Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Outlaws - Mary Surratt

In LADIES FIRST: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners and Mavericks author Lynn Santa Lucia “celebrates some extraordinary women who have singularly and collectively cleared a path for other females to follow.” Most of these women were true heroes and role models. However, not all found fame in a positive manner. Mary Surratt (1823-1865) is a historical figure not for her constructive activities, but for being the first woman to be executed by the United States government for crimes against the country. (Pictured left)

Born in Waterloo, Maryland, Mary was educated at an all-girls seminary and married at the age of seventeen. She and her husband John had three children and purchased a farm in 1852. The two-story house on the property served as a home as well as a tavern for the community. The Surratt House became a prominent place to congregate for merchants, lawyers and politicians. With the on-set of the Civil War the house became a hub for Southern sympathizers in the Union state.

The war also brought a shortage money, as patrons couldn’t pay their bills. Then, in 1862, John died, leaving Mary under a mountain of debt. She was forced to lease the land and the house and move into a Washington, D.C. townhouse she owned. She converted the upper floor of the house into a boarding house to earn a small income. A frequent visitor to her boarding house was John Wilkes Booth, a friend of tenant Louis Weichmann and Mary’s son John, Jr.
(Surratt House)

On April 18, 1865, three days after Abraham Lincoln died Mary was arrested and charged with conspiracy to kill the President of the United States. The trial against her and seven co-conspirators started on May 9, 1865. The U.S. Attorney-General and President Andrew Johnson declared the actions of the conspirators a wartime act. Therefore, they were tried in a military tribunal, rather than a civil court.

Louis Weichmann was the lead witness against Mary. Though he described her as ‘lady-like in every particular” and ‘exemplary” in character, most of his testimony was very incriminating. He described conversations between himself, Booth and Mary, where the assassination plot was clearly discussed. Weichmann further testified that at the urging of Booth, he and Mary drove out to her former home, Surratt House, three days before the assassination and delivered “a package, done up in paper, about six inches in diameter.” Mary stayed in the house for two hours, during which time Weichmann observed her speaking to Booth. Another conversation between Mary and Booth took place shortly after they arrived back in Washington.

The most damaging testimony, however, came from John M. Lloyd, the man who leased Surratt House. Though Mary testified that she’d traveled to Surrattsville with Weichmann to collect rent, Lloyd said she collected nothing from him. Instead, she gave him a small package containing field glasses. She also instructed him to ready the two Spencer carbines that John, Jr. had left at the tavern several weeks earlier. The guns had been hidden under the joists in a second-floor room.

John Wilkes Booth, after shooting President Lincoln, stopped at Surratt House. Lloyd did as Mary had instructed him to do earlier that day. He handed over a pair of pistols, one of the Spencers and the field glasses.

The trial ended on June 28th, 1865. After a short deliberation, the verdicts were handed down: All eight were found guilty. Mary, along with three others, was sentenced to death. The other four were sentenced to prison.

Several appeals were made for leniency, but they fell on deaf ears. On July 7, 1865, the door to her cell opened and Mary was escorted past four freshly dug graves to a newly built gallows. Four nooses hung before her as she was joined by her three male conspirators. The men were prepared first as Mary sat in a chair and watched.

When her time came, her skirts were wrapped with cotton ties and her wrists were bound. She complained of the pain, but was told “it won’t hurt long.” Her hat and veil were removed and the noose placed around her neck. She was then placed on her spot above the hinged door, next to her male companions. At 1:22 p.m., Mary Surratt was executed.


More reading:

Spartacus Educational
Mary Surratt
Lincoln Conspiracy

So here's your chance to win a copy of LADIES FIRST.  Just leave a comment and you'll be elegible to win a copy of this wonderful resource book (hey, I've gottne at least 4 blog posts out of it already!).  I'll draw for a winner nest Sunday, the 26th, to give people a chance to stop by and visit.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats

http://www.aklanier.com/
http://annakathrynlanier.blogspot.com/

15 comments:

Stephanie said...

This sounds like a fascinating book & just the sort of thing I like to read!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

It never ceases to amaze me at what we can learn from history. It's so interesting to read what life was like way back then and see how far we've come in some ways and not so far in others. I love hearing about the women who came before us and how their lives were lived. Thanks again, Melinda for an interesting post.

Annabelle Steele said...

Mary Surratt was a victim of the times and the hysteria surrounding the death of Lincoln. There had to be someone punished for his murder and she was entrapped in it.
Mary Todd Lincoln was dependent on her husband, after being traumatized by her mother's death when she was not even five years old. A tug of war was waged between her grandmother, her father and stepmother--forcing her into boarding school in Lexington. Their families did what they could, but their downfalls were long and arduous.

