Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.
John Somerset Leaman
Burial Location: Upper Seneca Baptist Church Cemetery, Germantown, Maryland
Connection to the Lincoln assassination:
John Somerset Leaman was a resident of Germantown, a village in Montgomery County, Maryland northwest of Washington, D.C. Leaman, who went by both John and by Somerset, his middle name, was a thirty year old carpenter who had lived in Montgomery County his whole life. On April 16, 1865, Easter Sunday, John and his younger brother James were enjoying the hospitality of one of their neighbors named Hezekiah Metz. Metz had invited the Leaman brothers to join him and his family for Easter lunch. Shortly before the noontime meal was to begin, an old acquaintance of both the Leamans and the Metzes showed up at the door. He was known to everyone in the region as Andrew Atwood. His father had once owned a farm in Montgomery County but had moved some years back. Nevertheless Andrew and his brother regularly returned to the Germantown area to visit. Andrew told them that he had come from Washington and that he was heading to his cousin’s home which was only about two miles off. He was a likable enough man and was quickly invited in to join the group for their meal.
The fact that Andrew had come from Washington was of great interest to John Leaman and the other guests. The news of Lincoln’s assassination was everywhere and everyone clamored to hear the news directly. Before the meal began John Leaman asked Andrew in jest, “Are you the man that killed Abe Lincoln?” Andrew answered, “Yes” and then laughed. After the shared laughter ended, John Leaman asked Andrew for more details in order to confirm some of the things they had heard. Andrew told them that yes, Lincoln had been assassinated and that while Secretary Seward had been stabbed along with his sons, he had not been killed. Then Leaman asked Andrew about General Grant. “We had heard that General Grant was assassinated at the same time on the same night,” Leaman said. Andrew replied, “No: I do not know whether that is so or not. I do not suppose it is so. If it had been so, I would have heard it.”
A short time after everyone sat down for the Easter supper and Andrew found himself once again fielding questions from those present, most of which were the same questions Leaman had asked him earlier. Again the question about General Grant’s possible assassination came up. “No, I do not suppose he was,” Andrew replied. “If he was killed, he must have been killed by a man that got on the same train or the same car.”
The attention he was receiving must have given Andrew Atwood a little boost of confidence because he started to make slight flirtations with Hezekiah Metz’ 17 year-old daughter Martha. To John Leaman and his brother James, these attempts at paying his addresses to Ms. Metz made Atwood act confused but calm. These advances were subsequently rebuffed by Ms. Metz with Leaman later agreeing that Martha was “showing him the cold shoulder on that day”.
After dinner was over, Andrew began to depart and was joined for a bit in the yard by John’s brother James. James believed the cold treatment Andrew received from Ms. Metz was bothering Andrew. “Oh, my! What a trouble I see!” Andrew said to James before departing. “Why, what have you to trouble you?” James Leaman inquired. “More than I will ever get shut of,” Andrew replied. With that Andrew bade his goodbye and walked the remaining two miles to his cousins’ home.
The Leaman brothers enjoyed the remainder of their time with the Metzes before they also departed back to their shared home.
Life continued very much as it had before for the Leaman brothers for the next few days. Either they or Hezekiah Metz made causal mention of the news Andrew had brought regarding the false report of Grant’s assassination to another neighbor named Nathan Page, but they thought nothing else of it.
Then in the early morning of April 20th, the Leaman brothers saw a contingent of Union soldiers heading towards their home. When the soldiers got near the house, James put his head out of the window and called to the soldiers. The sergeant in charge asked James if he knew a man by the name of Atzerodt. James replied that he didn’t. That name was not familiar to him. Then the sergeant asked if he knew a man named Atwood. To this, James replied in the affirmative. The sergeant then went up to the door and John Leaman came out. The sergeant asked John if he knew a man named Atwood and John replied that he did. The sergeant made a motion to the soldiers who had stayed back a bit and John Leaman watched as Andrew Atwood was brought forward. Atwood kept his head down, but when he got in front of John, the two shook hands and Leaman identified the man as Andrew Atwood. John also seemed to recall something that his younger brother didn’t. He confirmed that Atwood’s family name was actually Atzerodt. Upon hearing this information, the sergeant thanked John and sent Atwood away with a detachment of the soldiers.
It was shortly thereafter that the Leaman brothers learned what was going on. It appears that their acquaintance Andrew Atwood was actually named George Andrew Atzerodt and that he was wanted in connection with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
A strange case of the game of telephone had occurred over the last few days. Remember how “Atwood” had calmly told the Leaman brothers and the Metzes at Easter dinner that the only way Grant was assassinated was “if a man had followed him onto his train”? That piece of news was told to neighbor Nathan Page who passed it on to another neighbor who was a Union detective named James Purdom. By the time Purdom passed the information on to a detachment of Union soldiers camped nearby, the story had been transformed into a man named “Lockwood” having stopped eating in the middle of the meal, thrown down his knife and shouted that “if the man on the train had followed Grant dutifully, he would have been assassinated too.” This latter statement is far more incendiary than George’s actual words. This is what sent Sergeant Zachariah Gemmill of the First Delaware regiment to the home of Hartman Richter looking for a man named “Lockwood”. While the name was wrong, the description he had been given was accurate enough for Gemmill to compel “Atwood” to come with him. Sgt. Gemmill took “Atwood” to the Leaman brothers’ home where he was unmasked as Atzerodt.
It is important to note that even if the game of telephone style of reporting hadn’t brought Gemmill to the door of Hartman Richter, George Atzerodt would still have been arrested on that day. Just a few hours after Gemmill made his arrest, a separate group of federal detectives arrived at Hartman Richter’s home to arrest George. They had been sent on a lead given to them by John Atzerodt, a detective for the Maryland provost marshal and George’s own brother. This group of detectives were too late to arrest George and also missed out on the reward money for his capture that went to Gemmill and his men.
At the trial of the conspirators, John Leaman, James Leaman, and Hezekiah Metz were all called to testify. The Leaman brothers were used more as defense witnesses, testifying that Atzerodt was calm during the supper and to his exact wording regarding Grant. Metz was a bit more unsure about Atzerodt’s wording regarding Grant, but reinforced the idea that he did not act in any unusual way and definitely did not throw down his knife and make a dramatic statement of any sort. Even Sgt. Gemmill would write in his report about the arrest that he, “could get no evidence around there to prove that [Atzerodt] did say” anything as dramatic as what was reported to him.
Life went back to normal for the Leaman brothers. John Somerset Leaman lived out the rest of his live in Montgomery County. He died on December 15, 1883 at the age of 48. His younger brother James outlived him by a number of years, dying in 1917 at the age of 80. James Leaman is buried in D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery.
GPS coordinates for John Somerset Leaman’s grave: 39.2408082, -77.2335394