|Thursday, 13 October 2011 14:11|
Born: (May 1820 or 1823 – July 7, 1865) Waterloo, Maryland, U.S.
Died: July 7, 1865 Washington, D.C., U.S.
Age: (aged 42 or 45)
Cause of death: Hanged.
Notable because: First woman to be executed by US Federal Government. Mary Surratt's last words, spoken to a guard as he moved her forward to the drop, were "Please don't let me fall."
Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt was an American boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Sentenced to death, she was hanged, becoming the first woman executed by the United States federal government. She was the mother of John H. Surratt, Jr., who was later tried but was not convicted in the assassination
Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born to Archibald and Elizabeth Anne (Webster) Jenkins on a tobacco farm near the southern Maryland town of Waterloo (now known as Clinton). Sources differ as to whether she was born in 1820 or 1823. There is uncertainty as to the month as well, although most sources say May.
She had two brothers, John Zadoc (born in 1822) and James Archibald (born in 1825).Her father died in the fall of 1825 when Mary was two (or five) years old.Although her father was a non-denominational Protestant and her mother Episcopalian, Surratt was enrolled in a private Roman Catholic girls' boarding school, the Academy for Young Ladies in Alexandria, Virginia, on November 25, 1835. Although Surratt was raised an Episcopalian, her mother's sister, Sarah Latham Webster (a Catholic), may have influenced where she was sent to school. Within two years, Mary converted to Roman Catholicism (adopting the baptismal name of Maria Eugenia). She stayed at the Academy for Young Ladies for four years (leaving only when the school closed in 1839), and remained a devout Catholic for the rest of her life.
Mary Jenkins met John Harrison Surratt in 1839, when she was 16 or 19 and he was 26. His family had settled in Maryland in the late 1600s. An orphan, he was adopted by Richard and Sarah Neale of Washington, D.C., a wealthy couple who owned a farm.The Neales divided their farm among their children, and Surratt inherited a portion of it. His background was questionable at best, and he had fathered at least one child out of wedlock. They wed in August 1840. John Surratt converted to Roman Catholicism prior to the marriage, and the couple may have wed at a Catholic church in Washington, D.C. John Surratt purchased a mill in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and the couple moved there. The Surratts had three children over the next few years: Isaac (born June 2, 1841), Elizabeth Susanna (nicknamed "Anna", born January 1, 1843), and John, Jr. (born April 1844).
In 1843, John Surratt purchased from his adoptive father 236 acres (96 ha) of land straddling the D.C./Maryland border, a parcel named "Foxhall" (approximately the area between Wheeler Road and Owens Road today). Richard Neale died in September 1843, and a month later John purchased 119 acres (48 ha) of land adjoining Foxhall. John and Mary Surratt and their children moved back to John's childhood home in the District of Columbia in 1845 to help John's mother run the Neale farm. But Sarah Neale fell ill and died in August 1845, having shortly before her death deeded the remainder of the Neale farm to John. Mary Surratt became involved in raising funds to build St. Ignatious Church in Oxon Hill (it was constructed in 1850), but John Surratt was increasingly unhappy with his wife's religious activities. His behavior deteriorated over the next few years. John Surratt drank heavily, often failed to pay his debts, and his temper was increasingly volatile and violent.
In 1851, the Neale farmhouse burned to the ground (an escaped family slave was suspected of setting the blaze). John found work on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and Mary moved with her children into the home of her cousin, Thomas Jenkins, in nearby Clinton. Within a year, John Surratt purchased 200 acres (81 ha) of farmland near what is now Clinton, and by 1853 he constructed a tavern and an inn there. Mary initially refused to move herself and the children into the new residence. She took up residence on the old Neale farm, but John sold both the Neale farm and Foxhall in May 1853 to pay debts and she was forced to move back in with him in December.
With the money he earned from the tavern and sale of his other property, on December 6, 1853, John Surratt bought a townhouse at 541 H Street in Washington, D.C., and began renting it out to tenants. In 1854, John built a hotel as an addition to his tavern, and called it Surratt's Hotel.
The area round the tavern was officially named Surrattsville that same year. Travelers could take Branch Road (now Branch Avenue) north into Washington, D.C.; Piscataway Road southwest to Piscataway; or Woodyard Road northwest to Upper Marlboro. Although Surrattsville was a well-known crossroads, the community did not amount to much—just the tavern, a post office (inside the tavern), a forge, and a dozen or so houses (some of them log cabins). John Surratt was the hamlet's first postmaster.
John Surratt expanded his family's holdings by selling off land, paying down debt, and starting new businesses. Over the next few years, Surratt acquired or built a carriage house, corn crib, general store, forge, granary, gristmill, stable, tobacco curing house, and wheelwright's shop. The family had enough money to send all three children to nearby Roman Catholic boarding schools. Isaac and John Jr. attended St. Thomas Manor, while Anna enrolled at the Academy for Young Ladies (Mary's alma mater). The family's debts continued to mount, however, and John Sr.'s drinking worsened. John sold another 120 acres (49 ha) of land in 1856 to pay debts. By 1857, Surratt had sold all but 600 acres (240 ha) of the family's formerly extensive holdings (which represented about half the 1,200 acres (490 ha) he had originally owned). Most of the family's slaves (never many in number) were also sold to pay debts. Still John Surratt's alcoholism worsened. In 1858, Mary wrote a letter to her local priest, telling him that Surratt was drunk every single day. In 1860, St. Thomas Manor closed, and Isaac found work in Baltimore, Maryland. The Surratts sold off another 100 acres (40 ha) of land, which enabled Anna to remain at the Academy for Young Ladies and for John Jr. to enroll at St. Charles College, Maryland (a Catholic seminary and boarding school in Ellicott's Mills). The couple also borrowed money that same year against their townhouse in Washington, D.C., and at some point used the property as collateral for a $1,000 loan.
