South Shields Local History Group

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Hall, William (Cavalry)

William Henry Hall was born in 1834 the son of a Jarrow Clergyman; he went to America at the age of 16 and set up a successful grocery business in Memphis Tennessee.  He joined the 12th Illinois Cavalry, Company H known as McClellan’s Dragoons part of the Union Army in 1861 and was one of the men who transported Abraham Lincoln’s body out of the Ford Theatre after he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. 

Abraham Lincoln – 1863, (Wikipedia)
Lincoln dying (Wikipedia)

He gave an interview to the press in June 1916 detailing his life story, see press article below


Jarrow Man Who Saw Lincoln Assassinated

Among the visitors to the wonderful spectacle of “The Birth of a Nation” at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle, was one of the active participators in the scene portrayed of the assassination of President Lincoln.

     Mr. William Hall, who is the son of a former incumbent of St. Bede’s, Jarrow, was a young man in America when the war broke out between the North and the South, and he is now living—a hale and hearty old gentleman of 82 years, as a pressman saw him on Monday – at Bute House, Park Terrace, South Shields.

     Mr. Hall was one of the four men who carried Abraham Lincoln from the box at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, on the night of his assassination by Wilkes Booth, 14th April, 1865.  When he heard of the production of “The Birth of a Nation”, in Newcastle, in which the death of President Lincoln forms an outstanding feature, he expressed a keen desire to see the dramatised version of the incidents in which he was so active a participant, and on Monday afternoon he visited the play, and was astounded at its remarkable reproduction of the scenes in which he assisted.  Mr. Cromer, the advance agent, at a break in the programme, drew attention to his visit, and the old gentleman came in for rounds of applause.

      Mr. Hall, in the course of an interview, said:-“My father was the Rev. John Netherton O’Brien, Hall, incumbent of St. Bede’s, Jarrow, and my grandfather was John Stephens Hall, Vice-Admiral of the Blue, in Nelson’s time.  I left England for America when I was 16 years of age, and at the time the war between the North and South broke out I had built up quite a comfortable business as a grocer in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was left to the inhabitants of each town to vote whether they would secede from the Union or not.  Voting was taken by all those in favour of seceding putting lights in their windows at night.  I put none in mine and was asked the reason.  I said I was an Englishman and had no desire to enter into the quarrel, and, moreover, if I had, I didn’t want to secede.  My shop and stock, worth between £2,000 and £3,000, was all taken from me, and I left the town.  I went straight to Chicago, where I enlisted with the Northern Army of the Potomac. I enlisted as an Englishman, and was placed in McLellan’s Dragoons, one of the crack regiments, and afterwards was injured in getting off my horse, and I was sent to Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia.”

     “On the night of the shooting of President Lincoln I was present in what was then called the pit, but was really the orchestra stalls, almost under the President’s box. Wilkes Booth was not playing on the stage that night, but he crept up to the President’s box and shot him from behind.  I was in my uniform, and I ran round, and with three other men placed the President upon a sort of shutter and carried him to the nearest house- I think it was a lodging house – where he was handed over to the doctors and died the next day.  Wilkes Booth escaped on a horse which he had left outside the stage door of the theatre, although he had broken his ankle in his jump from the box to the stage. It is not certain what became of him.”

Jarrow Express – Friday 23 June 1916

Jarrow Express, Friday 23rd June, 1916

Later he returned to England and was an insurance broker and lived at 3 Seafield Terrace, South Shields, opposite the South Marine Park.  On 19th June 1916 he was invited to see a very controversial film called “The Birth of a Nation” at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle, which contained a long section on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Advert in the Daily Chronicle – 1916

“Mr. Cromer, the advance agent, at a break in the programme, drew attention to his visit, and the old gentleman came in for rounds of applause.”

William Hall died on the 5th May 1923, aged 89.

Obituary Shields Gazette – 1923

William Hall died on the 5th May 1923, aged 89 and is buried in Harton Cemetery (section H) with his wife Jane.  

Headstone – 2022

At some point an American military headstone has been erected in his honour with the inscription:

12 ILL. CAV.

DIED MAY 5, 1923
DIED JUNE 19, 1918


David Fenton
British Newspaper Archives
John Bage

Terry Ford

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