Thursday, July 7, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 2003


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) One hundred and fifty-one years 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 including Mrs. Mary Surratt*,  the woman who ran a boardinghouse** described by President Andrew Johnson a"the nest where the egg 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.  

**Surratt Boarding House is located at 604 H Street, 5 blocks from Ford's Theater.  3 days after Lincoln's assassination, police came calling here only to run into Louis Powell, who had already been identified as part of the plot. The coincidence was enough to implicate Ms. Surratt.


"Biographic Sketch of Mary Surratt,"

"Civil War to Civil Rights," Downtown Heritage Trail e.9,"

"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.

Surratt Boarding House (1910)

Site of Surratt Boarding House
604 H Street, Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2016)