The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861. The border state of Maryland remained part of the United States ("the Union"), but the Surratts (like many if not nearly all their Prince George's County neighbors) were Confederate sympathizers and their tavern regularly hosted fellow sympathizers. (The Surratt tavern was being used as a "safe house" for Confederate spies, and at least one author concludes that Mary Surratt had "de facto" knowledge of this fact.) On March 7, 1861, (three days after Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as President of the United States) Isaac Surratt left Maryland and traveled to Texas, where he enlisted in the Confederate States Army (serving in the 33rd Cavalry, or Duff's Partisan Rangers, 14th Cavalry Battalion). John Jr. quit his studies at St. Charles College in July 1861 and became a courier for the Confederate Secret Service, moving messages, cash, and contraband back and forth across enemy lines. The Confederate activities in and around Surrattsville drew the attention of the Union government. In late 1861, Lafayette C. Baker, a detective with the Union Intelligence Service, and 300 Union soldiers camped in Surrattsville and investigated the Surratts and others for Confederate activities. He quickly uncovered evidence of a large Confederate courier network operating in the area, but despite some arrests and warnings the courier network remained intact.
John Surratt collapsed suddenly and died on either August 25 or August 26 in 1862 (sources differ as to the date). The cause of death was a stroke. The Surratt family affairs were in serious financial difficulties. John Jr. and Anna both left school to help their mother run the family's remaining farmland and businesses. On September 10, 1862, John Jr. was appointed postmaster of the Surrattsville post office. Lafayette Baker swept through Surrattsville again in 1862, during which time several postmasters were dismissed for disloyalty. John Jr. was not one of them. In August 1863, John Jr. sought a job in the paymaster's department in the United States Department of War, but his application raised suspicions about his entire family's loyalties to the Union. Surratt was dismissed as postmaster on November 17, 1863, for disloyalty.
The loss of John Jr.'s job as postmaster caused a financial crisis for the Surratt family. When John Sr.'s estate was probated in late November 1862, the family owned only two middle-age male slaves. However, by 1863, Louis J. Weichmann (a friend of John Jr.'s from St. Charles College) observed that the family had six or more slaves working on the property. By 1864, Mary Surratt found that her husband's unpaid debts and bad business deals had left her with many creditors. Several of her slaves ran away. When he was not meeting with Confederate sympathizers in the city, her son was selling vegetables to raise cash for the family. In November 1863, agents of the federal government once again became suspicious about the Surratt family's loyalties. Mary Surratt was tired of running the farm, tavern, and other businesses without her son's help. In the fall of 1864, she began considering moving to her townhouse in the city.
On October 1, 1864, Mary Surratt took possession of the house at 604 H Street in Washington, D.C. The house was made of gray brick, 29 feet (8.8 m) wide, 100 feet (30 m) deep, and had four stories. The first floor, which was level with the street, consisted of two large rooms that were used as the kitchen and dining room. The second floor contained a front and back parlor, with the room in the rear used as Mary Surratt's bedroom. The third floor had three rooms—two in the front and one larger one at the back. The fourth floor, which was considered an attic, had two large and one small room (occupied by a servant). Wooden stairs led up to each floor. Surratt began moving her belongings into the townhouse that month, and on November, 1, 1864, Anna and John Jr. took up residence there. Mary Surratt herself moved into the home on December 1. That same day, she leased the tavern in Surrattsville to a former Washington, D.C., policeman and Confederate sympathizer John M. Lloyd for $500 a year. On November 30, December 8, and December 27, Mary Surratt advertised for lodgers in the The Daily Evening Star newspaper. She had initially said that she only wanted lodgers who were known to her personally or were recommended by friends, but in her advertisements she said rooms were "available for 4 gentlemen."
Some scholars have raised questions about Surratt's move into the city. Historians Kate Larson and Roy Chamlee have noted that although there is no definitive proof, a case can be made that Surratt made the move into the city in furtherance of her and her son's espionage activities. For example, Larson and Chamlee say, on September 21, 1864, John Surratt wrote to Louis J. Weichmann, observing that the family's plans to move into the city were advancing rapidly "on account of certain events having turned up"—perhaps a cryptic reference to either his Confederate activities in general or the conspiracy to kidnap or kill Lincoln. Larson has observed that although the move made long-term economic sense for Surratt, it also (in the short term) would have meant moving expenses and furnishing up to 10 rooms in the townhouse—money she did not have. Chamlee disagrees with the economic rationale, however, concluding that it would have been more profitable to rent the house entirely to lodgers. The city was also a more dangerous and morally challenging place for her daughter, and Surratt had striven to keep Anna away from such influences (such as her husband, John Sr.) for years. Moreover, Surratt still owed money on both the tavern and the townhouse, and would take out yet another mortgage against the townhouse in January 1865. John Jr. transferred all his title to the family property to his mother in January 1865, an act that indicates he knew he was engaged in treasonous activity (a traitor's property could be seized) and that she knew why he had given up his title to the houses and land.
