Tuesday, July 7, 2015



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) A century and a half ago today, July 7, 1865, four convicted conspirators in the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln were hanged at the Arsenal Penitentiary here in the Nation's Capital.

The conspirators included Mrs. Mary Surratt*,  a woman who ran a boardinghouse here in Washington where the assassination plot, according to President Andrew Johnson, was "hatched." 

At trial, the most damaging evidence against Mrs. Surratt was presented by John Lloyd who rented the Surratt House** in Maryland.  He said that three of the conspirators came to the tavern a few weeks before the assassination to drop off two carbines, ammunition and rope.  They asked Lloyd to conceal these items and twice before the night of April 14, 1865, Mrs. Surratt told Lloyd to have the "shooting irons" ready.

Another witness at trial testified that he was with Mr. Lloyd when they heard the news of the assassination.  This witness heard Lloyd say..."Oh, Mrs. Surratt, that vile woman...has ruined me."

Five of nine commissioners handing down the sentence of death by hanging to Mary Surratt and her fellow conspirators included a request to President Johnson to reduce her sentence to life imprisonment.  He did not.

The forty-three year old Mrs. Surratt was the first woman to be hanged by the government of the United States.  Her son, John Surratt, also implicated in the plot, managed to escape capture until 1867 when he was tried on charges of conspiracy and treason.  

The other conspirators hanged along with Mrs. Surratt were George Atzerodt, David Herold and Lewis Powell.  The ringleader of the murder plot, John Wilkes Booth, was shot and killed two weeks after the assassination.

Mary Surratt, who wore a black dress, bonnet and veil, led the procession of prisoners out of their cells at 1:15 p.m. local time.  They walked by "their own freshly dug graves, each with a raw pine coffin beside it" and then "slowly climbed the scaffold."

Soldiers tied the prisoner's hands behind their backs and put white hoods on their heads.   At 2 p.m., the hinged trap supports on the scaffold were knocked away "and the prisoners plunged down."

*Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt (1823-1865) was born in Waterloo, MD, attended a Catholic seminary & married John Surratt at age 17.  They ran a tavern & post office at Surrattsville, MD. which became known as a Confederate safehouse during the Civil War.  

After her husband's death in 1864, MS moved to 541 High Street in Washington, D.C.  It was there that the conspirators met to plot the murder of Abraham Lincoln.

**The Surratt House, located today in Clinton, MD, was built in 1852 on a 300 acre plantation owned by Mr. & Mrs. John Surratt.  The house served as a tavern, public dining room and hotel.  The property has had 5 different families occupying it betweeen 1868 & 1965.  It is now a museum.

Surratt House at Clinton, Maryland
Photo by Hawkeye58 (2006)
at en.wikipedia


"Biographic Sketch of Mary Surratt,"

"The Civil War:  The Assassination, Death of a President," Time-Life Books, by Champ Clark and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1987.

"The Surratt House," Surratt House Museum,