Abraham Lincoln's Assassination
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John Surratt in his early 20's and early 70's
John Harrison Surratt, Jr. was born on April 13, 1844, on property his father, John Harrison Surratt, Sr., had inherited from his foster parents in what is now a section of Washington known as Congress Heights. John was Mary Surratt's youngest child.

John Surratt's brother, Isaac, and sister, Anna

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, John was a student at St. Charles College. In August of 1862 John’s father died. John, Jr., who was home at the time (probably on summer break) did not return to school. He was named Surratsville postmaster on September 1, 1862, and served in that role until November 17, 1863, when he was replaced by Andrew V. Robey. After his father’s death, John became a messenger for the Confederacy. He carried dispatches to Confederate boats on the Potomac River. Additionally, he sent to the South information regarding troop movements of Union soldiers stationed in the Washington, D.C. area and elsewhere. He enjoyed this lifestyle and often carried the messages in his boots or in the planks of his buggy. He liked outfoxing the federal detectives.

Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced John Wilkes Booth to Surratt in Washington on December 23, 1864. When Surratt heard of Booth's plot to kidnap President Lincoln, he willingly joined Booth's group of conspirators. On the night of Wednesday, March 15, 1865, Surratt met with Booth and other conspirators at Gautier's Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue to discuss the possible abduction of the president. According to Surratt, he then took part in a failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln on March 17, 1865. ** (Although many assassination books include this story, it probably never really took place. The president was invited to attend a play at the Campbell Hospital just outside Washington, but he remained in the city to make a speech to the 140th Indiana Regiment. Booth had learned beforehand about the change in Lincoln's schedule.) According to Surratt, his role in Booth's group ended with this unsuccessful kidnap attempt.

Surratt's whereabouts on the night of the assassination have been the subject of historical speculation. Surratt, himself, said he was in Elmira, New York, and that he then fled to Canada after hearing news of Lincoln being shot by Booth. He was hiding in Canada when his mother was hanged on July 7, 1865.

On September 15, 1865, Surratt fled to England and later to Rome. He joined the Papal Zouaves. When his location was discovered he went to Alexandria, Egypt. There he was arrested on November 27, 1866. Surratt was brought back to the United States and went on trial for murder on June 10, 1867. The jury heard 80 witnesses for the government and 90 witnesses for the defense. The trial ended August 10 with the jury deadlocked (four votes for guilt and eight votes for innocence). Eventually, Surratt was freed in the summer of 1868. He had benefited from the fact that he had been tried by a civil court. To read an excellent account of the trial, please see the article entitled The Case of John Harrison Surratt, Jr. by John F. Doyle in the March 2000 edition of the Surratt Courier.

Surratt became a teacher in Rockville, Maryland. At the courthouse there on December 6, 1870, he delivered a 75 minute public lecture on the conspiracy. Adults paid fifty cents to attend; children paid a quarter. He admitted his role in the abduction plot, but denied any part in the assassination. He blamed his mother's execution on Louis Weichmann, the government's star witness at the 1865 conspiracy trial. He called Weichmann a "perjurer." He said his friends had kept from him the news of the seriousness of his mother's plight in Washington. Additionally, Surratt said the Confederate government was not involved in the plot. CLICK HERE to read the transcript of Surratt's lecture.

During December 1870 Surratt gave a second lecture at the Cooper Union in New York City and a third one at Concordia Hall in Baltimore, but these events were not well attended. Surratt attempted to give a fourth lecture in Washington, D.C. on December 30, 1870, but enraged citizens forced its cancellation. It's possible Surratt wouldn't have given the lecture anyway as he had been arrested the day before in Richmond and charged with selling tobacco without a license in 1869.

Later Surratt secured a job as a teacher in St. Joseph Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Some time after 1872 he was hired by the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. As time went by, he rose to freight auditor and treasurer of the company. In 1872 Surratt married Mary Victorine Hunter, a second cousin of Francis Scott Key. The couple lived in Baltimore and had seven children.

John Surratt outlived all connected with the assassination. His address was 1016 W. Lanvale Street in Baltimore. He died of pneumonia at 9:00 P.M. on Friday, April 21, 1916, at the age of 72. He was buried in the New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore.

NOTE: The photograph at the top right is from the Surratt House Museum. For more details on Surratt's escape, capture, and trial please see Alfred Isacsson's book entitled The Travels, Arrest, and Trial of John H. Surratt (Middletown, New York, Vestigium Press, 2003). Additionally, for MUCH more information, please see The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows by Andrew Jampoler (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2008). The picture of Surratt below came from Mr. Jampoler's book.

** Verifying information about Booth's March 17 kidnap plans was told by the late Lincoln assassination scholar, Dr. James O. Hall, during an interview published in the April, 1990, edition of the Journal of the Lincoln Assassination. Dr. Hall said that E.L. Davenport, an actor in the play at Campbell Hospital, recalled how Booth had arrived at the hospital and asked about Lincoln's whereabouts on the afternoon of March 17.

I am grateful for the help of the late Laurie Verge, former Director of the Surratt House Museum, for her assistance with certain dates and other particulars on this page.
People Tried By The Military Commission
Samuel Arnold
Samuel Arnold (sentenced to life)
George Atzerodt
George Atzerodt (sentenced to hang)
David Herold
David Herold (sentenced to hang)
Dr. Samuel Mudd
Dr. Samuel Mudd (sentenced to life)
Michael O'Laughlen
Michael O'Laughlen (sentenced to life)
Lewis Paine
Lewis Powell (sentenced to hang)
Edman Spangler
Edman Spangler (sentenced to 6 years)
Mary Surratt
Mary Surratt (sentenced to hang)

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