Louis J. Weichmann moved into Mary Surratt's boardinghouse on November 1, 1864. On December 23, 1864, Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced John Surratt, Jr. to John Wilkes Booth. Booth recruited John Jr. into his conspiracy to kidnap Abraham Lincoln.Confederate agents began frequenting the boarding house. Booth visited the boardinghouse many times over the next few months, sometimes at Mary Surratt's request.
George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell boarded at the townhouse for short periods. Atzerodt, a friend of John Jr.'s and Booth's and a co-conspirator in the plot (as it was at that time) to kidnap Lincoln, visited the boardinghouse several times in the first two months of 1865. He stayed at the Surratt boardinghouse in February 1865 (whether one night or several is unclear, as sources differ), but he proved to be a heavy drinker and Mary Surratt evicted him after just a few days. He continued to visit the townhouse frequently afterward, however. Lewis Powell posed as a Baptist preacher and stayed at the boardinghouse for three days in March 1865. David Herold also called at the home several times.
As part of the plot to kidnap Lincoln in March 1865, John Surratt, Atzerodt, and conspirator David Herold hid two Spencer carbines, ammunition, and some other supplies at the Surratt tavern in Surrattsville. On April 11, Mary Surratt rented a carriage and drove to the Surratt tavern. She said she made the trip to collect a debt owed her by a former neighbor. But according to her tenant, John Lloyd, Surratt told him to get the "shooting irons" ready to be picked up. On April 14, Mary Surratt said she would once again visit the family tavern in Surrattsville to collect a debt. Shortly before she left the city, Booth visited the boardinghouse and spoke privately with her. He gave her a package (later found to contain binoculars) to Lloyd for pick-up later that evening. Surratt did so, and (according to Lloyd) again told Lloyd to have the "shooting irons" ready for pick-up.(Booth and Herold would pick up the rifles and binoculars that evening as they fled Washington after Lincoln's assassination.) Lloyd repaired a broken spring on Mrs. Surratt's wagon before she left
Around 2 A.M. on April 15, 1865, members of the District of Columbia police visited the Surratt boarding house, seeking John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. Why the police came to the house is not entirely clear. Most historians conclude that Weichmann's friend, Department of War employee Daniel Gleason, had alerted federal authorities to Confederate activity centered on the Surratt house, but this does not explain why D.C. police rather than federal agents appeared there. (Historian Roy Chamlee, however, says there is evidence that Gleason did not tell D.C. police about his suspicions of Weichmann for several days.) Within 45 minutes of the attack on Lincoln, John Surratt, Jr.'s name had become associated with the attack on Secretary of State William H. Seward. The D.C. police as well as the Provost Marshal's office both had files on John Surratt, Jr., and knew he was a close friend of Booth's. (It is possible that either James L. Maddox, property supervisor at Ford's Theatre and a friend of Booth's, or actor John Matthews—both of whom may have known about the plot to attack government officials—mentioned Surratt's name.) Historian Otto Eisenschiml has argued that David Herold's attempt to steal a horse from John Fletcher may have led them to the Surratt boarding house, but at least one other scholar has called this link uncertain. Other sources claim that eyewitnesses had identified Booth as Lincoln's attacker, and the detectives had information (a tip from an unnamed actor, and a bartender) linking John Jr. to Booth. Mary Surratt lied, and told the detectives that her son had been in Canada for two weeks. She also did not reveal that she'd delivered a package to the Surrattsville tavern on Booth's behalf hours earlier.
On April 17, a Surratt neighbor told U.S. military authorities that he overheard one of the Surratt's African American servants saying that three men had come to the house on the night of Lincoln's assassination and that one of the men had mentioned Booth in a theater (The servant was mistaken about the date, as John Surratt, Jr. had indeed been in Elmira, New York, on a mission for a Confederate general). Other pieces of information also mentioned the boarding house as a key meeting place of the possible conspirators. Either Colonel Henry H. Wells, Provost Marshal (head of the military police) of the District of Columbia, or General Christopher C. Augur told Colonel Henry Steel Olcott to arrest everyone in the house. Federal soldiers visited the Surratt boardinghouse again late on the evening of April 17. John Jr. could not be found, but after a search of the house the agents found in Mary's room a picture of Booth (hidden behind another photograph), pictures of Confederate leaders (including Jefferson Davis), a pistol, a mold for making bullets, and percussion caps.As Mary Surratt was being arrested for conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, Lewis Powell appeared at her door (in disguise).Although Surratt denied knowing him, Powell was arrested and later identified as the man who had attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward.
