Mary Elizabeth Surratt

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Mary Elizabeth Surratt (Jenkins)

Also Known As: "Elizabeth"
Birthdate: (42)
Birthplace: Clinton, Prince George's, Maryland, United States
Death: July 7, 1865 (38-46)
United States (hung for involvement in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Archibald Jenkins and Elizabeth Ann Jenkins
Wife of John Harrison Surratt, Sr.
Mother of Isaac Douglas Surratt; Anna Surratt and John Surratt, Jr. (Confederate courier and spy)
Sister of John Zadoc Jenkins and James Archibald Jenkins

Occupation: Boarding House Keeper
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Mary Elizabeth Surratt


Mary Surratt was born Mary Elizabeth Jenkins in 1823, in the southern Maryland town of Waterloo. Mary’s birthplace was on what can now be considered Andrew’s Air Force Base. Her parents, Archibald and Elizabeth Anne Jenkins, also had two sons. Mary attended a Catholic boarding school, The Academy for Young Ladies, in Alexandria, Virginia. At seventeen, Mary married John Harrison Surratt. They spent the early years of their marriage on the land that John had inherited from his foster parents, land that is now part of the Congress Heights area of Washington, D.C. Mary and John had three children together: Isaac, Anna, and John Jr.


Biographic Sketch of Mary Surratt

Mary Jenkins, born in Waterloo, Maryland and schooled in a Catholic female seminary, married John Surratt at age seventeen. In 1853, the Surratts bought 287 acres of land in Prince George's County--about a two-hour horse ride from Washington. Surratt built a tavern and a post office, and the property became known as Surrattsville. (During the Civil War, the tavern apparently served as a safehouse in the Confederate underground network.) The couple raised three children, Isaac, Anna, and John Jr.

In 1864, two years after John Surratt died, Mary Surratt decided to move to house she owned in Washington at 541 High Street. The tavern in Surrattsville she rented to an ex-policeman named John Lloyd, who would later provide the key evidence against her in the conspiracy trial.

From Wikipedia (English):

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt (May 1820 or 1823 – July 7, 1865) was an American boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Sentenced to death, she was the first woman executed by the United States federal government, and was hanged. She was the mother of John Surratt, who was later tried but was not convicted in the assassination.

The ghost of Mary Surratt, convicted in a plot to assassinate President Lincoln, has been seen at Fort McNair in Maryland, presumably trying to convince fort guests of her innocence.

Early life

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born to Archibald and Elizabeth Anne (Webster) Jenkins on a tobacco farm near the southern Maryland town of Waterloo (now known as Clinton). Sources differ as to whether she was born in 1820 or 1823. There is even uncertainty as to the month, although most sources say May.

She had two brothers, John Zadoc (born in 1822) and James Archibald (born in 1825). Her father died in the fall of 1825 when Mary was two years old. Although her father was a nondenominational Protestant and her mother Episcopalian, Surratt was enrolled in a private Catholic girl's boarding school, the Academy for Young Ladies in Alexandria, Virginia, on November 25, 1835. Raised an Episcopalian, where to send young Mary may have been influenced by her mother's sister, Sarah Latham Webster (a Catholic). Within two years, Mary converted to Roman Catholicism (adopting the baptismal name of Maria Eugenia). She stayed at the Academy for Young Ladies for four years (leaving only when the school closed in 1839), and remained a devout Catholic for the rest of her life.

Married life

Mary Jenkins met John Harrison Surratt in 1839, when she was 16 and he was 26. His family had settled in Maryland in the late 1600s. An orphan, he was adopted by Richard and Sarah Neale of Washington, D.C., a wealthy couple who owned a farm. The Neales divided their farm among their children, and Surratt inherited a portion of it. His background was "sketchy" at best, and he had fathered at least one child out of wedlock. They wed in August 1840. John Surratt converted to Roman Catholicism prior to the marriage, and the couple may have wed at a Catholic church in Washington, D.C. John Surratt purchased a mill in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and the couple moved there. The Surratts had three children over the next few years: Isaac (born June 2, 1841), Elizabeth Susanna (nicknamed "Anna", born January 1, 1843), and John, Jr. (born April 1844).

