunition and whisky, which were to be used in the abduction scheme. On the 11th of April 1865 Mrs. MARY E. (JENKINS) SURRATT, being at the tavern, told LLOYD to have the shooting-irons in readiness, and on Friday, the 14th, 1865 again visited the place and told him they would probably be called for that night.

The preparations for the final blow were made with feverish haste; it was only about noon of the 14th April that BOOTH learned the President was to go to Ford's Theater that night. It has always been a matter of surprise in Europe that he should have been at a place of amusement on Good Friday; but the day was not kept sacred in America, except by the members of certain churches. It was not, throughout the country, a day of religious observance. The President was fond of the theater; it was one of his few means of recreation. It was natural enough that, on this day of profound national thanksgiving, he should take advantage of a few hours' relaxation to see a comedy. Besides, the town was thronged with soldiers and officers, all eager to see him; it was represented to him that appearing occasionally in public would gratify many people whom he could not otherwise meet. Mrs. LINCOLN had asked General and Mrs. Grant to accompany her; they had accepted, and the announcement that they would be present was made as an advertisement in the evening papers; but they changed their minds and went north by an afternoon train. Mrs. LINCOLN then invited in their stead Miss Harris and Major Rathbone, the daughter and the stepson of Senator Harris. The President's carriage called for these young people, and the four went together to the theater. The President had been detained by visitors, and the play had made some progress when he arrived. When he appeared in his box the band struck up "Hail to the Chief," the actors ceased playing, and the audience rose, cheering tumultuously; the President bowed in acknowledgment of this greeting and the play went on.

From the moment BOOTH ascertained the President's intention to attend the theater in the evening his every action was alert and energetic. He and his confederates, HEROLD, JOHN H. SURRATT and ATZERODT, were seen on horseback in every part of the city. He had a hurried conference with Mrs. MARY E. (JENKINS) SURRATT before she started for LLOYD's tavern in Surrattville. He intrusted to an actor named MATTHESW a carefully prepared statement of his reasons for committing the murder which he charged him to give to the publisher of the "National Intelligencer," but which MATTHEWS, in the terror and dismay of the night, burned without showing it to any one. BOOTH was perfectly at home in Ford's Theater, where he was greatly liked by all the employees, without other reason than the sufficient one of his youth and good looks. Either by himself or with the aid of his friends he arranged his whole plan of attack and escape during the afternoon. He counted upon address and audacity to gain access to the small passage behind the President's box; once there, he guarded against interference by an arrangement of a wooden bar to be fastened by a simple mortise in the angle of the wall and the door by which he entered, so that the door could not be opened from without. He even provided for the contingency of not gaining entrance to the box by boring a hole in its door, through which he might either observe the occupants or take aim and shoot. He hired at a livery stable a small, fleet horse, which he showed with pride during the day to bar-keepers and loafers among his friends.

The moon rose that night at ten o'clock. A few minutes before that hour he called one of the underlings of the theater to the back door and left him there holding his horse. He then went to a saloon near by, took a drink of brandy, and, entering the theater, passed rapidly through the crowd in rear of the dress- circle and made his way to the passage leading to the President's box. He showed a card to a servant in attendance and was allowed to pass in. He entered noiselessly, and, turning, fastened the door with the bar he had previously made ready, without disturbing any of the occupants of the box, between whom and himself there yet remained the slight partition and the door through which he had bored the hole. Their eyes were fixed upon the stage; the play was "Our American Cousin," the original version by Tom Taylor, before Sothern had made a new work of it by his elaboration of the part of Dundreary. Not one, not even the comedian on the stage, could ever remember the last words of the piece that were uttered that night -- the last Abraham LINCOLN heard upon earth. The whole performance remains in the memory of those who heard it a vague phantasmagoria, the actors the thinnest of specters. The awful tragedy in the box makes everything else seem pale and unreal. Here were five human beings in a narrow space -- the greatest man of his time, in the glory of the most stupendous success in our history, the idolized chief of a nation already mighty, with illimitable vistas of grandeur to come; his beloved wife, proud and happy; a pair of betrothed lovers, with all the promise of felicity that youth, social position and wealth could give them; and this young actor, handsome as Endymion upon Latmos, the pet of his little world. The glitter of fame, happiness and ease was upon the entire group, but in an instant everything was to be changed with the blinding swiftness of enchantment. Quick death was to come on the central figure of that company -- the central figure, we believe, of the great and good men of the century. Over all the rest the blackest fates hovered menacingly -- fates from which a mother might pray that kindly death would save her children in their infancy. One was to wander with the stain of murder on his soul, with the curses of a world upon his name, with a price set upon his head, in frightful physical pain, till he died a dog's death in a burning barn; the stricken wife was to pass the rest of her days in melancholy and madness; of those two young lovers, one was to slay the other, and then end his life a raving maniac.