After her arrest, Mary Surratt was held at an annex to the Old Capitol Prison before being transferred to the Washington Arsenal on April 30. Two armed guards stood before the door to her cell from the beginning of her imprisonment until her death. Her cell, while airy and larger than the others, was sparsely furnished with a straw mattress, table, wash basin, chair, and a bucket. Food was served four times a day, and consisted of the same thing each time: Soft bread; salt pork, beef, or beef soup; and coffee or water. The other arrested conspirators had their heads enclosed in a padded canvas bag to prevent a suicide attempt. Sources disagree as to whether Surratt was forced to wear this as well. Although the others wore iron manacles on their feet and ankles, at no time was Mrs. Surratt manacled. (Rumors to the contrary were raised by reporters at the trial, who either could not see Mrs. Surratt or only "heard" the clank of chains about her feet. These rumors were repeatedly investigated and denied.) She began to suffer menstrual bleeding, and became weak during her detention. She was given a rocking chair, and allowed visits from her daughter, Anna. She and Lewis Powell received the most attention from the press. But the Northern press was also highly critical of Mrs. Surratt in its depictions of her.
John Surratt, Jr. was in Elmira, New York, at the time of the assassination, delivering messages on behalf of a Confederate general. After learning of Lincoln's death, he fled to Montréal in Canada.
The trial for the alleged conspirators began on May 9. A military tribunal, rather than a civilian court, was chosen as the venue because its more lenient rules of evidence, government officials thought, would enable the court to get to the bottom of what was then perceived by the public as a vast conspiracy. All eight alleged conspirators were tried simultaneously. Historian Laurie Verge has commented that "Only in the case of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd is there as much controversy as to the guilt or innocence of one of the defendants." Lincoln assassination scholar Thomas Reed Turner says that, of the eight people accused of plotting to kill Lincoln, the case against Surratt remains "the most controversial...at that time and since".
A room on the northeast corner of the third floor of the Arsenal was made over into a courtroom, and the prisoners brought into the room through a side door, which prevented them from passing by or being harassed by spectators. Surratt was given special considerations due to her illness and gender during the trial. In the courtroom, she sat apart from the other prisoners. Sources differ as to whether an armed guard sat on either side of Mrs. Surratt, as they did the other prisoners during the trial. While the others wore wrist and ankle manacles in the courtroom, she did not. She was also permitted a bonnet, fan, and veil in order to hide her face from spectators. As her illness worsened during the trial, she was moved to a larger and more comfortable prison cell.
Surratt was charged with abetting, aiding, concealing, counseling, and harboring her co-defendants. The federal government initially attempted to find legal counsel for Mary Surratt and the others, but almost no attorneys were willing to take the job for fear they would be accused of disloyalty to the Union. Surratt retained Frederick Aiken as her legal counsel. A member of the military commission trying the conspirators challenged Johnson's right to defend Surratt, as Johnson had objected to requiring loyalty oaths from voters in the 1864 presidential election. After much discussion, this objection was withdrawn, but damage was done to Johnson's influence and he did not attend most of the court sessions. Most of Surratt's legal defense was presented by two other lawyers, Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt.
The prosecution's strategy was to tie Surratt to the conspiracy. Powell's arrival at her boardinghouse three days after the president's murder was critical evidence against her, the government argued. The prosecution presented nine witnesses, but most of their case rested on the testimony of just two men—John Lloyd and Louis Weichmann. Lloyd testified on May 13 and 15, 1865, regarding the hiding of the carbines and other supplies at the tavern in March, and the two conversations he had with Mrs. Surratt in which she told him to get the "shooting irons" ready. Weichmann's testimony was important, for it established an intimate relationship between Mary Surratt and the other conspirators. Weichmann testified May 16 to 19, and said that he had resided at the boardinghouse since November 1864. He had seen or overheard John Jr. meeting and talking with Atzerodt, Booth, and Powell many times over the past four and a half months. Weichmann had driven Mrs. Surratt to the Surrattsville tavern on April 11 and April 14, confirmed that she and Lloyd had spent much time in private conversation, testified that he saw Booth give her the package of binoculars, and attested that she'd turned the package over to Lloyd. Weichmann also testified at length about the Surratt family's ties to the Confederate spy and courier rings operating in the area, and their relationships with Atzerodt and Powell. He also testified about the December 23 meeting with Booth and John Jr. (which he also attended) and their subsequent meeting with Booth at Booth's room at the National Hotel. Finally, he told the military tribunal about the general excitement in the boardinghouse in March 1864 after the failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln.
Other prosecution witnesses reinforced Weichmann's testimony. Lodger Honora Fitzpatrick confirmed visits by Atzerodt, Booth, and Powell to the boardinghouse. Emma Offut, Lloyd's sister-in-law, testified that she saw (but did not hear) Mary Surratt speaking for long periods of time with Lloyd on April 11 and 14. Government agents testified about their arrest of Mrs. Surratt, Powell's arrival, and her denial that she knew Powell. The fact that Powell sought refuge in the boardinghouse after Lincoln's murder left a bad impression on the court as to Mrs. Surratt's innocence. Surratt's refusal (or failure) to recognize him weighed against her. The agents also testified about their search of the house, and the evidence (the photographs, the weapons, etc.) discovered there. Lloyd's testimony had been the most important for the prosecution's case, for it indicated Mary Surratt played an active role in the conspiracy in the days just before Lincoln's death. The prosecution rested its case on May 22.