In 1843, John Surratt purchased from his adopted father 236 acres (96 ha) acres of property straddling the D.C./Maryland border, a property named "Foxhall" (approximately the area between Wheeler Road and Owens Road today). Richard Neale died in September 1843, and a month later John purchased 119 acres of land adjoining Foxall. John and Mary Surratt and their children moved back to John's childhood home in the District of Columbia in 1845 to help John's mother run the Neale farm. But Sarah Neale fell ill and died in August 1845, having shortly before her death deeded the remainder of the Neale farm over to John. Mary Surratt became involved in raising funds to build St. Ignatious Church in Oxon Hill (it was constructed in 1850), but John Surratt was increasingly unhappy with his wife's religious activities. His behavior deteriorated over the next few years. John Surratt drank heavily, often failed to pay his debts, and his temper was increasingly volatile and violent.

In 1851, the Neale farmhouse burned to the ground (an escaped family slave was suspected of setting the blaze). John got work on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and Mary moved with her children into the home of her cousin, Thomas Jenkins, in nearby Clinton. Within a year, John Surratt purchased 200 acres (81 ha) of farmland near what is now Clinton, and by 1853 he constructed a tavern and an inn there. Initially, Mary refused to move herself and the children into their new home. She took up residence on the old Neale farm, but John sold both the Neale farm and Foxhall in May 1853 to pay debts and she was forced to move back in with him in December.

With the money he earned from the tavern and sale of his properties, on December 6, 1853, John Surratt bought a townhouse at 541 H Street in Washington, D.C., and began renting it out to tenants. In 1854, John built a hotel as an addition to his tavern, and called it Surratt's Hotel.

The area round the tavern was officially named Surrattsville that same year. Travelers could take Branch Road (now Branch Avenue) north into Washington, D.C.; Piscataway Road southwest to Piscataway; or Woodyard Road northwest to Upper Marlboro. Although Surrattsville was a well-known crossroads, the community did not amount to much—just the tavern, a post office (inside the tavern), a forge, and a dozen or so houses (some of them log cabins). John Surratt was the hamlet's first postmaster.

John Surratt expanded his family's holdings by selling off land, paying down debt, and starting news businesses. Over the next few years, Surratt acquired or built a carriage house, corn crib, general store, forge, granary, gristmill, stable, tobacco curing house, and wheelwright's shop. The family had enough money to send all three children to nearby Roman Catholic boarding schools. Isaac and John Jr. attended St. Thomas Manor, while Anna enrolled at the Academy for Young Ladies (Mary's alma mater). The family's debts continued to mount, however, and John Sr.'s drinking worsened. John sold another 120 acres (49 ha) of land in 1856 to pay debts. By 1857, Surratt had sold all but 600 acres (240 ha) of the family's formerly extensive holdings (which represented only about half the 1,200 acres (490 ha) he had originally owned). Most of the family's slaves (never many in number) were also sold to pay debts. Still John Surratt's alcoholism worsened. In 1858, Mary wrote a letter to her local priest, telling him that Surratt was drunk every single day. In 1860, St. Thomas Manor closed, and Isaac found work in Baltimore, Maryland. The Surratts sold off another 100 acres (40 ha) of land, which enabled Anna to remain at the Academy for Young Ladies and for John Jr. to enroll at St. Charles College, Maryland (a Catholic seminary and boarding school in Ellicott's Mills). The couple also borrowed money that same year against their townhouse in Washington, D.C., and at some point used the property as collateral for a $1,000 loan.

Civil War and widowhood

The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861. The border state of Maryland remained part of the United States ("the Union"), but the Surratts (like nearly all their Prince George's County neighbors) were Confederate sympathizers and their tavern regularly hosted fellow sympathizers. (The Surratt tavern was being used as a "safe house" for Confederate spies, and at least one author concludes that Mary Surratt had "de facto" knowledge of this fact.) On March 7, 1861, (three days after Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as President of the United States) Isaac Surratt left Maryland and traveled to Texas, where he enlisted in the Confederate States Army (serving in the 33rd Cavalry, or Duff's Partisan Rangers, 14th Cavalry Battalion). John Jr. quit his studies at St. Charles College in July 1861 and became a courier for the Confederate Secret Service, moving messages, cash, and contraband back and forth across enemy lines. The Confederate activities in and around Surrattsville drew the attention of the Union government. In late 1861, Lafayette C. Baker, a detective with the Union Intelligence Service, and 300 Union soldiers camped in Surrattsville and investigated the Surratts and others for Confederate activities. He quickly uncovered evidence of a large Confederate courier network operating in the area, but despite some arrests and warnings the courier network remained intact.