The murderer seemed to himself to be taking part in a play. The fumes of brandy and partisan hate had for weeks kept his brain in a morbid state. He felt as if he were playing Brutus off the boards; he posed, expecting applause. Holding a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other, he opened the box door, put the pistol to the President's head, and fired; dropping the weapon, he took the knife in his right hand, and when Major Rathbone sprang to seize him he struck savagely at him. Major Rathbone received the blow on his left arm, suffering a wide and deep wound. BOOTH, rushing forward, then placed his left hand on the railing of the box and vaulted lightly over to the stage. It was a high leap, but nothing to such a trained athlete. He was in the habit of introducing what actors call sensational leaps in his plays. In "Macbeth," where he met the weird sisters, he leaped from a rock twelve feet high. He would have got safely away but for his spur catching in the folds of the Union flag with which the front of the box was draped. He fell on the stage, the torn flag trailing on his spur, but instantly rose as if he had received no hurt, though in fact the fall had broken his leg, turned to the audience, brandishing his dripping knife and shouting the State motto of Virginia, "Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!" and fled rapidly across the stage and out of sight. Major Rathbone had shouted, "Stop him!" The cry went out, "He has shot the President!" From the audience, at first stupid with surprise and afterwards wild with excitement and horror, two or three men jumped upon the stage in pursuit of the flying assassin; but he ran through the familiar passages, leaped upon his horse, which was in waiting in the alley behind, rewarded with a kick and a curse the call-boy who had held him, and rode rapidly away in the light of the just risen moon.

The President scarcely moved; his head drooped forward slightly, his eyes closed. Major Rathbone, at first not regarding his own grievous hurt, rushed to the door of the box to summon aid. He found it barred, and on the outside some one was beating and clamoring for entrance. He opened the door; a young officer named Crawford entered; one or two army surgeons soon followed, who hastily examined the wound. It was at once seen to be mortal. It was afterwards ascertained that a large derringer bullet had entered the back of the head on the left side, and, passing through the brain, had lodged just behind the left eye. By direction of Rathbone and Crawford, the President was carried to a house across the street and laid upon a bed in a small room at the rear of the hall, on the ground floor. Mrs. LINCOLN followed, half distracted, tenderly cared for by Miss Harris. Rathbone, exhausted by loss of blood, fainted, and was carried home. Messengers were sent for the members of the Cabinet, for the Surgeon-General, for Dr. Stone, the President's family physician; a crowd of people rushed instinctively to the White House and, bursting through the doors, shouted the dreadful news to Robert LINCOLN and Major Hay, who sat gossiping in an upper room. They ran downstairs. Finding a carriage at the door, they entered it to go to Tenth Street. As they were driving away, a friend came up and told them that Mr. Seward and most of the Cabinet had been murdered. The news was all so improbable that they could not help hoping it was all untrue. But when they got to Tenth Street and found every thoroughfare blocked by the swiftly gathering thousands, agitated by tumultuous excitement, they were prepared for the worst. . . .

The President had been shot a few minutes past ten. The wound would have brought instant death to most men, but his vital tenacity was extraordinary. He was, of course, unconscious from the first moment; but he breathed with slow and regular respiration throughout the night. As the dawn came, and the lamplight grew pale in the fresher beams, his pulse began to fail; but his face even then was scarcely more haggard than those of the sorrowing group of statesmen and generals around him. His automatic moaning, which had continued through the night, ceased; a look of unspeakable peace came upon his worn features. At twenty-two minutes after seven he died. Stanton broke the silence by saying, "Now he belongs to the ages." Dr. Gurley kneeled by the bedside and prayed fervently. The widow came in from the adjoining room supported by her son and cast herself with loud outcry on the dead body. (Source: America, Vol.8, Pg.306)

John W. Booth

End of Chapter 2


BACK
The Conspirators Index
 
Chap.
F.Name
L.Name
b. d.
Subject
01.
Abraham
Lincoln
1809-1865
Profile
02.
John W.
Booth
1838-1865
Profile
03.
John W.
Booth
1838-1865
Pursuit, Death & Burial
04.
The
Conspirators
 
Trial of the Assassins
05.
Samuel B.
Arnold
1834-1906
Profile
06.
George T.
Atzerodt
1832-1865
Profile
07.
David
Herold
1844-1865
Profile
08.
Samuel A.
Mudd
1833-1933
Profile
09.
Michael
O'Laughlin
1840-1867
Profile
10.
Lewis T.
Powell
18??-1865
Profile
11.
Edward "Ned"
Spangler
18??-18??
Profile
12.
Mary E. (Jenkins)
SURRATT
1817-1865
Profile
12.1
Mary E. (Jenkins)
SURRATT
1817-1865
Genealogy FGS
13.
John H., Jr.
SURRATT
1844-1916
Profile
13.1
John H., Jr.
SURRATT
1844-1916
1870 Lecture
13.2
John H., Jr.
SURRATT
1844-1916
Genealogy FGS
14.
The
Conspirators
 
End of Nightmare for the Doomed!
15.
The
Conspirators
 
Notes & Reference

E-Mail: Paul R. Sarrett, Jr., Auburn CA.

Text - Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 20000 Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Revised: Feb. 25, 2000