The defense strategy was to impeach the testimony of the key prosecution witnesses, Lloyd and Weichmann. But the defense also wished to show that Mary Surratt was loyal to the Union, that her trips to Surrattsville were of an innocent nature, and that she had not been aware of Booth's plans. Thirty-one witnesses testified for the defense. George H. Calvert testified that he had pressed Surratt to pay a debt, Bennett Gwynn said Surratt had sought payment from John Nothey in order to satisfy the Calvert debt, and Nothey agreed that he'd received a letter from Surratt requesting that he appear at the tavern on April 11 to pay what was owed. Several witnesses impugned Lloyd's character by testifying about his alcoholism. Several eyewitnesses said he appeared completely intoxicated on the day of Lincoln's death (April 14), implying that he could not have remembered with clarity what happened that day. (However, Lloyd had testified that he repaired a broken spring on Mrs. Surratt's wagon, which rebutted these claims.) Augustus Howell, a Confederate agent, testified that Mrs. Surratt's eyesight was poor, and that Louis Weichmann was an untrustworthy witness as he had sought to become a Confederate spy himself. (The prosecution attempted to show that Howell himself was a Confederate spy and should not be trusted.) Anna Surratt testified that it was Weichmann who had brought Atzerodt into the boardinghouse, that the photograph of Booth was hers (given to her by her father in 1862), and that she also owned photographs of Union political and military leaders. Anna denied ever overhearing any discussions of disloyal activities or ideas in the boardinghouse, and said that while Booth visited the house many times his stays were always short. Anna explained her mother's failure to recognize Powell by asserting she could not see well. Honora Fitzpatrick was called back to the stand, and testified to Mary's poor sight as well. A former servant and a former slave both said Mrs. Surratt's eyesight was failing, and that she'd given Union soldiers food. Numerous witnesses were called at the end of the defense's case to testify to Mary Surratt's loyalty to the Union, her deep Christian faith, and her kindness. A number of Catholic priests were called to the stand to testify about Surratt's faith, good character, and incorruptibility. Portraying Surratt as a good Christian woman incapable of committing the crimes for which she was accused formed a large part of the defense strategy. During the prosecution's rebuttal, government lawyers called four witnesses (P.T. Ransford, John Ryan, Frank Stith, and James Young) to the stand, who testified as to Weichmann's unimpeachable character.
Johnson and Aiken presented the closing arguments for the defense. Johnson attacked the jurisdiction of a military tribunal over civilians (as had Dr. Mudd's attorney). Aiken challenged the court's jurisdiction as well. But he also reiterated that Lloyd and Weichmann were unreliable witnesses, and that the evidence against Mary Surratt was entirely circumstantial. The only evidence linking Surratt to the conspiracy to kill Lincoln, he said, came from Lloyd and Weichmann, and neither man was telling the truth (he said). (Dorothy Kunhardt has written that there is evidence the latter's testimony was suborned by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.)
Judge Advocate John Bingham presented the closing argument for the prosecution. The military tribunal had jurisdiction, he said, not only because the court itself had ruled at the beginning of the trials that it did but because these were crimes committed in a military zone, during a time of war, and against high government officials in carrying out treasonous activities. Bingham pointed out that the Surratt boardinghouse was where the conspiracy was planned, and that Atzerodt, Booth, and Powell had all met with Mary Surratt. Booth had paid for the rental of the carriage that took Surratt to Surrattsville each time, and Bingham said this was evidence that Surratt's trips were critical to the conspiracy. Bingham also said that Lloyd's testimony had been corroborated by others, and that his unwillingness to reveal the cache of weapons in the tavern was prompted by his subservient tenant relationship to Mrs. Surratt. Bingham concluded by reiterating the government's key point: Powell had returned to the Surratt house seeking Mrs. Surratt, and this alone was proof of her guilt. Bingham also pointed out for the tribunal that the charge a person was indicted for was irrelevant: Under the law of conspiracy, if one person carries out a crime, all conspirators are guilty of the same crime.
The trial ended on June 28, 1865. Surratt was so ill the last four days of the trial that she was permitted to stay in her cell. Both legal teams appeared to have flaws in their cases, and except for Reverdy Johnson neither team employed highly skilled attorneys. The government's case was hindered by its failure to call as a witness the man who shared Lloyd's carriage when he talked with Mrs. Surratt (an individual who could have verified Lloyd's version of the "shooting irons" story), or Metropolitan Police Chief A.C. Richards (whose investigation had had the most success in the early days of the investigation). The government did not fully investigate Booth's meetings with Mrs. Surratt at noon or the evening of the murder, and its questioning and cross-examination of witnessess was poorly prepared and weak. What is most important is that the government had botched the attempt to apprehend John Surratt, Jr. The defense's case, too, had a problem. The defense never followed up on inconsistencies in Weichmann's chronology of Mary Surratt's last visit to the tavern, which could have undermined Weichmann's entire reliability.