John Surratt collapsed suddenly and died on either August 25 or August 26 in 1862 (sources differ as to the date). The cause of death was a stroke. The Surratt family affairs were in serious financial difficulties. John Jr. and Anna both left school to help their mother run the family's remaining farmland and businesses. On September 10, 1862, John Jr. was appointed postmaster of the Surrattsville post office. Lafayette Baker swept through Surrattsville again in 1862, during which time several postmasters were dismissed for disloyalty. John Jr. was not one of them. In August 1863, John Jr. sought a job in the paymaster's department in the United States Department of War, but his application raised suspicions about his entire family's loyalties to the Union. Surratt was dismissed as postmaster on November 17, 1863, for disloyalty.

The loss of John Jr.'s job as postmaster caused a financial crisis for the Surratt family. When John Sr.'s estate was probated in late November 1862, the family owned only two middle-aged male slaves. However, by 1863, Louis J. Weichmann (a friend of John Jr.'s from St. Charles College) observed that the family had six or more slaves working on the property. By 1864, Mary Surratt found that her husband's unpaid debts and bad business deals had left her with many creditors. Several of her slaves ran away. When he was not meeting with Confederate sympathizers in the city, her son was selling vegetables to raise cash for the family. In November 1863, agents of the federal government once again became suspicious about the Surratt family's loyalties. Mary Surratt was tired of running the farm, tavern, and other businesses without her son's help. In the fall of 1864, she began considering moving to her townhouse in the city.

Surratt's boarding house circa 1890, little changed from how it looked during her occupancy.On October 1, 1864, Mary Surratt took possession of the house at 541 H Street in Washington, D.C. The house was made of gray brick,29 feet (8.8 m) wide, 100 feet (30 m) deep, and had four stories. The first floor, which was level with the street, consisted of two large rooms which were used as the kitchen and dining room. The second floor contained a front and back parlor, with the room in the rear used as Mary Surratt's bedroom. The third floor had three rooms—two in the front and one larger one at the back. The fourth floor, which was considered an attic, had two large and one small room (occupied by a servant). Wooden stairs led up to each floor. Surratt began moving her belongings into the townhouse that month, and on November, 1, 1864, Anna and John Jr. took up residence there. Mary Surratt herself moved into the home on December 1. That same day, she leased the tavern in Surrattsville to to a former Washington, D.C., policeman and Confederate sympathizer John M. Lloyd for $500 a year. On November 30, December 8, and December 27, Mary Surratt advertised for lodgers in the Washington Star newspaper. She had initially said that she only wanted lodgers who known to her pesonally or were recommended by friends, but in her advertisements she said rooms were "available for 4 gentlemen."

Scholars have raised questions about Surratt's move into the city. Historians Kate Larson and Roy Chamlee have noted that although there is no definitive proof, a case can be made that Surratt made the move into the city in furtherance of her and her son's espionage activities. For example, Larson and Chamlee say, on September 21, 1864, John Surratt wrote to Louis Wiechmann, observing that the family's plans to move into the city were advancing rapidly "on account of certain events having turned up"—perhaps a cryptic reference to either his Confederate activities in general or the conspiracy to kidnap or kill Lincoln. Larson has observed that although the move made long-term economic sense for Surratt, it also (in the short term) would have meant moving expenses and furnishing up to 10 rooms in the townhouse—money she did not have. Chamlee disagrees with the economic rationale, however, concluding that it would have been more profitable to rent the house entirely to lodgers. The city was also a more dangerous and morally challenging place for her daughter, and Surratt had striven to keep Anna away from such influences (such as her husband, John Sr.) for years. Moreover, Surratt still owed money on both the tavern and the townhouse, and would take out yet another mortgage against the townhouse in January 1865.

