Post Reply 
Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
01-29-2018, 07:48 PM
Post: #226
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
Here is a link to Augustus Bissell's testimony from the Surratt trial:

Also here are links to Bissell in the 1860 census in Pike township, Bradford County, Pennsylvania:

and in the 1880 census in Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania:

Those census images are on Familysearch, they're free to view but you have to have an account and sign in to see them. The two census records are needed to verify link the Augustus Bissell of Mahanoy City and Pike Township, Bradford County, Pennsylvania through the age and birthplace information of Bissell and his wife. Bissell lived in New York City at the time of the Surratt trial and in Owego, New York at the time he claimed to have met Surratt in 1865.

According to tax records, Bissell also lived in Waverly, New York in 1863; about 18 miles from Elmira:
I don't know if this has any significance or not.

Here's a link to get a sense of where all these places in Pennsylvania and New York are located in relation to one another:,+N...125881!3e0

According to testimony given at the Surratt trial, Bissell already had a bad reputation/character when he lived in Montrose, Susquehanna County PA and in Pike Township, in neighboring Bradford County:

Also note that two witnesses against Bissell were a prosecutor and a prothonotary (a type of court clerk in Pennsylvania), possibly indicating that Bissell may have been suspected/charged with some type of crime but not convicted which would've been inadmissible to mention in court. Unfortunately, the newspaper databases that I use don't have the coverage of that northeastern part of Pennsylvania as they do further south closer to Philadelphia.

The, strangely non-specific, testimony of his dubious character at the Surratt trial along with the newspaper article accounts (which start in 1872, only 5 years after the trial) of him helping to sell forged medical diplomas, helping to commit insurance fraud, and sending anonymous threatening letters through the mail lead me to believe that he was paid to lie in his testimony about meeting Surratt in Elmira, since most of what was described of him is money making schemes.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
01-30-2018, 11:28 AM
Post: #227
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
If this subject of whether or not Surratt was in Elmira at the time of the assassination continues to plague you, please do read the portions that Steve posted as links. And, please read past the portions that pertain to the witnesses whom the prosecutor presented to testify as to Dr. Bissell's lack of "truth and veracity." Make sure that you read the portion for the defense where a number of reputable men testify to Bissell's better character.

Justice of the Peace Alva Jarvis said of Bissell: " of truth and veracity among most of the respectable portion of the inhabitants is good as far as I have ever known... at least among a portion and perhaps a majority of the respectable portion of them." Doesn't that suggest that the prosecution's witnesses might not be in that respectable portion? Jarvis continues and identifies the other men who testified as "generally men of strong prejudices." When asked to identify that prejudice, it appears to be related to religion -- in this case, mention is made of a dispute between Bissell and members of a Methodist church. However, religious bias might also be inferred in the fact that Surratt was a Catholic?? Jarvis makes a strong point in favor of Bissell when he states that he never heard anything against Bissell "until this trial commenced."

At one point, a defense witness' politics and Union loyalty is even questioned -- guess what, Democrat from upstate NY; can we spell Copperhead during the war? Not Lincoln-friendly, therefore unreliable?

Another defense witness, G.B. Penel testifies to much of the "distrust" of Dr. Bissell coming after the trial in Buffalo where the doctor sued the New York and Erie Railroad for injuries to his leg. Doesn't that substantiate Bissell's story about being on crutches due to a rail incident and looking for a man who could testify for him -- this being his reason for being in Elmira on April 14th and meeting briefly with Surratt? Other defense witnesses state that they have known Dr. Bissell for many years (some 25 years and more) and believe him to be truthful. BTW: Wonder what the outcome of that Buffalo trial was...

In conclusion, I would also recommend that you read at least the last three chapters of John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away by Michael Schein. If you are like me and legal issues only bewilder you, I think that Michael's synopsis of the trial - with its great multitude of witnesses, its issue not only of Surratt's guilt, but also that of his mother's -- will help you make sense of most of it.