The military tribunal considered guilt and sentencing on June 29 and 30. Surratt's guilt was the second-to-last considered, because her case presented problems of evidence and witness reliability. Sentence was handed down June 30. The military tribunal found Mary Surratt guilty on all charges but two. A death sentence required six of the nine votes of the judges. Surratt was sentenced to death, and the sentence announced publicly on July 5. When Powell learned of his sentence, he declared that Mary Surratt was completely innocent of all charges. The night before the execution, Surratt's priests and Anna Surratt both visited Powell, and elicited from him a strong statement declaring Mrs. Surratt innocent. Although this was delivered to Captain Christian Rath, who was overseeing the execution, Powell's statement had no effect on anyone with authority to prevent Surratt's death. But George Atzerodt bitterly condemned her, implicating her even further in the conspiracy. Powell's was the only statement by any conspirator exonerating Surratt.
Anna Surratt pleaded repeatedly for her mother's life with Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, but he refused to consider clemency. She also attempted to see President Andrew Johnson several times to beg for mercy, but was not granted permission to see him.
Five of the nine judges signed a letter asking President Andrew Johnson to give Surratt clemency and commute her sentence to life in prison, given her age and gender. Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt did not deliver the recommendation to President Johnson until July 5, two days before Surratt and the others were to hang. Johnson signed the order for execution, but did not sign the order for clemency. Johnson later said he never saw the clemency request; Holt said he showed it to Johnson, who refused to sign it. Johnson, according to Holt, said in signing the death warrant that she had "kept the nest that hatched the egg".
Construction of the gallows for the hanging of the conspirators condemned to death, among them Mary Surratt, began immediately on July 5 after the execution order was signed. It was constructed in the south part of the Arsenal courtyard, was 12 feet (3.7 m) high and about 20 square feet (1.9 m2) in size. Captain Christian Rath, who oversaw the preparations for the executions, made the nooses. Tired of making nooses and thinking Surratt would not hang, he made Surratt's noose the night before the execution with five loops rather than the regulation seven. He tested the nooses that night by tying them to a tree limb and a bag of buckshot, then tossing the bag to the ground (the ropes held). Civilian workers did not want to dig the graves out of superstitious fear, so Rath asked for volunteers among the soldiers at the Arsenal and received more help than he needed.
At noon on July 6, Surratt was informed she would be hanged the next day. She wept profusely. She was joined by two Catholic priests (Jacob Walter and B.F. Wiget) and her daughter Anna. Father Jacob remained with her almost until her death. Her menstrual problems had worsened, and she was in such pain and suffered from such severe cramps that the prison doctor gave her wine and medication. She repeatedly asserted her innocence. She spent the night on her mattress, weeping and moaning (in pain and grief), ministered to by the priests. Anna left her mother's side at 8 A.M. on July 7, and went to the White House to beg for her mother's life one last time. Her entreaty rejected, she returned to the prison and her mother's cell at about 11 A.M. The soldiers began testing the gallows about 11:25 A.M.; the sound of the tests unnerved all the prisoners. Shortly before noon, Mary Surratt was taken from her cell and then allowed to sit in a chair near the entrance to the courtyard. The heat in the city that day was oppressive. By noon, it had already reached 92.3 °F (33.5 °C). The guards ordered all visitors to leave at 12:30 P.M. When she was forced to part from her mother, Anna's hysterical screams of grief could be heard throughout the prison.
Clampitt and Aiken had not finished trying to save their client, however. On the morning of July 7, they asked a District of Columbia court for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the military tribunal had no jurisdiction over their client. The court issued the writ at 3 A.M., and it was served on General Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock was ordered to produce Surratt by 10 A.M. General Hancock sent an aide to General John F. Hartranft, who commanded the Old Capitol Prison, ordering him not to admit any United States marshal (as this would prevent the marshal from serving a similar writ on Hartranft). President Johnson was informed that the court had issued the writ, and promptly cancelled it at 11:30 A.M. under the authority granted to him by the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863. General Hancock and United States Attorney General James Speed personally appeared in court and informed the judge of the cancellation of the writ.
On July 7, 1865, at 1:15 P.M.,a procession led by General Hartranft escorted the four condemned prisoners through the courtyard and up the steps to the gallows. Each prisoner's ankles and wrists were bound by manacles. Mary Surratt led the way, wearing a black bombazine dress, black bonnet, and black veil. More than 1,000 people—including government officials, members of the U.S. armed forces, friends and family of the accused, official witnesses, and reporters—watched. General Hancock limited attendance to those who had a ticket, and only those who had a good reason to be present were given a ticket. (Most of those present were military officers and soldiers, as fewer than 200 tickets had been printed.) Alexander Gardner, who had photographed the body of Booth and taken portraits of several of the male conspirators while they were imprisoned aboard naval ships, photographed the execution for the government. Hartranft read the order for their execution. Surratt, either weak from her illness or swooning in fear (perhaps both), had to be supported by two soldiers and her priests. The condemned were seated in chairs, Surratt almost collapsing into hers. She was seated to the right of the others, the traditional "seat of honor" in an execution. White cloth was used to bind their arms to their sides, and their ankles and thighs together. The cloths around Surratt's legs were tied around her dress below the knees. Each person was ministered to by a member of the clergy. From the scaffold, Powell said, "Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn't deserve to die with the rest of us". Fathers Jacob and Wiget prayed over Mary Surratt, and held a crucifix to her lips.About 16 minutes elapsed from the time the prisoners entered the courtyard until they were ready for execution.