Lincoln assassination

Surratt's boarding house, which now houses a restaurant, is located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Conspiracy at the boardinghouse

Louis Weichmann moved into Mary Surratt's boardinghouse on November 1, 1864. On December 23, 1864, Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced John Surratt, Jr. to John Wilkes Booth. Booth recruited John Jr. into his conspiracy to kidnap Abraham Lincoln. Confederate agents began frequenting the boarding house. Booth visited the boardinghouse many times over the next few months, sometimes at Mary Surratt's request.

George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell boarded at the townhouse for short periods. Atzerodt, a friend of John Jr.'s and Booth's and a co-conspirator in the plot (as it was at that time) to kidnap Lincoln, visited the boardinghouse several times in the first two months of 1865. He stayed at the Surratt boardinghouse in February 1865 (whether one night or several is unclear, as sources differ), but he proved to be a heavy drinker and Mary Surratt evicted him after just a few days. He continued to visit the townhouse frequenty afterward, however. Lewis Powell posed as a Baptist preacher and stayed at the boardinghouse for three days in March 1865. David Herold also called at the home several times.

As part of the plot to kidnap Lincoln in March 1865, John Surratt, Atzerodt, and conspirator David Herold hid two Spencer carbines, ammunition, and some other supplies at the Surratt tavern in Surrattsville. On April 11, Mary Surratt rented a carriage and drove to the Surratt tavern. She said she made the trip to collect a debt owed her by a former neighbor. But according to her tenant, John Lloyd, said Surratt told him to get the "shooting irons" ready to be picked up. On April 14, Mary Surratt said she would once again visit the family tavern in Surrattsville to collect a debt. Shortly before she left the city, Booth visited the boardinghouse and spoke with her. He gave her a package (later found to contain binoculars) to Lloyd for pick-up later that evening. Surratt did so, and (according to Lloyd) again told Lloyd to have the "shooting irons" ready for pick-up. (Booth and Herold would pick up the rifles and binoculars that evening as they fled Washington after Lincoln's assassination.) Lloyd repaired a broken spring on Mrs. Surratt's wagon before she left.

Arrest and incarceration

In the early hours of April 15, 1865, U.S. government detectives visited the Surratt boarding house, seeking John Surratt. Eyewitnesses had identified Booth as Lincoln's attacker, and the detectives had information linking John Jr. to Booth. Mary Surratt lied, and told the detectives that her son was in Canada. With the investigation into Lincoln's assassination leading more and more to the lodgers at the Surratt boarding house, federal agents visited the Surratt boardinghouse again on April 17, seeking John Jr. John Jr. could not be found, but after a search of the house the agents found in Mary's room a picture of Booth (hidden behind another photograph), pictures of Confederate leaders (including Jefferson Davis), a pistol, a mold for making bullets, and percussion caps. As Mary Surratt was being arrested for conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, Lewis Powell appeared at her door (in disguise). Although Surratt denied knowing him, Powell was arrested and later identified as the man who had attempted to assassinate Secretary of the Interior William Seward.

After her arrest, she was held at an annex to the Old Capital Prison for a few days before being transferred to the Washington Arsenal. Her cell was sparse and equipped with a straw pallet and a bucket. Held in military custody under sweltering conditions, the other arrested conspirators had their heads enclosed in a padded canvas bag to prevent a suicide attempt. Sources disagree as to whether Surratt was forced to wear this as well. She was also kept manacled and was constantly guarded by four soldiers. She began to suffer menstrual bleeding, and became weak during her detention. She and Lewis Powell received the most attention from the press.

Surratt's youngest son, John Surratt, admitted that he was involved in a failed plot with John Wilkes Booth and others to kidnap the president on March 17, 1865 but claimed he was not involved in the assassination a month later. Nevertheless, he left the country immediately after the shooting, and remained a fugitive for more than a year and half before being captured in Egypt and returned to stand trial as a conspirator. He testified that he had been in Elmira, New York, en route to Montreal, Canada, when Lincoln was shot. He also insisted that his mother had not been involved in the plot in any way.


