A Narragansett Witness to History

 One hundred fifty-four years ago today, on the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Seated in the audience that night, a witness to the horrible event, was Levene C. B. Stewart, a Narragansett Indian woman.  In fact, she may have recognized the assassin straightaway — She and Booth were on familiar terms as neighbors.

Born in Baltimore on September 12, 1832, Levene (Levina) claimed descent from the Narragansetts chief Ninigret. She trained as a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital where her brother was on the medical staff. Later in life, she moved to Westerly, Rhode Island where she died at the age of 100 in 1932.

Levene’s presence in both ante- and postbellum Washington society needs further exploration.  Apparently, she witnessed at least one other important, but less violent, historical political event. She attended an inaugural ball celebrating the election of President Ulysses S. Grant on March 4, 1869.  She was buried in the dress she wore that day when she was laid to rest in the Westerly cemetery, sixty-three years later.

Hopefully, more to come on this interesting woman!


Images: Items from Lincoln’s assassination, Ford Theatre website. The assassination of President Lincoln, The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana/Library of Congress. Grant Inaugural: Washington, D.C. – The great inauguration ball on Tuesday evening, the 4th of March, in the temporary building in Judiciary Square / from a sketch by Jas. E. Taylor, Library of Congress.

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