A white bag was placed over the head of each prisoner after the noose was put in place. Surratt's bonnet was removed, and the noose put around her neck by a Secret Service officer. She complained that the bindings about her arms hurt, and the officer preparing said, "Well, it won't hurt long." Finally, the prisoners were asked to stand and move forward a few feet to the nooses. The chairs were removed. Mary Surratt's last words, spoken to a guard as he moved her forward to the drop, were "Please don't let me fall."
Surratt and the others stood on the drop for about 10 seconds, and then Captain Rath clapped his hands. Four soldiers of Company F of the 14th Veteran Reserves knocked out the supports holding the drops in place, and the condemned fell. Surratt, who had moved forward enough to barely step onto the drop, lurched forward and slid partway down the drop—her body snapping tight at the end of the rope, swinging back and forth. Surratt's death appeared to be the easiest. Atzerodt's stomach heaved once and his legs quivered, and then he was still. Herold and Powell struggled for nearly five minutes, strangling to death.
Each body was inspected by a physician to ensure that death had occurred. The bodies of the executed were allowed to hang for about 30 minutes.The bodies began to be cut down at 1:53 P.M. A corporal raced to the top of the gallows and cut down Atzerodt's body, which fell to the ground with a thud. He was reprimanded, and the other bodies cut down more gently. Herold's body was next, followed by Powell's. Surratt's body was cut down at 1:58 P.M. As Surratt's body was cut loose, her head fell forward. A soldier joked, "She makes a good bow" and was rebuked by an officer for his poor use of humor.
Upon examination, the military surgeons determined that no one's neck had been broken by the fall, as intended. The manacles and cloth bindings were removed (but not the white execution masks), and the bodies were placed into the pine coffins. The name of each person was written on a piece of paper by acting Assistant Adjutant R. A. Watts, and inserted in a glass vial (which was placed into the coffin). The coffins were buried against the prison wall in shallow graves, just a few feet from the gallows. A white picket fence marked the burial site. The night Mary Surratt died, a mob attacked the Surratt boardinghouse and began stripping it of souvenirs until the police stopped them.
Anna Surratt unsuccessfully asked for her mother's body for four years. In 1867, the War Department decided to tear down the portion of the Washington Arsenal where the bodies of Surratt and the other executed conspirators lay. On October 1, 1867, the coffins were disinterred and reburied in Warehouse No. 1 at the Arsenal, with a wooden marker placed at the head of each burial vault. John Wilkes Booth's body lay alongside them. In February 1869, Edwin Booth asked President Johnson for the body of his brother, John Wilkes Booth. Johnson agreed to turn the body over to the Booth family, and on February 8 Surratt's body was turned over to the Surratt family. Mary Surratt was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C., on February 9, 1869. John M. Lloyd is buried 100 yards (91 m) from her grave in the same cemetery.
Anna Surratt moved from the townhouse on H Street and lived with friends for a few years, ostracized from society. She married William Tonry, a government clerk. They lived in poverty for a while after he was dismissed from his job, but in time he became a professor of chemistry in Baltimore and the couple became somewhat wealthy. The strain of her mother's death left Anna mentally unbalanced, and she suffered from periods of extreme fear that bordered on insanity. She died in 1904. After the dismissal of charges against him, John Surratt, Jr. married and he and his family lived in Baltimore near his sister, Anna. Isaac Surratt also returned to the United States and lived in Baltimore (he never married). He died in 1907. Isaac and Anna were buried on either side of their mother in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. John Jr. was buried in Baltimore in 1916. In 1968, a new headstone with a brass plaque replaced the old, defaced headstone over Mary Surratt's grave.
Mary Surratt's boarding house still stands, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Citizens interested in Mary Surratt formed the Surratt Society. The Surrattsville tavern and house are historical sites run today by the Surratt Society. The Washington Arsenal is now Fort Lesley J. McNair. The building that held the cells and courtroom, and the brick wall seen in back of the gallows, are all gone (the courtyard where the hanging occurred is now a tennis court).
Surratt was portrayed by actress Virginia Gregg in the 1956 episode "The Mary Surratt Case," telecast as part of the NBC anthology series The Joseph Cotten Show. She was portrayed by Robin Wright in the 2011 film The Conspirator, which was directed by Robert Redford
Mary Surratt: The Life of the Alleged Lincoln Conspirator Who Became the First Woman Executed by the U.S. Government
Manufacturer: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Amazon Price: $6.99
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Editorial Review: *Includes pictures *Explains the conspiracy and includes accounts of Surratt's involvement and trial *Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading *Includes a table of contents "Only in the case of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd is there as much controversy as to the guilt or innocence of one of the defendants." – Laurie Verge Before the night of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth was one of the most famous actors of his time, and President Abraham Lincoln had even watched him perform, but his most significant performance at a theater did not take place on the stage. That night, Booth became one of history’s most infamous assassins when he shot President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Perhaps not surprisingly, the actor’s flair for the dramatic came at a cost to the plot. It took almost no time for the shocked public and the federal government to begin unraveling Booth’s conspiracy, which had mostly faltered from the beginning. Following the shooting, America’s most famous manhunt commenced, and it was a 12 day pursuit that became the stuff of legends and controversy itself. Eight others were eventually tried for their alleged involvement in the plot and convicted, and four were hanged shortly thereafter as a result of some of the nation’s most famous trials. Though the conspiracy and the other conspirators as a whole are often forgotten, the most well-known among them today is probably Mary Surratt, whose boarding house was used by the conspirators (including her son) to hatch and plan out the conspiracy that ultimately culminated with the Lincoln assassination. However, while the cases against the other conspirators were strong, the ties between Surratt, who professed innocence, were more tenuous, and it mostly fell on the military tribunal to insinuate that Surratt was aware of the planning going on in the house. In addition to that, while Mrs. Surratt was being detained, the conspirator who attacked Secretary of State Seward, Lewis Powell, showed up in disguise at her boarding house three days after the attacks, further damning her by association. The trial was no less controversial, as it was handled by a military tribunal that was short on professional counsel on both sides. A number of witnesses were called, and the defense sought to impeach witness testimony and poke for inaccuracies, but in the end, Surratt was sentenced to hang, and all of her appeals for clemency either went unheard or were rejected. On July 7, 1865, Mary Surratt became the first woman executed by the U.S. government. Mary Surratt: The Life of the Alleged Lincoln Conspirator Who Became the First Woman Executed by the U.S. Government comprehensively covers the controversial life and trial of Mary Surratt. Along with pictures of the important people and places, you will learn about the alleged conspirator like you never have before.