The trial for the alleged conspirators began on May 9. Historian Laurie Verge has commented that "Only in the case of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd is there are much controversy as to the guilt or innocence of one of the defendants." Mary Surratt retained Reverdy Johnson, a respected lawyer and U.S. Senator, as her legal counsel. A member of the military commission trying the conspirators challenged Johnson's right to defend Surratt, as Johnson had objected to requiring loyalty oaths from voters in the 1864 presidential election. After much discussion, this objection was withdrawn, but damage was done to Johnson's influence. Most of Surratt's legal defense was presented by two other lawyers, Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt.

The prosecution's strategy was to tie Surratt to the conspiracy. Powell's arrival at her boardinghouse three days after the president's murder was critical evidence against her, the government argued. The prosecution presented nine witnesses, but most of their case rested on the testimony of just two men—John Lloyd and Louis Weichmann. Lloyd testified on May 13 and 15, 1865, regarding the hiding of the carbines and other supplies at the tavern in March, and the two conversations he had with Mrs. Surratt in which she told him to get the "shooting irons" ready. Weichmann testified May 16 to 19, and said that he had resided at the boardinghouse since November 1864. He had seen or overhead John Jr. meeting and talking with Atzerodt, Booth, and Powell many times over the past four and a half months. Weichmann had driven Mrs. Surratt to the Surrattsville tavern on April 11 and April 14, confirmed that she and Lloyd had spent much time in private conversation, testified that he saw Booth give her the package of binoculars, and attested that she'd turned the package over to Lloyd. Weichmann also testified at length about the Surratt family's ties to the Confederate spy and courier rings operating in the area, and their relationships with Atzerodt and Powell. He also testified about the December 23 meeting with Booth and John Jr. (which he also attended) and their subsequent meeting with Booth at Booth's room at the National Hotel. Finally, he told the military tribunal about the general excitement in the boardinghouse in March 1864 after the failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln.

Other prosecution witnesses reinforced Weichmann's testimony. Lodger Honora Fitzpatrick confirmed visits by Atzerodt, Booth, and Powell to the boardinghouse. Emma Offut, Lloyd's sister-in-law, testified that she saw (but did not hear) Mary Surratt speaking for long periods of time with Lloyd on April 11 and 14. Government agents testified about their arrest of Mrs. Surratt, Powell's arrival, and her denial that she knew Powell. They also testified about their search of the house, and the evidence (the photographs, the weapons, etc.) discovered there. Lloyd's testimony had been the most important for the prosecution's case, for it indicated Mary Surratt played an active role in the conspiracy in the days just before Lincoln's death. The prosecution rested its case on May 22.

The defense strategy was to impeach the testimony of the key prosecution witnesses, Lloyd and Weichmann. But the defense also wished to show that Mary Surratt was loyal to the Union, that her trips to Surrattsville were of an innocent nature, and that she had not been aware of Booth's plans. Thirty-one witnesses testified for the defense. George H. Calvert testified that he had pressed Surratt to pay a debt, Bennett Gwynn said Surratt had sought payment from John Nothey in order to satisfy the Calvert debt, and Nothey agreed that he'd received a letter from Surratt requesting that he appear at the tavern on April 11 to pay what was owed. Several witnesses impugned Lloyd's character by testifying about his alcoholism. Several eyewitnesses said he appeared completely intoxicated on the day of Lincoln's death (April 14), implying that he could not have remembered with clarity what happened that day. (However, Lloyd had testified that he repaired a broken spring on Mrs. Surratt's wagon, which rebutted these claims.) Augustus Howell, a Confederate agent, testified that Mrs. Surratt's eyesight was poor, and that Louis Weichmann was an untrustworthy witness as he had sought to become a Confederate spy himself. (The prosecution attempted to show that Howell himself was a Confederate spy and should not be trusted.) Anna Surratt testified that it was Weichmann who had brought Atzerodt into the boardinghouse, that the photograph of Booth was hers (given to her by her father in 1862), and that she also owned photographs of Union political and military leaders. Anna denied ever overhearing any discussions of disloyal activities or ideas in the boardinghouse, and said that while Booth visited the house many times his stays were always short. Anna explained her mother's failure to recognize Powell by asserting she could not see well. Honora Fitzpatrick was called back to the stand, and testified to Mary's poor sight as well. A former servant and a former slave both said Mrs. Surratt's eyesight was failing, and that she'd given Union soldiers food. Numerous witnesses were called at the end of the defense's case to testify to Mary Surratt's loyalty to the Union, her deep Christian faith, and her kindness. A number of Catholic priests were called to the stand to testify about Surratt's faith, good character, and incorruptibility. Portraying Surratt as a good Christian woman incapable of committing the crimes for which she was accused formed a large part of the defense strategy.

