July 22, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Boston Corbett and the Year of the Mad Hatter

2 min read

The story of one Boston Corbett is certainly an interesting one–a story full of religious fanaticism, self-castration, and murder. Now that I’ve piqued your interest, let me give you some of the backstory. In 1832, Thomas P. Corbett was born in London, England. Several years later, in 1839, Corbett’s family emigrated to the United States. When Thomas Corbett was old enough to work, he took up the trade of a hatter, in Troy, New York. After the unfortunate death of his wife, Corbett moved to Boston. It was in Boston that Corbett became a Christian and changed his name to Boston.

So far so good, right?

Boston Corbett
Boston Corbett

In July of 1858, in an attempt to curb his desire to give into tempestuous prostitutes, Boston Corbett castrated himself. As if this act was not odd enough, he did not seek medical attention until after he had eaten dinner and attended his previously-scheduled prayer meeting.

I guess that the Union Army was hard up for soldiers because they enlisted Boston Corbett into the 12 Regiment New York Militia, in April of 1861. He served the term of his enlistment, then he re-enlisted to be in the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment. On April 24, 1865, (now sergeant) Boston Corbett rode out with twenty-five other brave men to hunt down the abominable John Wilkes Booth. In two days’ time, the men cornered the detestable soul–the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln–and surrounded him inside of a barn.

The 16th New York Cavalry Regiment was under the orders of Edwin M. Stanton,  Secretary of War, to capture John Wilkes Booth alive. However, Boston Corbett had other plans…

Boston Corbett aimed his revolver at John Wilkes Booth and fired. The shot hit true, severing Booth’s spinal cord, killing him within hours. Edwin Stanton had Corbett arrested for breaking his orders; however, Stanton dropped that charges claiming that, “The rebel is dead. The patriot lives.”

Sergent Boston Corbett
Sergent Boston Corbett

Corbett originally stated that he shot Booth because he thought that Booth was going to shoot him. However, Corbett later said that “Providence directed me.” So, Corbett castrated himself to abstain from sex with prostitutes and killed John Wilkes Booth because God instructed him too…

It’s no secret that those that worked as hatters spent a lot of time around mercury–which was found to have a lasting effect on the brain. The majority of historians concur that Corbett’s behavior was due to his years spent as a hatter. Could it be a coincidence that the year Boston Corbett snapped is the same year that Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The same Alice in Wonderland who had the character Mad Hatter. Either way, 1865 was clearly the Year of the Mad Hatter.