155 years ago on this day, four of the eight conspirators tried in the death of Abraham Lincoln ascended a hastily constructed set of gallows. Just one week earlier they had been convicted and sentenced to their death but had only learned about their fates the day before. The three men and one woman who climbed those stairs to meet their maker were Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary E. Surratt. When the drop fell right around 1:25 in the afternoon, Mrs. Surratt became the first woman executed by the federal government.
Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day look at the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators that led to this execution. I tried to make sense of the military trial that saw different witnesses haphazardly take the stand against different conspirators one after another. Today, I’m releasing the first of eight helpful resources that organizes the trial not chronologically as we experienced before, but this time based on the testimony against each of the individual conspirators. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. For the anniversary of her execution, I have decided to start with the testimony regarding Mary Surratt. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Mary Surratt Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of Mrs. Surratt on The Trial homepage. The organized testimony regarding the other conspirators will be published over the next month.
The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Mary Surratt. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.
The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Mary Surratt, I organized the testimony into seven categories, labeled A – G. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.
Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.
Relevant Testimony descriptions:
A. John Wilkes Booth and the other Conspirators’ Presence at Mrs. Surratt’s Boardinghouse
In establishing Mrs. Surratt’s connection to John Wilkes Booth’s plot, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Louis Weichmann, one of the lodgers at Surratt’s D.C. boardinghouse. Weichmann testified at length about the presence of Booth and some of the other conspirators at the boardinghouse and how Mrs. Surratt sometimes met with Booth when her son, John, was not at home. The defense tried to show that, as a boardinghouse owner and hospitable woman, Mrs. Surratt’s interactions with Booth and the others was nothing more than politeness.
B. Mrs. Surratt’s Trips to her Tavern in Surrattsville on April 11th and April 14th
The other key witness against Mary Surratt was the tenant of her tavern property in Maryland, John M. Lloyd. Lloyd testified about Mrs. Surratt traveling down to Southern Maryland on April 11th and telling him that weapons hidden at the tavern would be needed soon. On April 14th, the day of Lincoln’s assassination, Mary traveled to her tavern with a package she had been given by Booth. She gave that package to Lloyd and allegedly told him to, “have the shooting irons ready, a party will call for them tonight.” Mrs. Surratt’s defense brought evidence to show that Mrs. Surratt was attempting to settle some debts during this period of time and that was the reasons she made these journeys.
C. The Reputations of Louis Weichmann and John M. Lloyd
As the two key witnesses against Mrs. Surratt, the defense made a great effort to show the questionable reliability of Weichmann and Lloyd. Evidence was presented to suggest that Weichmann may have been disloyal (or even part of Booth’s plot), while Lloyd was portrayed as a drunk of dubious trustworthiness.
D. The Reputations of Defense Witnesses Joseph Knott and John Zadoc Jenkins
In the same way that the defense attacked the credibility of two prosecution witnesses, the prosecution spent a lot of time attacking the character and loyalty of two defense witnesses, one of whom was Mrs. Surratt’s brother.
E. Pictures of John Wilkes Booth and Confederate Generals Found in Mrs. Surratt’s Boardinghouse
During the manhunt for Booth, Mrs. Surratt’s house was searched multiple times and during one of these searches images of Confederate leaders and a hidden photograph of John Wilkes Booth was found in Mrs. Surratt’s room. The prosecution wanted to use this to show Mrs. Surratt’s disloyalty. The defense got Mrs. Surratt’s daughter, Anna, to testify that the photographs belonged to her.
F. The Arrest of Lewis Powell at the Surratt Boardinghouse
Conspirator Lewis Powell, who had attacked Secretary of State William Seward, had been arrested at the Surratt boardinghouse on April 17th, while detectives were there searching and making plans to take Mrs. Surratt and the rest of the household into custody. During this arrest, Mrs. Surratt denied ever having seen Powell before. It was later shown that Powell had stayed at the boardinghouse for a few days. The defense attempted to show that Mrs. Surratt suffered from bad eyesight in an attempt to explain her lack of identification.
G. Mrs. Surratt’s Loyalty and Christian Character
Mary Surratt’s defense called several individuals to testify about her reputation as a good, Christian woman and about times where she had demonstrated pro-Union attitudes. The purpose was to persuade the commissioners that Mrs. Surratt was not capable of being involved in such a plot as the assassination of Lincoln.
For the closing arguments in defense of Mary Surratt please click here.
Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In some instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. For example, many of the witnesses were asked about Mary Surratt’s eyesight in the course of their other testimonies. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.
It is very difficult for me to believe that all the activity on H street went on without her knowledge, particularly since John Surratt was knee deep in the plot to kidnap the president but seemingly, away from Washington during the assassination. I am also troubled as to why John did not meet the same fate as his mother; he certainly was in the thick of it all, even though he was not present at the assassination. His past as a confederate courier and spy along with his association with the guilty conspirators made him implicitly guilty as well. If Mary was not guilty as charged, her son let her hang; his testimony could have been invaluable to her defense.