We focus so much on those who perjured themselves in 1865, in an attempt to indict the Confederacy. We need to realize that it continued in the 1867 trial. Dr. Bissell may have turned felonious in later years, but I would be very hesitant to paint him as a liar about Surratt being in Elmira at the time that Lincoln was shot. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
01-31-2018, 03:53 PM
Post: #228
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
For those of you that are interested, like Laurie, Bissell settled his suit in June 1865 with the railroad for $5,000 (abt. $81,400 today) plus his legal costs:

This is from the testimony of Bissell's lawyer in the railroad suit, Charles Wetmore, who was called as a rebuttal witness. Wetmore also admitted in his testimony that he had heard rumors that Bissell had a bad reputation when preparing witnesses for Bissell's case. I don't believe hearsay testimony like that from Bissell's former lawyer should have been allowed at the trial but it is telling about Bissell's character as historical evidence.

Wetmore also testified that they had already begun settlement negotiations for the case with the railroad lawyers in mid-April 1865 and that he did not believe Bissell was actively trying to find new witnesses at that time including the elusive brakeman Bissell claimed to be looking for that never became a witness in the case. One would think that Bissell would tell his attorney if he was looking for or thought he needed this specific witness for his case.

Also, if you examine the testimony of J. R. Fletcher (James Riley Fletcher):

Fletcher testified that he knew Bissell while they both lived in Leraysville/Pike Township in Bradford County PA around 1860 and that Bissell had a bad reputation before the railroad suit was even filed.

That they were indeed neighbors then is confirmed by the 1860 census where Fletcher is located on the census page before Bissell:

(see the link to Bissell's 1860 census record in my previous post)

Fletcher in the 1870 census:

and 1880 census:

(Fletcher's occupation is listed as a carpenter in the 1860 and 1880 censuses but his occupation of "keeping eating house" in the 1870 census seems like a close enough match to the livery stable keeper occupation in the court record.)

I have a few more thoughts on Bissell and his testimony, but I'm sort of pressed for time, so I'm posting what I've already written now and finish my thoughts tomorrow.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
01-31-2018, 04:08 PM
Post: #229
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
Thank you, Steve, for all the articles and posting all the information you have found.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
01-31-2018, 04:44 PM
Post: #230
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
I thank you also, Steve, because there are times that I wonder/worry about finding new and different angles in which to approach the ongoing study of all aspects of the Lincoln assassination story. Most of the time - even when I come across as grouchy when hit with new materials - I do pay attention to them and even readjust my thinking (but only occasionally!).

In short, anything that can shed new light or breathe new life into our 150+ year pursuit of the "truth" in studying our favorite topics works for me. Heck, I'm even getting interested in the life of Lincoln - something I never thought would happen!
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
02-02-2018, 05:27 AM
Post: #231
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
Thanks to Steve for sending 3 more articles on Dr. Bissell. Steve writes, "It looks like Bissell treated the Molly Maguires victim just two weeks after he was assaulted by that state senator. One of the articles has a fuller account of the incident with the state senator's assault than the one I sent before. I also found an 1871 article mentioning a dubious affidavit signed by Bissell and the other doctors of the "Philadelphia Eclectic College" trying to defend the college and one of the other doctors trying to bribe a New York Herald reporter for a favorable review."

[Image: bissell870.jpg]

[Image: bissell871.jpg]

[Image: bissell872.jpg]
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
02-03-2018, 02:22 PM (This post was last modified: 02-03-2018 02:44 PM by Steve.)
Post: #232
RE: Where was John Surratt on April 14, 1865 ?
The references of the 3 articles of the last post, in the order Roger posted them, are:

1. Weekly Miners' Journal (Pottsville, PA) 12 Sept. 1873 pg. 8

2. The National Baptist (Philadelphia, PA) 7 Dec. 1871 pg. 4

3. Weekly Miners' Journal 26 Sept. 1873 pg. 3

I found links on the Chronicling America website to some of the Herald and Tribune articles mentioned in the National Baptist article above.

The New York Herald 10 Dec. 1871 article about $10 bribe (column 3, bottom):

New York Tribune articles of 21 Nov. 1871

page 4, starts at bottom of column 3:

page 3, column 1 to the top of column two ("Philadelphia Eclectic College" letter starts at bottom of column 1):
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 

Forum Jump:

User(s) browsing this thread: 2 Guest(s)