Surratt, Mary Eugenia

views updated

Mary Eugenia Surratt (sərăt´), 1820–65, alleged conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, hanged on July 7, 1865. A widow (her maiden name was Jenkins) who had moved from Surrattsville (now Clinton), Md., to Washington, D.C., she kept the boardinghouse where John Wilkes Booth hatched his unsuccessful plot to abduct the President and his successful assassination plan. After Lincoln's assassination eight alleged accomplices in Booth's crime were tried (May 10–June 29, 1865) before a special military tribunal. Hanged with Mary Surratt and unquestionably guilty were Lewis Thornton Powell (or Payne), David E. Herold, and George A. Atzerodt. Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlin, Confederate ex-soldiers from Maryland who had taken part in the attempted abduction but not in the assassination, were sentenced to life imprisonment, as was Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who had set Booth's broken leg. Edward Spangler, a stagehand at Ford's Theater, charged with abetting Booth's escape, was given six years. Mary Surratt's son, who had participated in the abduction plot, was tried (June 10–Aug. 10, 1867) before a civil court. Although the jury stood eight to four for acquittal, he was not released from prison until June, 1868. The hanging of his mother is generally considered to have been a gross miscarriage of justice. The prosecution, headed by Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, never established that Mary Surratt even knew (although she might have known) of the abduction plot, and it now seems certain that she was not a party to the assassination plans. Booth's diary and other evidence that might have cast doubt on the prosecution's case were suppressed by the government, and it is generally believed that some of the testimony against Mary Surratt was false. She has appealed to many writers and is the subject of several dramas, such as John Patrick's Story of Mary Surratt (1947).

See D. M. De Witt, The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt (1895, repr. 1970); H. J. Campbell, The Case for Mrs. Surratt (1943); G. W. Moore, The Case of Mrs. Surratt (1954).