Surratt’s Wanted Photo

A few days ago Roger Norton left the following comment on this blog:

“Dave, please excuse going off topic.  But I am looking for a younger pair of eyes on this one.  On my Mary Surratt page at I have a photo identified as Isaac Surratt.  Basically it’s Laurie, Joan Chaconas, and I against the world on this one – do you think that is Isaac or is it really just another photo of John?  What do younger eyes see?  The one author I can find that agrees with Laurie, Joan, and me is Roy Chamlee.”

The picture Mr. Norton is referencing is John Surratt’s wanted poster photo:

The picture used in the wanted poster came from the Surratt boardinghouse after it was searched.

It has been proposed, as Roger states, that the picture is not of John but rather of his brother Isaac.  It’s a hard point to prove because while there are a few photos of John in his younger years to compare it to, there is only one known photograph of Isaac Surrat known to exist.  Still, it’s an interesting possibility and one worthy of dicussion.

So, what do you think? Does this wanted poster photo look more like John or Isaac? Post your views in the comment section below.  I’ll wait a while and then chime in with my opinion.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on “Surratt’s Wanted Photo

  1. Rich Smyth

    Hi Dave. I think it looks like John.

  2. Rich Smyth

    Look at the ears.

  3. Laurie Verge

    Just an FYI: Joan Chaconas and I found this disputed photo of Isaac Surratt in the Library of Congress (yes, the building – not online) back in about 1978, and it was clearly identified as being of Isaac Douglas Surratt, son of the condemned Mary Surratt.

    There was no dispute as to who it was until John C. Brennan and Fr. Robert Keesler found a CDV of the photo about ten years later in a flea market labeled as John Surratt. When Joan and I contacted the LOC at that point, the photo could not be found.

    The only other known photo of Isaac is what appeared in the Baltimore newspapers at the time of his death in 1907. He was 66 at the time of his death, and this photo appears to me to be of a man in his early- to mid-50s. With the extra added attraction of that handsome mustache and full goatee, it is difficult to determine the mouth. The lower lip and the rather blunt end to the nose makes me continue to think that it is Isaac.

  4. Richard Sloan

    You and Roger are confusing me over the JHS photo that has the curling hair . You each show it flopped differently. I forget which way it should be. Then I could better compare it with the reward poster and Isaac pictures. This is important to pin down before making a studied comparison. Off hand, tho, I think the eyes and ear and eyebrows seem to indicate hat the wanted poster pic is, indeed, JHS.

    • I don’t blame you, Richard. My question is how do we know what direction a photo of the day is supposed to be? When they “developed” photographs back then, were they mirror images or how they are supposed to look? I did “flip” this image of John, but by doing so I fixed the text that is found at the top of the photo to be written forward instead of backwards. I honestly don’t know how to tell which direction it (and other period images of the day) should be.

      • tyboots



        • Cliff Roberts

          Note to tyboots: You’re right about tintypes, but this is not a tintype. This photo is a positive print made from a glass-plate negative.

      • Cliff Roberts

        In mens clothing, buttons are always on the righthand side, thus the photo on the left (with the name in reverse at the top) is the true and corrected view of John H. Surratt. Buttons can’t be seen in the photo of the possible Isaac, so we can’t tell whether it’s the corrected view. If both men were facing in the same direction when the photos were taken, then I’d say they are one and the same individual.

  5. Julie

    I think it’s John. Same eyebrows and prominent cheekbones. His brother doesn’t look much like him.

  6. Laurie, Betty, and Joan, please don’t kill me…but I may have to abandon the ranks here. My eyes are now seeing it as another photo of John. On my computer I flipped the photo of Isaac, put it alongside John, and it looks like the same person to me. I am now thinking maybe the LOC had it wrong. Please forgive my change of opinion on this, Laurie, Betty, and Joan. Dave, thank you for posting all the photos and devoting a part of your blog to my question.

  7. Jim Garrett

    I agree with Rich on the ear. I have an engraving from the April Harper”s that identifys him as john, but I’m sure that identification is based on the reward poster.

  8. I think it’s definitely Isaac – I was told this from waaaay back in the early days when I was a docent at Surratt House!

  9. Laurie Verge

    Joan and I based our assessment strictly on the Library of Congress’ identification of it being of Isaac. It was supposedly taken from the Surratt boardinghouse. If I had been Mary, I would have surrendered a picture of my son, Isaac, that I knew was a thousand miles away from D.C. – not one of John.

    I failed to mention also that the CDV shot supposedly of John only had a handwritten claim that it was him.

    I continue to doubt the mouth and chin, but it really makes no different to me which son it is.



      • Renee Lee

        it;s not him. There are quite a few differences if you lookf or them. The ears are different, the shape of the mouth. is too; Also, The proposed JHS has a bigger forhead and a different jawline, also a longer neck. Their hair appears different as well. Now, i’d go so far as to say it’s a relative, but i won’t ever say that that is JH Surratt. Seeing is believing. And i have no favoritism toward either side; just callin’ it as i see it.

    • Cliff Roberts

      Note to Laurie: Mary didn’t “surrender” the photo. Police ransacked her house from top to bottom seizing every document and photograph they could find. Very likely, officers had someone (probably Weichmann) verify the identity of the man in the subject photo as Mrs. Surratt’s son, John.

  10. Well enough people have commented I thought I’d chime in now. I for one think that it is probably John. I wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea of it being Isaac, though. The possible scenario Laurie speaks of above (of Mary deliberately giving investigators a picture of the wrong son) is not out of the question in my opinion.

    Ultimately though I can’t put my faith in a label from the Library of Congress. As many of you know, some conspiracy theorists have used this misfiled and mislabeled picture of Edwin Booth as “evidence” that the soldiers were given incorrect pictures of Booth. Therefore John Wilkes escaped from Garrett’s barn because the 16th NY compared the dying man to a picture of Edwin Booth. A minor error on some clerk’s part has been the cause of this grief. So, unless further evidence comes up to the contrary, I believe that this photo is of John Surratt.

    Thanks for the discussion everyone!

  11. While researching for a different post I hope to have up in a few days, I was looking through one of the Surratt House’s compilations of Surratt Courier articles. In the oldest one, In Pursuit of…, there is a wonderful article by Rev. Keesler about the Surratt wanted photograph. Rev. Keesler owned a carte-de-visite of this photo and did a tremendous amount of research into it. I’d recommend everyone to purchase this compilation (and the other two newer ones as well) to read the full article. I’m just going to include two wonderful points Rev. Keesler makes here.

    First, Rev. Keesler brings up Weichmann’s involvement obtaining the picture. Weichmann stated that, “On the afternoon of the 15th of April…we first returned to Mrs. Surratt’s house to see if we could procure a photograph of John H. Surratt. This was done and the desired picture was obtained from his mother but with little persuasion.” One would think that Weichmann would have been the first one to speak up if Mary was trying to pull the old switcheroo with her children’s photographs. At the Conspiracy Trial, Weichmann echoed his previous remarks, “Mr. Holohan, who was in our company, went and procured a photograph of Surratt.” It appears that Weichmann had no problem with the photo being of John Surratt.

    One other nice point from Rev. Keesler is a description Weichmann gives about Isaac years later, “Her oldest son, Isaac, with whom I have never spoken a word and whom I first saw at the trial of his brother in 1867, was a dark, thickset, powerfully built man, unlike any of the rest of the family.” It appears that the two Surratt brothers were not as similar in appearance as some brothers are.

    I’m sticking with the good Reverend in his belief that this photo is of John.

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