Margaret Tanner said...

Wow, what a fascinating story.The evidence didn't sound very strong to me, but I guess they had to puish someone for such a heinous crime - and quickly.

Regards

Margaret

Sally said...

I'm curious what happened to Mary's children? This looks like a great resource.

Caroline Clemmons said...

This was fascinating. I hadn't realized she had been hanged. Mostly we hear about John Wilkes Booth, not about the co-conspirators. The book sounds great.

D'Ann said...

How horrible!

Charlotte D. Margolis said...

I was just reading about Mary the other day while doing research on the civil war. This sounds like an awesome book. :-)

Susan Macatee said...

I saw this story on The History Channel. The Victorians were so protective of women, thinking them frail. It's surprising that they hanged her with the men. Fascinating post!

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Anna: I found this post really interesting. I just finished All Other Nights, a great historical novel set during the Civil War. If memory serves, the author, in her Author's Notes at the end, mentioned Mary S., and it seems a minor character in the novel had Surratt as her name. Enjoyed reading the post.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, all. Sorry for the delayed response. I do want to make one thing clear - in my research, I have found that Mary was guilty of the charge. She was very much involved with the conspiracy, as was her son. It is a fact that John Wilkes Booth stopped at the Surratt House the night he killed Lincoln and picked up supplies there. One thing I left out, due to trying to keep it brief, is also the fact that one of the conspirators came to her house at the same time as the military was there investigating her. She tried to deny knowning him, but it was a lie. She knew him very well.

There is plenty of evidence against her, even if the trial was sift. Shortly after her hanging, people wanted to believe an unjustice had been done to a woman, simply because she was a woman. But scholars have researched the incident and have proclaimed that she was, indeed, guilty.

As for her children, John Jr was also charged, but I can't recall if he was every arrested. Her children were all grown at this time, so there were no young children to be looked after.

Thanks for all the comments.

Jude Johnson said...

Just found this blog and really enjoyed reading your post. Amazing people hidden in the history pages, aren't there? I often get so absorbed in reading at the research library in the lives of lesser-known people. Thanks for sharing the information, and for confirming Mary had actually been guilty.

Jude Johnson
www.scorchedhawkpress.com

robynl said...

I had heard of John Wilkes Booth but not Mary as someone else stated. Very interesting info and I wonder what she was promised, if anything, or what she thought she could gain being involved.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Ooops, sorry! I nearly forgot to draw for a winner. But, at last I have and the winner of LADIES FIRST is D'Ann. Thanks for all the comments, I found them interesting.

Hi, Jude and Robin, glad you stopped by.

Laurie Verge said...

I just had your blog brought to my attention, and I would like to thank you for the good write-up on Mary Surratt. I am the director of Surratt House Museum in Clinton,(then Surrattsville)Maryland - the country home that Booth and Herold stopped at first on their flight out of Washington to retrieve weapons and supplies. Visit www.surratt.org for more details on the museum.
As for the Surratt children: The oldest son, Isaac Douglas, was with the Confederate army in Texas and did not return to D.C. until September after his mother's execution in July of 1865. He was arrested when he got to Baltimore because rumor had it that he was coming to murder President Andrew Johnson. He was later released, never married, and died in Baltimore in 1907.
The second child, Elizabeth Susannah (Anna),was her mother's sole support during the ordeal. She was just 22. She watched the execution until the hanging hood was put on and then fainted. She went back to their city home that night and had to fight her way through souvenir seekers who were trying to break in. She married a brilliant Army chemist in 1869. He lost his job four days later by special order of the War Department - probably because he dared marry the daughter of the infamous Mary Surratt. She and her husband settled in Baltimore and raised four children. Anna died in 1904.
The youngest child, John, escaped to Canada. He was in Elmira, NY on the day of the assassination. He eventually fled to Europe and became a member of the Papal Guard under Pius IX. He was finally extradited in 1867, put on trial, and it ended up with a hung jury. The gov't. tried two other times to indict him and fail. He went free in 1868. He married the second cousin of Francis Scott Key, worked as an auditor on the Old Bay Steamship Line out of Baltimore, fathered seven children, and died in 1916.
I have spoken with quite a few descendants of Mary Surratt. They all tell us that we know more about the history than they do because the subject was taboo.
BTW: Congratulations to whoever wrote the history of Mary Surratt. It is one of the best I have seen outside of those who work with our museum. Also, we do not take a stand as to Mrs. Surratt's guilt or innocence at the museum - however, most of us understand how, given the times and the circumstances of the Civil War, she should have been tried by a military court and did meet the grounds of conspiracy.