During the prosecution's rebuttal, government lawyers called four witnesses (P.T. Ransford, John Ryan, Frank Stith, and James Young) to the stand, who testified as to Weichmann's unimpeachable character.

Johnson and Aiken presented the closing arguments for the defense. Johnson attacked the jurisdiction of a military tribunal over civilians (as had Dr. Mudd's attorney). Aiken challenged the court's jurisdiction as well. But he also reiterated that Lloyd and Weichmann were unreliable witnesses, and that the evidence against Mary Surratt was entirely circumstantial. The only evidence linking Surratt to the conspiracy to kill Lincoln, he said, came from Lloyd and Weichmann, and neither man was telling the truth (he said). (Dorothy Kunhardt has written that there is evidence the latter's testimony was suborned by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.)

Judge Advocate John Bingham presented the closing argument for the prosecution. The military tribunal had jurisdiction, he said, not only because the court itself had ruled at the beginning of the trials that it did but because these were crimes committed in a military zone, during a time of war, and against high government officials in carrying out treasonous activities. Bingham pointed out that the Surratt boardinghouse was where the conspiracy was planned, and that Atzerodt, Booth, and Powell had all met with Mary Surratt. Booth had paid for the rental of the carriage which took Surratt to Surrattsville each time, and Bingham said this was evidence that Surratt's trips were critical to the conspiracy. Bingham also said that Lloyd's testimony had been corroborated by others, and that his unwillingness to reveal the cache of weapons in the tavern was prompted by his subservient tenant relationship to Mrs. Surratt. Bingham concluded by reiterating the government's key point: Powell had returned to the Surratt house seeking Mrs. Surratt, and this alone was proof of her guilt. Bingham also pointed out for the tribunal that the charge a person was indicted for was irrelevant: Under the law of conspiracy, if one person carries out a crime, all conspirators are guilty of the same crime.

The trial ended on June 30, 1865. Sentence was handed down June 30. The military tribunal found Mary Surratt guilty on all charges but two. A death sentence required six of the nine votes of the judges. Surratt was sentenced to death.

Anna Surratt pleaded repeatedly for her mother's life with Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, but he refused to consider clemency. She also attempted to see President Andrew Johnson several times to beg for mercy, but was not granted permission to see him.

Five of the nine judges signed a letter asking President Andrew Johnson to give Surratt clemency and commute her sentence to life in prison, given her age and gender. Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt did not deliver the recommendation to President Johnson until July 5, two days before Surratt and the others were to hang. Johnson signed the order for execution, but did not sign the order for clemency. Johnson later said he never saw the clemency request; Holt said he showed it to Johnson, who refused to sign it. Johnson, according to Holt, said in signing the death warrant that she had "kept the nest that hatched the egg".


Newspaper drawing of Surratt in the death cell with her priest in July 1865.At noon on July 6, Surratt was informed she would be hanged the next day. She wept profusely. She was joined shortly by a Catholic priest, her daughter Anna, and a few friends. She was allowed to wear looser handcuffs and leg irons during this period, but was kept hooded. She spent the night praying and refused breakfast. Her friends were ordered to leave her at 10:00 on the morning of July 7, and her heavy manacles were replaced. She spent the final hours of her life with her priest.

On July 7, 1865, around 1:15 P.M., a procession, headed by the nearly fainting Mary Surratt and consisting of the four condemned prisoners (their hands manacled and legs chained with heavy irons and 75-pound balls and many guards), was led through the courtyard, past the condemned's newly dug graves, and up the thirteen steps to the gallows where the four were to be hanged. Surratt had to be supported by two soldiers. The actual gallows was on a ten-foot-high platform. The hangman had made Surratt's noose with five turns instead of the required seven because he had thought that the government would never hang a woman.

