John Surratt, Jr. (Confederate courier and spy)

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John Harrison Surratt, Jr.

Birthdate: (72)
Death: April 21, 1916 (72)
Immediate Family:

Son of John Harrison Surratt, Sr. and Mary Elizabeth Surratt
Husband of Mary Victorine Hunter
Father of John Harrison Surratt, III; William Hunter Surratt; Mary Eugenia Dalton; Leo Jenkins Surratt; Susannah Scott Hardy and 2 others
Brother of Isaac Douglas Surratt and Anna Surratt
Half brother of John W. H. Surratt

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About John Surratt, Jr. (Confederate courier and spy)

John Surratt (April 13, 1844 – April 21, 1916) was accused of plotting with John Wilkes Booth to kidnap U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and suspected of involvement in the Abraham Lincoln assassination. His mother Mary Surratt was convicted of conspiracy and hanged by the United States Federal Government. She owned the boarding house where Booth and fellow conspirators planned the scheme. John Surratt avoided arrest immediately after the assassination by fleeing the country. He served briefly as a papal zouave before his arrest and extradition. By the time he returned to the United States the statute of limitations had expired on most of the potential charges and he was not convicted.

Early life

John Harrison Surratt, Jr. was born in 1844, to John Surratt, Sr. and Mary (Jenkins) Surratt, in what is today Congress Heights. His christening took place in 1844 at St. Peter's Church, Washington, D.C. In 1861, Surratt was enrolled at St. Charles College. When his father suddenly died in 1862, John Jr. was appointed the postmaster for Surrattsville, Maryland.

Lincoln kidnapping

Surratt served as a Confederate courier and spy and had been carrying dispatches about Union troop movements across the Potomac River for some time. Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced Surratt to John Wilkes Booth on 23 December 1864, and Surratt agreed to help Booth kidnap Abraham Lincoln. The meeting took place at the National Hotel, where Booth lived in Washington, D.C. Booth's plan was to seize Lincoln, take him to Richmond, Virginia, and exchange him for thousands of Confederate prisoners of war. On 17 March 1865, Surratt and Booth, along with with their comrades, waited in ambush for Lincoln's carriage to leave the Campbell General Hospital and return to Washington. However, Lincoln had changed his mind and remained in Washington. Following Lincoln's assassination on 14 April 1865, Surratt denied any involvement with the murder plot, claiming at that time he was in Elmira, New York. Surratt did not take part in the assassination, but he was one of the first people suspected of the attack on Secretary of State William H. Seward. However, it was soon discovered that Lewis Powell had tried to kill Seward.


When he learned of the assassination, Surratt fled to Canada. He reached Montreal on 17 April 1865. He then went to St. Liboire, where a Catholic priest, Father Charles Boucher, gave him sanctuary. Surratt remained there while his mother was arrested, tried and hanged for conspiracy.

Surratt left for Europe for safety. Aided by ex-Confederate agents Beverly Tucker and Edwin Lee, Surratt booked passage under an alias and landed at Liverpool in September. He served for a time in the Ninth Company of the Pontifical Zouaves in the Vatican City, using the name John Watson.

An old friend, Henri Beaumont de Sainte-Marie, recognized Surratt and notified Vatican officials and Rufus King, U.S. minister in Rome. On 7 November 1866, John Surratt was arrested and sent to Velletri prison. He escaped and lived with the Garibaldians, who gave him safe passage. Surratt traveled to the Kingdom of Italy, posing as a Canadian citizen named Walters. He booked passage to Alexandria, Egypt, but was arrested there by U.S. officials on 23 November 1866. He was sent home on the Swatara, which delivered John Surratt to the Washington Navy Yard in early 1867.


Surratt was tried in a civilian court of the State of Maryland, not before a military commission, as his mother and the others had been. A recent Supreme Court decision had declared the trial of civilians before military tribunals to be unconstitutional (Ex Parte Milligan). Judge David Carter presided over Surratt's trial, and Edwards Pierrepont conducted the federal government's case against Surratt. Surratt's lead attorney, Joseph Habersham Bradley, admitted Surratt's part in plotting to kidnap the President, but denied any involvement in the murder plot. After two months of testimony, Surratt was released after a mistrial; eight jurors had voted not guilty, four voted guilty. The statute of limitations on charges other than murder had run out, and Surratt was released on $25,000 bail.

Later life

Surratt became a model citizen. He farmed tobacco, taught at the Rockville Female Academy, gave public lectures, served as treasurer of the Old Bay Line steamship company on Chesapeake Bay, and became a teacher at the St. Joseph Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1872 he married Mary Victorine Hunter, they had seven children. Surratt retired from the Old Bay Line in 1914.

John Harrison Surratt died of pneumonia in Baltimore in 1916 at the age of 72.

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John Surratt, Jr. (Confederate courier and spy)'s Timeline

April 13, 1844
Age 27
Age 29
Age 31
Age 33
Age 33
Age 40
Age 40
April 21, 1916
Age 72