Manufacturer: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Amazon Price: $12.00
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Editorial Review: Published in 1895, this is the history of Mary Surratt, her imprisonment and her being sentenced to death by hanging after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Manufacturer: Pelican Publishing
Amazon Price: $26.95
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On July 7, 1865, Mary Surratt was hanged. Did America condemn an innocent woman to death?
Manufacturer: Basic Books
Amazon Price: $26.00
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In The Assassin's Accomplice, historian Kate Clifford Larson tells the gripping story of Mary Surratt, a little-known participant in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln, and the first woman ever to be executed by the federal government of the United States. Surratt, a Confederate sympathizer, ran the boarding house in Washington where the conspirators-including her rebel son, John Surratt-met to plan the assassination. When a military tribunal convicted her for her crimes and sentenced her to death, five of the nine commissioners petitioned President Andrew Johnson to show mercy on Surratt because of her sex and age. Unmoved, Johnson refused-Surratt, he said, kept the nest that hatched the egg.” Set against the backdrop of the Civil War, The Assassin's Accomplice tells the intricate story of the Lincoln conspiracy through the eyes of its only female participant. Based on long-lost interviews, confessions, and court testimony, the text explores how Mary's actions defied nineteenth-century norms of femininity, piety, and motherhood, leaving her vulnerable to deadly punishment historically reserved for men. A riveting narrative account of sex, espionage, and murder cloaked in the enchantments of Southern womanhood, The Assassin's Accomplice offers a fresh perspective on America's most famous murder.
Manufacturer: Heart and Mind Publishing
Editorial Review: - Quality Digital text
- Linked Table of Contents
- Includes 28 newly added photos!
- Two New Supplemental Appendices (not contained in the original book):
A - The Extended Text of the Argument In Defense of Mary Surratt
B - 28 Photographs including the Jury, the Military Commission, and many high-quality personal portraits.
A brief excerpt:
"On the morning of Thursday, the sixth day of July, the six days ominous silence of the War Department is broken. An order issues from the Adjutant-General's office which, bearing date the day before and reciting the findings and death-sentences of the Commission and the death-warrant of the President, commands Major-General Hancock to see execution done, on the seventh, between the hours of ten and two."
"This order was read to Mrs. Surratt at noon. She had all along been encouraged to hope. She, herself, had never been able to realize the possibility of a capital condemnation in her own case. And, here, suddenly, was Death, with violence and shame, within twenty-four hours. She sank down under the blow. In faltering accents she protested that she had no hand in the murder of the President, and pleaded for a few days more time to prepare for death. During the remainder of the day and throughout the night, she was so prostrated by physical weakness and mental derangement as to necessitate medical aid to keep her alive and sane. The cries of her daughter could be heard in the still darkness outside the prison. At five o'clock in the morning, the mother (with the three condemned men), was removed to a solitary cell on the first floor, preparatory to the execution."
"The conclusion forced upon us, therefore,—the one only thing to be said—is, that the hanging of Mary E. Surratt was nothing less than the crime of murder."
Table of Contents:
I. - The Reign Of Terror.
II. - The Bureau Of Military (in)justice.
PART I. - The Murder.
I. - The Opening Of The Court.
II. - Animus Of The Judges.
III. - The Conduct Of The Trial.
IV. - Arguments For The Defense.
V. - Charge Of Judge Bingham.
VI. - The Verdict, Sentence And Petition.
VII. - The Death Warrant And The Execution.
VIII. - Was It Not Murder?
PART II. - The Vindication.
I. - Setting Aside The Verdict.
II. - Reversal Upon The Merits.
III. - The Recommendation To Mercy.
IV. - The Trial Of Joseph Holt.
V. - Andrew Johnson Signs Another Death-warrant.
VI. - Conclusion.
APPENDIX A - Frederick A. Aiken's Argument In Defense of Mary Surratt
APPENDIX B -Photographs
|Last Updated on Thursday, 13 October 2011 14:34|