The condemned were seated in chairs while their chains and shoes were removed and their wrists were tied together behind them, their arms were bound to their sides, and their ankles and thighs tied together. Instead of rope, white cloth was used. Surratt wore a long black dress and black veil. The doomed party was attended by several members of the clergy. In addition to the military personnel and various officials, one hundred civilian spectators with tickets were present to watch them die. From the scaffold, Powell said, "Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn't deserve to die with the rest of us". The condemned were then moved forward past the "break," (the forward part of the hinged platform of the gallows), nooses were placed around their necks, and thin white cotton "hanging-cap" hoods were placed over their heads. Mary Surratt's last words, spoken to a guard as he put the noose around her neck, were purported to be, "please don't let me fall". Journalist Robert K. Elder published these as Surratt’s last words in the 2010 book Last Words of the Executed. General Winfield Scott Hancock read out the death sentences in alphabetical order.

When the condemned were judged prepared, General Hancock clapped his hands twice, and by prior arrangement, two soldiers on the ground at the back of the scaffold used long poles to ram and knock out the two supporting posts, releasing the gallows platform front to fall at the hinges. The conspirators dropped about five or six feet, which apparently killed Surratt instantly, as (unlike the other condemned) after the drop, spectators saw no motion at all from Surratt's body, save natural twirling on the rope. [Atzerodt's stomach moved, but spectators judged his was the second easiest death after Surratt's. The drop clearly failed to break the necks of Powell and Herold, who from their motions both slowly strangled over the next five minutes]. The body of Mary Surratt and those of the other convicted conspirators were allowed to hang for about 30 minutes.


After being cut down, all of the bodies were placed on the lids of their coffins (which were actually gun boxes) by the gallows, declared dead by doctors, and unceremoniously buried with the hoods still on and a glass vial containing their names to help identify the bodies. Several pieces of the rope that had ended Surratt's life and locks of her hair were sold as souvenirs. The night she died, a mob attacked the Surratt boardinghouse and began stripping it of souvenirs until the police stopped them.

Four years later, Anna Surratt pleaded with the federal government successfully for the return of her mother's remains. Today, Mary Surratt's body is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C., at 1300 Bladensburg Road, NE. Her headstone reads simply, "Mrs. Surratt". The bodies of Anna Surratt and Isaac Surratt were buried on each side of their mother. John Surratt's body was buried in Baltimore. The body of John Lloyd, whose testimony may have sealed Mary's fate, is buried less than 100 yards (91 m) south of her grave, in the same cemetery (his simple tombstone is marked, "John M. Lloyd").

Surviving family and home

Mary's son John was ultimately captured after a year and a half as a fugitive hiding in various Roman Catholic religious establishments as well as the Papal States. In September, 1865, he traveled from St. Liboire to Montreal, to Quebec, and on to Liverpool. He served for a brief time in the Papal Zouaves under the name John Watson. Arrested in 1866, he escaped and travelled to the Kingdom of Italy, posing as a Canadian. He booked passage to Alexandria, Egypt, and was arrested there by American officials on November 23, 1866, then extradited to the United States. He was sent home on a U.S. naval warship and put on trial. He was ultimately released after a mistrial and the statutes of limitations had run out on lesser charges. The federal government attempted to retry him but was unsuccessful. He died in 1916.

Mary Surratt's boarding house still stands, in what is now the Chinatown area of Washington, D.C., housing a Chinese restaurant. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The Surrattsville tavern and house are historical sites run today by the Surratt Society located in Clinton, Maryland.

Edward Fitzgerald, father of American novelist and short-story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was Mary Surratt's first cousin once removed.

Surratt was portrayed by actress Virginia Gregg in the 1956 episode "The Mary Surratt Case," telecast as part of the NBC anthology series The Joseph Cotten Show. She is portrayed by Robin Wright in the 2011 film The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford.

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Mary Elizabeth Surratt's Timeline

Clinton, Prince George's, Maryland, United States
June 2, 1841
Age 18
Age 20
April 13, 1844
Age 21
July 7, 1865
Age 42
United States

First Woman hanged by US for conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln