Posts Tagged With: Lewis Powell

Lewis Powell’s Life in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida

Lewis Thornton Powell, the man who attacked Secretary of State William Seward on April 14, 1865, is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Lincoln assassination story. He was known by the alias of Lewis Payne/Paine during his time with Booth and subsequent imprisonment. Such a mystery was this powerfully built young man that, when his true history was described by his lawyer during the closing days of the trial, even his fellow conspirators in the crime, “leaned forward, as if to catch every word.”[1]

In 1993, historian Betty Ownsbey published the first full length biography of Lewis Powell titled, Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy. It was a monumental achievement with Betty uncovering a treasure trove of material on Powell including family stories that had been passed down by relatives. The consummate researcher, Betty released an updated Second Edition of her book in 2015 filled with even more details and fascinating insights. The study of the Lincoln assassination owes a lot to Betty Ownsbey and her tireless efforts bringing this mystery man to light.

Inspired by Betty’s work, I decided to do a deep dive into the pre-assassination life of Lewis Thornton Powell. I’ve previously written about Powell’s service and wounding at the Battle of Gettysburg, but I wanted to learn more about Powell’s life and movements from his birth up to his enlistment in the Confederate army. I was also interested in learning more about Powell’s parents and their activities in the aftermath of their son’s crime. Even with Betty’s book as a guide, tracing the Powell family is quite a difficult task, especially since she could only devote so much space to Lewis Powell’s non-Lincoln assassination activities. I’m exceeding grateful to the assistance I have received in my research from Betty Ownsbey, Eric Musgrove of Live Oak, Florida, Penny Baumgardner of the Florida Baptist Historical Society, and Mary Jo Martin of the Museum of Geneva (FL) History. What follows is what I believe to be to most detailed account of the Powell family’s movements during Lewis Powell’s early life and after his death. This account utilizes the amazing details from Betty’s book and elsewhere in order to help demystify a bit more of the history of the 21 year-old who was executed for conspiracy in Lincoln’s death.


The Family Tree

Before documenting Lewis Powell’s movements, I thought it might be helpful to put up a small family tree showing his parents and siblings.

Rev. George C. Powell, father of Lewis Powell

George Cader Powell (December 13, 1809 – November, 1881) and Patience Caroline Powell (April 23, 1811 –  December 2, 1885) were married on March 23, 1830. Their children consisted of:

  1. Elizabeth Miranda Powell (February 23, 1831 – after 1885)

Married (1st) Obediah Newman, brother of James M. Newman, on October 17, 1845. Obediah died April 9, 1864 in the Confederate army. Married (2nd) Henry L. Meeks. Date of death and place of burial unknown

  1. Benjamin Franklin Powell (January 28, 1833 – June 9, 1859)

Married Sarah Ann Hooper on January 11, 1855.  Died Appling County, Georgia. Place of burial unknown

  1. Mary Ann Caroline Powell (April 16, 1835 – July 24, 1919)

Married James M. Newman, brother of Obediah Newman, on April 11, 1850. Buried in Penton, Alabama.

  1. George Washington Powell (January 17, 1837 – June 8, 1923)

Married Susan Culpepper on January 4, 1857. Moved to Florida in 1858. Enlisted in the Confederate army on Sept. 18, 1861 in Hamilton County, Florida. On Sept 10, 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia he was wounded, by a shot through his left arm near the wrist breaking both bones and rendering the arm useless so far as labor was concerned. He also took a piece of shell into his right hip and leg which dislocated his hip and forever caused him great trouble in walking. George was sent home due to his wounds in October of 1864. He received his parole on May 17, 1865 in Florida. Buried near Brooksville, Florida.

  1. William A. Powell (January 20, 1839 – June 28, 1839)

Place of burial unknown

  1. Oliver H. Powell (April 23, 1840 – January 6, 1863)

Enlisted in the Confederate army on August 12, 1861 in Madison, Florida. Was at home sick in Florida starting on June 27, 1862. During his sick leave he married Hannah M. L. Campbell on Sept. 17, 1862. Oliver returned to duty around October, 1862. He suffered a “slight” leg wound on January 2, 1863 at the Battle of Stones River. Oliver died January 6, 1863 from “wounds” (possibly infection). Place of burial unknown but likely in “Confederate Circle” in Evergreen Cemetery, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

  1. Lydia M. Powell (February 10, 1842 – May 24, 1879)

Married William Slade, Jr. on August 5, 18?? (likely 1867). William Slade had enlisted in Lewis Powell’s company (Second Florida Infantry, Company I) on June 4, 1821 in Jasper, Florida. He was also wounded at Gettysburg by a gunshot wound but was not captured. He transferred to the 12th Georgia Infantry in early 1864 and was captured near Spotsylvania Court House on May 10, 1864. Slade was originally sent to the Union prison at Point Lookout, MD before being transferred to Elmira, NY. He was released from Elmira, June 27, 1865. Lydia likely died giving birth or complications arising from the birth of her son Mathew. Place of burial unknown.

  1. Lewis Thornton Powell (April 22, 1844 – July 7, 1865)

Body buried in a mass grave in Rock Creek Cemetery Washington, D.C. in 1885. Skull buried in Geneva Cemetery, Geneva, Florida in 1994.

  1. Angeline S. Powell (February 7, 1846 – December 23, 1924)

Married William P. Lassiter on September 15, 1869. Buried in Fort Pierce, Florida.

  1. Minerva Adeline Powell (November 29, 1848 – June 20, 1904)

Married Isaiah D. Hart, brother of Daniel Hart, on March 13, 1870. Buried in Geneva Cemetery, Geneva, Florida.

  1. Hazeltine Judson “Ann” Powell (August 5, 1850 – September 22, 1921)

Married Daniel C. Hart, brother of Isaiah Hart, on Aug. 9, 1870. Buried in Fort Myers, Florida.

  1. William T Powell (August 17, 1852 – June 6, 1853)

Burial place unknown

With the Powell family tree out of the way, let’s begin retracing the life of Lewis Powell


Springfield, Randolph County, Alabama
April 22, 1844 – 1848 (birth to 4 years old)

Lewis Powell was born in Randolph County, Alabama near the community of Springfield on April 22, 1844. His parents, George Cader Powell and Patience Caroline Powell, were both Georgia natives who married in 1830 and moved to Randolph County in 1840. Lewis was the eighth of twelve children, only 10 of which survived into adulthood. George Powell was the assistant tax collector and later tax assessor for the county as well as being a farmer.[2] George C. Powell was an enslaver, with the 1840 census records showing that he enslaved an adult man and an adult woman along with two young boys, possibly their children. From birth, therefore, Lewis Powell observed and participated in slavery firsthand.

Lewis Powell as an infant with his mother Patience Caroline Powell. From Betty Ownsbey’s book Alias “Paine”.

In 1847, George C. Powell was ordained as a Baptist preacher at Liberty Baptist Church in Russell (now Lee) County, about 50 miles away. Welcoming him into the ministry was Rev. Ruben Thornton[4] for whom Lewis was belated given his middle name.[5]

Green Hill, Stewart County, Georgia
1848 – 1856 (age 4 to 12)

In 1848, George C. Powell answered the call to become a minister at Beulah Baptist Church in the community of Green Hill, Stewart County, Georgia.[6]

The Powells can be found in the 1850 census in Stewart County with George labeled as a Baptist Clergyman with $1,200 worth of real estate.[7] Noticeably absent from the 1850 records is Rev. Powell’s name on any of the slave censuses for Stewart County. This would imply that he no longer enslaved the four people he was recorded as owning in 1840 when the family lived in Alabama. Rev. Powell is listed in an 1852 Baptist register as preaching at Beulah with a total congregation of 138 members.[8]

In 1992, Betty Ownsbey, author the biography, Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy, interviewed Jewell Powell Fillmon, the granddaughter of Lewis’ older brother George W. Powell. Fillmon shared stories that had been passed down to her about her great uncle as a child which Ownsbey incorporated into her narrative. The following stories were said to have occurred at around the ages when the Powells were living in Green Hill:

“When Lewis was about 8 or 9 years of age, he and his younger sister, Angeline (“Annie”) went against their mother’s warnings and decided to go skinny-dipping in a pond on their father’s property. The children stripped down and, folding their clothing on the bank, splashed about in the water. When they emerged from their swim, they found a large black snake curled up on their clothing. Rather than disturb the reptile, the children ran naked down the road, much to the amusement of a passing neighbor. When they reached home, Lewis and his sister were admonished by their mother and told they would have to do additional chores for the next two weeks which would entail slopping the hogs and milking. Lewis made a deal with his sister, telling her he would slop the hogs if she would milk, and Lewis even offered to carry the milk pails for her. When time came to slop the hogs, Lewis fulfilled his part of the deal, but went into a sulk and climbing up into the Perch [his treehouse], refused to come down, leaving Annie to carry the heavy milk pails.

Lewis’ mother scolded him, telling him that ‘good boys do not try and deceive their sisters but strive to help them.’ The repentant little boy thereafter offered to do both the milking as well as slopping the hogs for the following two weeks.”[9]

Lewis Powell at around the age of 12. From Betty Ownsbey’s book Alias “Paine”.

“Lewis had a pet mule which he raised and which followed him around like a dog. One morning, when Lewis was about twelve years old, he was playing outside by the back door and was attempting to do something with the animal when it kicked him. The injury was severe; resulting in a broken left jaw and a lost molar, and quite possibly a broken nose into the bargain. The unconscious child was quickly packed into the family wagon and driven to the nearest doctor. His mother was understandably upset and wanted his father to sell the mule. The Rev. Powell demurred, saying that to sell the mule would break Lewis’ heart. The boy loved his pet, and inasmuch as he raised and cared for him, Lewis should be allowed to keep him. It seems Lewis had been tickling the animal with a straw, while he and his sister Angeline giggled at watching its skin quiver. The mule tired of the play and thus kicked Lewis, prompting his father to remark that it was a, ‘dumb thing to do.’

The boy had acquired various pets, including dogs and kittens, as well as chickens, guinea hens, and a goat in addition to the mule. Lewis also had a tiny orphaned puppy which he had found and brought home to nurse, making a sugar tit out of a rag for the baby to suckle.”[10]

Lewis Powell’s habit of caring for animals earned him the nickname of “Doc” from his sisters who described him as “a loveable, sweet, kind young boy.”[11]

Worth County, Georgia
Dec 1856 – Dec 1859 (age 12 – 15)

Starting on December 13, 1856, George Powell’s name can be found preaching on the records of the Fort Early Baptist Church, now known as Warwick First Baptist Church (pictured above). On July, 11, 1858, Powell and his family, including Lewis by name, were received officially into the Fort Early Baptist Church by letter. Also included in the list of members was “Nelson, Jr. property of Patience C. Powell” demonstrating that the Powells had returned to being enslavers (if they ever truly stopped).

The church records of September 10, 1859 show George Powell requesting a letter of dismissal for himself and his family which was granted. The last time George Powell’s name appears in the record is on December 9, 1859.[12]

In speaking of his son Lewis during this time, Rev. Powell later recalled, “When 14 or 15 years of age would hold prayer meetings and could speak with ease and force he was very popular with all and seemed to be a great favorite with ladies.”[13]

In 1963, Leon Prior, author of the article “Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth”, interviewed Judson Theodosia Lennard and Helen M. Alderman, daughters of Lewis’ younger sister, Angeline Powell Lassiter. According to their memories of stories their mother had told them, Rev. George C. Powell “endorsed a note, but when his friend failed to meet his obligation, Powell was forced to sell his own plantation to pay off the debt. In 1859, following this financial disaster, Powell loaded his family and possessions into a wagon, pulled by four mules, and moved to Florida.”[14]

Bellville, Hamilton County, Florida
Dec 1859 – 1861 (age 15 – 16)

According to George Powell’s obituary, “in 1859 he moved to Florida and settled near Bellville, Hamilton County, Florida.[15] Bellville was located just two miles south of the Florida / Georgia border between the modern day towns of Jennings and Pinetta, Florida. It was located near the Withlacoochee River and very little of the community remains today.

It is possible that Rev. Powell preached at a Baptist church in or around Bellville. There is a cemetery in the Bellville community of Hamilton County that is sometimes referred to as Bellville Baptist Cemetery.[16] Among those buried in this cemetery is James Joseph Polhill[17] whose grave is pictured below. James was the brother of a Florida State Senator named Augustus J. Polhill. The Polhills must have been acquainted with the Powells during their time in Bellville as State Senator Polhill once commented that Lewis Powell was, “not a surly, but a happy, boy, ‘full of fun and frolic.’”[18]

The Powells are noticeably absent from the 1860 census. Their names are not to be found anywhere in the state of Florida or Georgia. The reason for this omission is unknown but it was not unusual for census takers back then to miss people for one reason or another. Their omission also prevents us from knowing for sure whether the Powells were still enslaving others, but there is some evidence that this was the case. During the trial of the conspirators, Lewis Powell’s defense attorney, William Doster, painted the scene of Powell’s life and stated, “At the breaking out of the war, but four years ago, the prisoner was a lad of sixteen, engaged in superintending his father’s plantation and a number of slaves.”[19] Further evidence that the Powells returned to the role of enslavers during the pre-war years was the fact that in the 1870 census, after the abolition of slavery, the Powell household contained three Black members – Sarah, Martin, and Melinda Powell who acted as cook, farm laborer, and domestic servant, respectively. It seems likely that these three had been enslaved by the Powell family, hence the last names, and then stayed with them after emancipation.

Joshua Hoyet Frier was a resident of Clyattville, Lowndes County, Georgia – the county immediately north of Hamilton County on the Georgia side of the border. His father, Ryan Frier, was a Baptist minister and farmer much like George Powell. Starting in 1895, Frier wrote a journal of his reminiscences during the Civil War years which included his own service in the Confederate army. A transcription of these memoirs was donated to the Florida State Archives in 1961. Included in Frier’s manuscript is his account of having met and befriended Lewis Powell while the Powells lived in Hamilton County. Frier mistakenly places the following events in 1862, which is not possible since Powell was already in the Confederate army by 1862. It is likely the interaction between the two boys was 1860 or 61. The following are Frier’s reminiscences about Powell:

“It was in the early part of the year 1862 [sic] that by chance I happened to meet the boy Doc Powell, who afterwards became the man of unenviable fame; Lewis Paine, the attempted assassin of Secretary Seward. I was the bearer of a message to his father who lived at this time in Hamilton County, Florida. I had become acquainted with all the family, he excepted previous to my visit there. I had heard of him as a very indolent, and worthless boy; the black sheep of the flock, I had fancied him as a boy of my own size. His brother Oliver and I walked out to the barn to put away the horse I rode and found him asleep on the barn floor. Oliver aroused him, and when he was awakened he leered at us in a manner I shall never forget, and after rubbing his eyes awhile, the boy that was destined to figure so prominently in one of the most remarkable tragedies in this, or any age, looked me square in the face for the first time. I thought him one of the ugliest, and most repulsive looking boys I ever met… great coarse hair and a dull stupid countenance slow and awkward in movement. Such was my first impression of the boy who as a man became the pliant tool, of such a scoundrel as J. Wilkes Booth. Later on in the evening when I got better acquainted I found him remarkably good-natured. We wandered around a lake that evening and he pointed out his favorite fishing grounds to me, and told me fisherman stories which showed him to be a sportsman of the first-water. Among them was one that was of peculiar interest to me; he told me he had slipped off one Sunday morning with tackle for some sport and caught the Devil. He had a terrible fight to land him and when he finally succeeded, he came near biting off one of this fingers and walked right back into the water. I asked him how he farther identified the “Old Man” when he told me Uncle Green, an old Negro on the place, had told him the character of his game. From the description he gave of it I have since been able to make an alligator turtle out of it, one of the most vicious reptiles that was ever created. This one accomplished a reform that the fear of the rod never could; breaking a bad boy from fishing on Sunday.

Before the evening wore away Doc and I was great friends; all his repulsiveness had vanished, and it was with regret next morning that I parted with him. I exacted a promise from him to visit me at my home, and gave him a similar one in return, neither one of which was ever fulfilled. I never met him but once afterwards and that was purely accidental as he shortly afterwards joined Capt. Stewart’s Company of the 2 Fla. Regt., and I never heard from him but once, until his father got a letter from him after Lincoln’s assassination. His father endeavored to go to see him in Washington, but lack of funds prevented. The old man was the soul of honor, no stain rested on any of his family with the single exception of this boy, whose full name was Lewis Thornton Powell. The old man died a few years ago in Orange County in this state fill of years and honor.

It was circulated some years after Paine was hanged that the Elder Powell said he had yielded up his life in a good cause. This I am satisfied was an untruth; for while the entire family proved loyal to the South, Lewis excepted, (he having joined the United States Army at one time) they were to high toned and honorable to countenance assassination in any form.

His brother Oliver before mentioned died or was killed early in the war. While the oldest brother George is still living in this state. Such dear reader was my acquaintance with the man who for a given price attempted to take the life of Secretary Seward, and thereby coupled his name to one of the most atrocious crimes of modern times.

While Paine’s execution was deplored by his family, and their sympathetic friends it was generally acknowledged to be as just as such penalties ever is.

Of one thing, I and every other one is satisfied, that knew any thing of him; it is this; that he was incapable of conceiving or aiding in the origination of such a fiendish plot as this. And in acting his part he was simply clay in the moulder’s hands. It was his nature to be easily influenced for either good or evil, and persons who knew him well said, that any move or enterprise that had the element of danger in it, had a fascination for him that he was unable to resist.

It was said of the family that the fear of man was something they knew nothing of; Still they was peaceable in manners, and courteous to all, and a more law abiding citizen, or a better neighbor than his father never lived.”[20]

It is possible that, in 1860 while residing in Bellville, Hamilton County, Florida, George C. Powell traveled about 175 miles south to Apopka in Orange County, Florida in order to establish the First Baptist Church of Apopka. A book titled, History of First Baptist Church, Apopka, Florida, in the collection of the First Baptist Church of Apopka states that:

“The church was first organized in 1860 with twenty-one charter members when Apopka was known as The Lodge. George K. Powell, who conducted the series of meetings, served as the first pastor and was followed in the pastorate by a Reverend Gandy. During the Reverend Gandy’s pastorate, dissension arose and the church eventually disbanded. There are no existing records of that first Baptist Church.”[21]

It is unclear how long the Powells lived in Bellville, Hamilton County. There is evidence that they had moved before Lewis Powell enlisted in the Confederate army but they might have been living here in Bellville when Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861.

Live Oak Station, Suwannee County, Florida
1861 (age 16 – 17)

The exact date when the Powells moved to Live Oak is unclear. George C. Powell is first recorded as performing a marriage in Suwannee County in November of 1861, but it is likely that the family was living in the area for some time before he was asked to officiate a wedding.[22]

In September of 1863, Rev. Powell sold away 200 acres of land just two miles north of town. Back then, the recording of deeds often only took place right before you wanted to sell the land away. As such, there is no accurate record of when Rev. Powell actually bought it.[23] However, since Powell’s name does not appear on any earlier deed records in Suwannee County, we can make the justifiable assumption that the property Rev. Powell sold in 1863 was the same property the Powells resided on when they first moved to Live Oak. At the time of their move around 1861, Lewis was still at home.

Lewis Powell at age 16. From Betty Ownsbey’s book Alias “Paine”.

Further supporting the idea that the Powells were living in Live Oak and not Bellville in 1861 is an 1887 article, which stated that Powell, “went into his former county,”[24] when he enlisted in the Confederate army. This enlistment occurred on May 30, 1861, when Powell was 17 years-old, younger than the mandatory age of 19. Powell traveled north from Live Oak in Suwannee County to Jasper, the county seat of his former home of Hamilton County. There Powell enlisted with Capt. Henry J. Stewart’s Hamilton Blues, Second Florida Infantry, Company I. In July of 1861, Powell was in Jacksonville, Florida with his regiment and he would never return home again.

According to a recalled interview with Rev. Powell, Lewis, “volunteered in Hamilton County under Captain Stewart, together with a friend, young [Samuel A] Mitchell, in the first company from the county, and made a good soldier.”[25]

On March 10, 1887, Henry J. Stewart, Powell’s former captain, wrote a letter to the Sandersville, Georgia paper, The Herald & Georgian, in which he recalled Powell’s enlistment and service under his command:

“It was sometime in the spring of 1861, not long after the war commenced, that, with the Governor’s permission, I organized a company, being the first volunteers from Hamilton County. Soon after my company was organized, Rev. G. C. Powell, (a worthy, devout exemplary Christian minister of the Gospel, of the Missionary Baptist denomination,) came to me, accompanied by two young men apparently about 18 years of age, one of the young men was his son Lewis, the other, [Hardy] Dormany, who had been in his family probably for a number of years.

“Here Captain (said the Rev. gentleman) “are two young men who wish to enlist in your company, they are young, but brave boys and will doubtless render good service – one if my son, the other was partly raised with him. I have endeavored to raise my son in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Young Dormany has also had my best counsel, and they are both pious good boys, but I have some idea of a soldier’s life, they will find many temptations to beset them in camp, many vices to allure them from the paths of rectitude, and my son especially, is so confiding, that he will be easily led astray. Please Captain look after them closely, and throw around them as many safeguards as you possibly can, to protect and preserve their morals.” They were duly enrolled, and I promised to comply with the Preacher’s request as nearly as I possibly could. Having organized, and being under no special orders, my company was allowed to disperse and return to their homes, with instructions to each man, to hold himself in readiness to move at an hour’s notice. Several weeks elapsed without orders, but when least expected I received a peremptory order to report with my company to Gen. (then Major) Finegan on Aurelia Island, near Fernandina, within not more than three days from the time of receiving the order. My men were scattered about over the county from five to twenty miles off. Powell, Dormany, and a few others in that neighborhood, were fully 20 miles; I dispatched runners in every direction and succeeded in having notice served on each man; at the starting hour, upon the calling of the roll, there were but few absent; Powell was one of the absentees. Of each absentee, there was some one present who could account for his absence. When Powell’s name was called, some one who lived near or with him (Dormany perhaps) reported him sick, said he was in bed all day yesterday with a high fever; buy just as the company was about to move, some one remarked that Powell was in sight; I saw him coming and waited, yes, waited, and how little did I think I was waiting for a young man who was to assist, and not only to assist, but participate as one of the chief actors in so terrible a drama, as that of the assassination of the President of the United States and his cabinet officers; but it was even so. When he arrived, he came directly to me and said, “Captain, I got up from a sick bed this morning and walked here 20 miles, I could not bear to have the company leave me, and concluded to walk off the fever; I am here now, clear of fever, and ready for any emergency.”

It was just, I began to notice young Powell; a young man who could get up in the morning with a fever on him, walk 20 miles on a warm day, I concluded must have all the elements about to make a good soldier. As has been written of him, he was indeed, a fine specimen of manhood, tall and very erect, a fine open countenance, splendid face and eyes, with honesty and bravery depicted on every feature; in short, he was a handsome man. Upon arriving on Aurelia Island I found there, four or five other companies at the post. Major Finegan was often absent for days, and sometimes a week at a time; my commission being older than either of the others, I was usually left in command of the post during the Major’s absence; remembering the good man’s request, I took advantage of my authority on those occasions to prohibit the introduction of cards and liquor into the camp, my object being to protect and prevent the young men if possible and particularly young Powell from falling into bad habits; his education was rather limited, but her was remarkably intelligent and very quick to learn, all that was imposed upon him to learn. He soon mastered “Hardee’s tactics” and became quite an expert in the drill exercises; I liked him and paid him considerable attention, and in turn, he became strongly attached to me and often sought my companionship which I greatly encouraged, and with kindness I had him completely under my control, and so long as we remained in Florida (five or six weeks) he manifested no disposition to yield to any temptation, or to practice any bad habit, but my company was attached to a regiment and ordered to Virginia, and there, with so many soldiers surrounding, and so many changes of duty, it became impossible to follow up and look after the conduct of so many young men. He got to associating with evil disposed young men, and his father said, “he is so confiding,” he readily yielded to those in whom he confided as friends, and was easily led astray. Some six or eight months after, I was informed by Lewis had acquired the habit of gambling, the very vice of all others I tried to prevent; Lewis Powell was ever ready for duty, and a braver soldier never shouldered a musket, whenever there was a dangerous expedition, requiring but one man, I could always rely upon him to undertake it. To the most dangerous outposts on picket duty he was ever ready and willing to go. He knew no fear. I have seen him when shells were bursting over and around and bullets whizzing about like bees, and while others were dodging instinctively and showing signs of dread, he would be as cool and calm as he would have been in a shower of small hail stones; I feel certain that if I had ordered him to capture a cannon alone, he would have made an effort, although with a belief, that he would be shot to pieces in the effort. He never disobeyed an order, always complying cheerfully. I had occasion only once to punish him; he has misplaced his gun, and when suddenly and unexpectedly called into ranks, he fell in without his gun and marched half a day; my 1st Lieut. Was in command of the company on that day, and therefore I knew nothing about it, but the Col. Had been informed of the circumstance, and required me to have that man punished; the Col, was aware of my indisposition to punish my men and remarked, that unless I did it, he would punish him himself; I was also to report to him the punishment I imposed. The punishment was, that he be taken to the guard tent and delivered to the officer in charge with instructions that he be kept confined four days and nights and be made to mark time half hour each morning.

I reported to the Col. he seemed pleased, said he did not think it at all too severe, but I did, and so informed him with the further remark, that I intended to countermand the order. On the following morning I happened to pass by the guard tent, he was out in front of the tent marking time, with two soldiers standing by with fixed bayonets, he looked at me rather pitifully and smiled; I could not stand that, I returned immediately to my tent, and ordered the same officer who carried him there the evening before, to go forthwith and release him. He knew nothing of the Col’s. order to me, but supposed the punishment originated with me, yet, after being released he came to me as pleasantly as a child would have done to a parent who had punished it.

I had often heard him say (among his associates in camp) what he would do if he could only get to Washington City, and among other things, he would walk boldly into the White House and shoot the President, of course I regarded it as the idle talk of a foolish boy and paid no attention to it little dreaming that he would ever see Washington City.”[26]

Hardy Dormany in his later years

The other soldier that Capt. Stewart mentions as having enlisted with Powell was Hardy S. Dormany. Records show that Powel and Dormany did enlist on the same date, May 30, 1861. Like Powell, Dormany was wounded and captured by the Union at the battle of Gettysburg. While Powell only received a slight gunshot wound to his right wrist, Dormany had his right arm amputated from his wound. Both men were eventually sent to West’s Buildings Hospital in Baltimore with Dormany recuperating and Powell acting as a nurse. In an 1880 interview with Rev. George Powell, recalled and published in 1887, the elder Powell stated that Lewis personally tended to a fellow comrade named Samuel A. Mitchell while in the hospital.[27] While Mitchell was a member of Powell and Dormany’s company, he was not wounded at Gettysburg and was never sent to West’s Buildings Hospital. It may be that Lewis helped tend to Dormany rather than Mitchell.

Captain Stewart recalled that Rev. Powell took an active role in helping his son enlist. In a letter to Rev. Abram Gillette, the man who tended to Lewis at his execution, Rev. Powell makes it clear that he had not really approved of his son’s enlistment which might explain why he made such an effort to find a suitable captain to keep an eye on his boy. Rev. Powell wrote:

“Lewis left home to en-list in the War much against the wish of all the family. Previous to and up to the time of his leaving home he was very pious and consistent, was much respected by all of his associates and took great interest in the Young Mens Prayer Meeting and all other Religious Services. His favorite hymn he often sung to the family commencing: ‘Farewell, farewell to all below; My Saviour calls and I must go;’”[28]

While many who had known Lewis Powell before the Civil War spoke of him in sympathetic tones, not all memories of Powell were positive. The author of an 1887 article wrote, “He was endowed with high health and athletic strength. Mr. Dan. McAlpin, the editor of Live Oak, [pictured below] once saw him get angry with his adversary in a game of quoits, and beat him with one of the irons. An illiterate neighbor once said to me, of the family, ‘They are all hot-headed.’”[29]

Rev. George Powell and his family remained in Live Oak during the war. After September of 1863, when Rev. Powell sold his 200 acres north of town their exact whereabouts are not known but they likely rented some other property around Live Oak. In November of 1864, Rev. Powell bought 80 acres six miles south of town.[30]

Powell property south of Live Oak Station

The Powells were living here when the assassination of Lincoln and the attack on Secretary of State Seward by their relative occurred. The government knew Lewis Powell under the alias Lewis Payne during most of his imprisonment and trial. It wasn’t until around May 21, 1865, two weeks into his trial, that Lewis finally confided to his own defense attorney, William Doster, his real name.[31] Doster wrote in his memoirs that, “during the trial I wrote repeatedly to his father, but it was not until long after the trial and execution that I received,” a response.[32] The mail was very slow in traveling from Washington to the isolated area of Florida where the Powells lived. For some perspective of how long it took a letter to reach them, a letter written to Rev. Powell from D.C. on September 12, 1865 did not reach him until early November.[33] Knowing that traditional means of communication and summons would be too slow to help his client, William Doster requested the government’s assistance in retrieving Rev. Powell from Florida as a witness at the trial. He made a formal application for a summons for Rev. Powell on May 31st which the government said they were working on.[34] On June 3rd, Doster requested that the defense not be closed until Rev. Powell had arrived.[35] This application was largely ignored and, later, Doster agreed to close his case for Powell even before he had heard any word from Rev. Powell.

According to his response to William Doster, Rev. Powell did not receive Doster’s first letter until July 6:

“At the time your first letter reached me I was confined to my bed, and it was received only the day before the execution. I did not answer it, for I intended to come to Washington as soon as possible, and started as soon as I could travel. At Jacksonville I met the sad intelligence of his execution and returned home in sorrow, such as is not common for human hearts to bear.”[36]

Newspaper reports contained the abstract that, “Lieut. R. C. Loveridge, provost marshal at Jacksonville, Fla., administered the oath to Payne’s father, George C. Powell, of Lawrence [sic] county, Fla., on the 18th [of July]. Mr. Powell had started for Washington, D.C. in response to a summons from his wretched son to visit him.”[37]

Returning home with the news of their son’s death, Patience Powell, “was almost frantic with grief,”[38] and, according to family tradition, she, “did not recover from the shock for over two years.”[39]

Rev. Abram D. Gillette

After learning more of the particulars of his son’s demise through the newspapers, on August 21st, Rev. Powell wrote a letter to Rev. Abram D. Gillette, the man who had tended to Lewis on the gallows. Rev. Powell asked Rev. Gillette to give him, “a full statement of his confession in regard to the offense of which he was charged, and more especially would I be pleased to hear of his prospects for future life – for I assure you that he received all the moral training and advice it was possible to give, and I do hope that his future prospects were such as to insure an eternal felicity beyond the grave.”[40]

While Rev. Powell was concerned with his son’s afterlife, the government was still trying to get information about the man they had executed. While William Doster had first requested the summons of Rev. Powell on May 31st, it was not until he gave his closing arguments on June 21st that he stated Lewis was Rev. Powell’s son. Sometime after this, word was sent through military channels to investigate this identity of “Payne”. On August 24th, just a few days after sending his first letter to Rev. Gillette, the Powells were visited by Capt. Adam C. Nutt who was commanding a station at Lake City, Florida about 26 miles away from Live Oak. While at the Powell home, Capt. Nutt procured a transcript of the Powell family bible showing the birth of Lewis Powell. Capt. Nutt also copied the text of the letter William Doster had sent to Rev. Powell requesting his presence at the trial. Lastly, Nutt obtained a daguerreotype photograph of a young Lewis Powell for use in positively identify “Payne” as Powell.[41] In his report, Capt. Nutt wrote, “The Powell family is said to be poor but industrious and respectable. The father, George C. Powell, is a Baptist preacher, and is a man of decided, positive qualities, who controls his feelings and bears up well under misfortune. The mother [Patience C. Powell] is a woman of fine personal appearance, and of strong maternal feeling, and judging from what I saw, she suffered intense mental agony.”[42]

Rev. Powell also recalled this visit of soldiers when interviewed in 1880, “Officers also were sent to my home in Florida, who said they wanted photographs or pictures of him that they might identify him. I was kindly treated by them, and told they would not molest me if I did not obstruct them in the work they had to perform.”[43] According to the same author who interviewed Rev. Powell in 1880 and published his memory of it in 1887, “We learned from others that the Yankee soldiers that visited him found him in his farm, and upon their wishing to see letters or papers from Lewis, they were bluffed by the readiness of Mr. Powell to be searched.”[44]

By September 30th, Rev. Powell had received another letter from William Doster and so he decided to write Doster back with the following:

“Dear Sir: On my return home some days since, I found your very welcome letter, which brought me some interesting items in reference to my unfortunate and lamented son. Be assured, sir, that your kindness both to him and myself are highly appreciated…As to his early history, he was born in the State of Alabama, April 22, 1844 (I see by a statement of his that he was mistaken by one year in his age). In the twelfth year of age he made a profession of religion, and from that time he lived a pious lie up to the time of his enlistment. He was soon ordered to Virginia. From that time forward I know nothing of him only by letter. He was always kind and tendered hearted, yet determined in all his undertakings. He was much esteemed by all who knew him, and bid fair for usefulness in Church and State. Please accept the warmest thanks of myself and family for the services rendered the unfortunate youth.”[45]

By November 7th, Rev. Powell received a response from Rev. Abram Gillette regarding the manner in which Lewis’ soul was prepared for death. Rev. Powell penned his own reply, thanking Rev. Gillette and asking him to pass on thanks to Major Thomas Eckert for his kindness and goodwill towards Lewis during his imprisonment. Rev. Powell asked Rev. Gillette to write again with any more details regarding his son and noted, “We will regard it as a special favor if you will please forward those article you stated that Lewis left.”[46] In a postscript, Rev. Powell asked Rev. Gillette if he might check with the military authorities regarding a former neighbor of his from Hamilton County, John F. Butler. Butler had enlisted with the 18th Georgia Battalion. Rev. Powell noted that Butler had been wounded and taken prisoner by the Union but that his wife had not heard anything since. According to war records, John F. Butler received a gunshot wound to the right thigh fracturing a bone on April 6, 1865 at Sailor’s Creek, VA. On April 14th, as Lewis Powell was attacking Secretary Seward, Butler was taken prisoner. On April 16th he had been steamed up to Washington, D.C. and was being treated in Carver Hospital. On June 27th, John F. Butler died from “exhaustion” (likely infection) as a result of his wound. He was buried in the Confederate section of Arlington National Cemetery.

For reasons not known, Rev. Gillette did not respond to Rev. Powell’s letter of November 7, 1865. On March 4, 1866, Rev. Powell addressed another letter to him stating:

“I rec’d yours of the 12th Sept. some time in November last and immediately answered it and have been most anxiously awaiting a reply but as yet I have not heard from you the reason why I am at a loss to imagine.

You stated that my son left his Bible, autograph and other articles with you also a few articles with some money which was in the hands of the Asst. Secty of War.

In my last I requested you to please forward these article to me but as they have not as yet arrived I presume something has occurred to prevent your compliance with my request or perhaps you have not received my letter. I hope my dear sir you will please get the articles from the Secty of War and send them with the articles you have by express to me. Make them in as small a package as possible and direct to me at Live Oak station, Penn. & Geo. Rail Road, Florida. Also please inform me if it possible I would be permitted to get & remove the remains of my son from Washington D.C. to my home in Florida and if so would I be safe in so doing and what would be the best plan to remove him.

I would not make any effort to remove his remains unless it was perfectly agreeable with the Government Authorities.

You will please accept the sincere thanks of myself and family for your past kindness as we shall ever be under a great debt of gratitude to you that can never efface from our memories and you will confer a lasting favor by complying with the above request at your earliest possible convenience and any other information you may be pleased to give will be thankfully received.”[47]

According to family tradition, the Powells did eventually receive Lewis’ personal effects but they were later destroyed in a house fire in the 1920s.[48] However, they were not allowed to retrieve their son’s body in the years immediately following his execution. By the time the bodies of the execution conspirators were released in 1869, the Powells had moved from Live Oak Station and apparently never learned they could claim their relative. It was not until 1994 that Lewis Powell’s skull was returned to descendants of his siblings and buried alongside the grave of his mother in Geneva, Seminole County, Florida. To explain why that became his final burial place, we will continue to track the movements of his parents Rev. George and Patience Powell.

We don’t know when, exactly, the Powells left Live Oak, Florida for good. Rev. Powell’s last marriage record in Suwannee County was on September 3, 1866, so their departure likely occurred between that date and 1867.[49]

Bradford County, Florida (now Union County)
1866 – December, 1867

According to George Powell’s 1881 obituary, he, “preached for Providence church, Bradford county, one year at least, during which a number were added to the church, five of whom became ministers.”[50] Still located in Lake Butler, Florida today is the Old Providence Baptist Church which was established in 1833.

Southern Shore of Lake Jesup, Orange County, Florida (known today as the town of Oviedo, Seminole County, Florida)
December, 1867 – 1872

In December of 1867, Rev. George Powell acquired 160 acres of land in what was then Orange County (now Seminole County), Florida on the southern banks of Lake Jesup. The area was called Lake Jesup Settlement originally but gained the name of Oviedo once a post office was established.[51] Rev. Powell’s land contained the approximate area of downtown Oviedo that is currently bounded by Broadway St., Magnolia St., N. Lake Jesup Ave., and Division Street.[52]

On September 28, 1869, Rev. Powell founded the Orange Grove Baptist Church, later known as the First Baptist Church of Oviedo, and known today as CrossLife Church:

“The first service was held under a brush arbor near the old W. H. Luther home on Lake Jesup Avenue. Rev. W. G. [sic] Powell was the minster in charge of the first meeting and helped organize it. He served several years as Pastor, just how long, records fail to state. Rev. Powell travelled in a one-horse wagon to Tampa, Clearwater and other distant places carrying the Gospel where most needed.”[53]

The 1870 census (pictured below) shows George, Patience, and their youngest daughter Ann Hazeltine Judson Powell living together in Orange County. Sarah, Martin, and Melinda “Powell”, who were likely formerly enslaved by the family, had made the move to Oviedo as well and were enumerated with the household. The next door neighbor of the Powells was George Washington Powell, the only male son to survive the Civil War.

On March 5, 1871, Rev. Powell re-established a Baptist church Orlando, Florida, some 18 miles southwest of Oviedo:

“A few early settlers of the Baptist faith around 1856 met in private homes for worship but in 1858 the Rev. Miller of Apopka came and organized a church of 12 members. During the Civil War this church was given up, but on March 5, 1871, Brother G. C. Powell of Oviedo organized the Bethel Baptist Church of Orlando with nine men and nine women as members. Their first meetings were held in the old court house, but after the free school building was built in 1872 meetings were held there once each month.”[54]

Interestingly, both of these two churches founded by Rev. Powell, have grown to mega-church sizes over the last 150 years. CrossLife Church (the former Orange Grove Baptist Church), boasts two campuses and 5,000 members[55] while The First Baptist Church Orlando (the former Bethel Baptist Church of Orlando) is one of the largest churches in Central Florida with around 14,000 members, a church campus of 130 acres, and an auditorium that seats 4,400 people.[56]

It appears that, after establishing the Bethel Baptist Church of Orlando in 1871, Rev. Powell stayed in town, acting as its pastor and looking for land in the area. It’s likely that Patience Powell remained on their Oviedo property until a big move in 1872.

Orange (now Lake) County, Florida
1872 – 1881

On May 3, 1872, Rev. George and Patience Powell bought 5,426 acres of land in Orange (now Lake) County for $1,500.[57] This large piece of land became a home for multiple Powell family members. Rev. and Mrs. Powell were initially joined on the land by their only surviving son, George W. Powell and his family along with their daughter Angeline and her husband William Lassiter. After Lassiter and Angeline moved away, their daughter Lydia and her husband William Slade moved onto the land.

In the early 1910s, many years after the property had been sold away from the Powell family, a case concerning the proper ownership of the land made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A party from Spain was suing Wilson Cypress Co., a lumber company, for logging the old Powell land. The party from Spain asserted that the land was theirs based on an old colonial grant that had been given to one of their ancestors. The logging company disputed this claim, stating that they had purchased the property legally from the prior, rightful owners. As a result of this dispute, an investigation was undertaken to determine the history of the land. In 1900, depositions were made of William Lassiter and William Slade, both of whom were sons-in-law of Rev. Powell and had lived on the property at one time or another. In 1909, the two men were called to once again give testimony. Through their testimonies, entered into evidence when the case reached the Supreme Court, we get a great deal of detail regarding the land and its use.

According to William P. Lassiter, he and his wife Angeline Powell moved on the property in March of 1872, before Rev. Powell officially bought the place. At that time the only Powells living there were the Rev. and Mrs. Powell along with George W. Powell and his family. In 1900, William P. Lassiter described their work setting up the property:

“In 1872, in the spring, we moved on to this grant; George C. Powell, who was my father-in-law, I married his daughter Angeline S. Powell that was, she is now living with me here, bought this property from William Mills, getting a deed from him; I think we moved to the property just before we got the deed; everything done was done under George C. Powell who had the title to this land; we first built a shelter, then went to work on the mill timbers, getting the timbers from the grant, probably within a quarter of a mile from the mill site; we cleared up three little farms, there was three families of us; after we built the mill it was run, it was a saw mill, grist mill and cotton gin mill; the saw mill was run regularly, we sawed pine timber, cutting it from off this grant; I was familiar with the boundaries of this grant. I chopped most of the logs and done some of the hauling to the mill; the lumber was sold generally round in the neighborhood and we shipped some of it to Sanford, Florida; these farms were regularly cultivated each year I was there; Mr. Powell and his son George, my brother-in-law, stayed on the grant after I moved away in 187[3], and continued to cultivate and improve their places on the grant; Mr. Powell leased the mill from time to time while he owned this property to different persons, up to the time he sold and conveyed the grant except such parts of it as he had conveyed to other parties, to Henry S. Sanford; I was an eye-witness to the whole of the matters and was a partner in the business.”[58]

In 1909, William Lassiter largely repeated his testimony from nine years earlier with a few added details. The following text has been truncated from the full question and answer format:

“[We] built us a shack on the north side of the mill pond – you might say north of the spring; it was nothing then but the springs. And we built it out of palmetto, right close down, fifty or a hundred yards from the swamp… After we got there we made improvements, cleared up some land, planted sweet potatoes, garden stuff, a few orange trees. And that summer [1872] we went to work on the mill, getting out the mill timbers. Of course, we had to fix to have something to eat before we went to work on that – we had to live as we went along. And that summer we got out the mill timbers and built the mill. We built a dam, built a mill house and a mill dam. We had a saw and grist mill and two gins…for ginning cotton…and a grist mill to grind corn or wheat or oats or anything. I think that we got it to running some time the next year [1873], along in the latter part of the summer. I know we got the gins to running for the fall’s cotton crop, and we got the grist mill running in the summer time, some time. [In 1873] we planted sweet potatoes, peas, watermelons, cabbages, turnips, a little corn…[The mill] was operated as a saw mill…We sold [the lumber] around there through the country, and shipped some of it here to Sanford…[The east half of the land] is swamp…The western half, towards the south-west…is pine, pine timber and rolling pine land…My brother-in-law, George [W] Powell, had a hammock clearing right close to his house. He settled right on the edge of the hammock, and then cleared him up a field in the hammock [Note: A hammock is a stand of hardwood trees that grow in little islands of elevated land among wetlands where they otherwise could not grow]…On this hammock land…he planted Irish potatoes, peas, beans, cabbages, and he put some orange trees on it…I couldn’t say how many trees he planted out, because I moved away from there in ’73, in the latter part of ’73. But he had somewhere between fifty and a hundred, I suppose, planted out – maybe not so many…[Our farms were located] somewhere in the neighborhood of a mile from the [southern] boundary line…There was one of them on one side of the mill stream and two of them on the north side…Mine and George W. Powell’s were on the north side…A brother-in-law of mine [William Slade]…went there in ’73…pretty soon after I left…He ran the mill – sawed the timber…He lived on the old man’s place…They lived there together in the same house…We lived in the log house we built, George C. Powell lived in the log house on the south side of the creek…We had oxen and some mules and horses…We had chickens; of course they run around the house, the premises.”[59]

William Slade, another son-in-law to Rev. George Powell and a man who was in the same Florida Infantry company as Lewis Powell during the Civil War, gave the following deposition in 1900:

“In 1874 I bought an interest in the milling business carried on on this grant, and moved there with my family; I knew that he, Powell, built the mill, for there was nothing on there when he went up there; when I first went there Mr. Powell hired me to run the mill for him, and in the fall I bought the mill and forty acres of this land, and a half interest in all the timber on the grant, and went to work cutting it up into lumber; I bought of Mr. Powell; before I come he had deeded part of said grant lands to his son, George W. Powell and William P. Lassiter, and they had built and made improvements on the grant and were in actual possession of the whole of said grant; I cut the timer as I needed it of pine, hickory, poplar and cedar from the land as needed in the mill… I was there on this grant in said mill business as above stated from early in 1874 until 1880, when I sold my interest in the mill and grant lumber to George W. Powell; I lived close to this property thereafter until February, 1899.”[60]

William Slade

In 1909, William Slade expanded on his memories of the property:

“George C. Powell…was a minster of the Gospel…He was my father-in-law…I married his daughter… [He went onto the property] in January or February [of 1872]…He built a mill on it…He built some houses there first, I suppose: I wasn’t there when they were built, but I saw them there. He built a house on the south side of the spring run, and then his son built one on the north side of the spring run…Then W. P. Lassiter built a house over there, or the old man had it done – I don’t know about that…They cleared up a little and cultivated it. The old man didn’t clear a great deal, because he was waiting to build this mill…First I went up there, to the best of my memory now, some time in ’73, I think – let’s see – about the spring of ’74…The old man got me to up there to build a house for him, and afterwards hired me to run the mill, and I run the mill…I bought or had an interest in the ninth section of timber, and the mill site, and I lived there on the place. I lived in the old man’s house there until I taken up a homestead and worked at the mill… [George W. Powell had an orange grove] right around his house. There wasn’t any grove there to amount to anything, sir. George C. Powell had a grove down at the little house that I built for him, but never amounted to anything… [I] continued to run the mill and cut timber off this grant…until ’81 or ’82, the first part of ’82 or the latter part of ’81…[I was] still cutting when the old man moved away…I turned the mill over to George [W] Powell. I sold to George W. Powell, and turned it over to him, and he was running it…I suppose he sold [the property] to Sanford, in fact, I know he sold to Sanford. He sold it to Sanford, but whether him or the old man made the trade I don’t know anything about that, but my understanding was that the old man turned over his papers just before he died, to George W. Powell, and George W. Powell made the sale to Sanford…[When] running the mill there…the people generally come from the neighborhood and have their corn ground at the mill…The cotton was ginned for the people all through the country…[The mill] was burned down; most all the mills get burned down, in that country; it was burned down, I think it was, sometime between 1880 and ’90, I think it was burned down…after I quit running it…[and] the old man was done gone, sir, he was dead…[The whole property] was a little more than two miles north and south and a little more than four miles east and west…Section sixteen had a log house on it: section nine had two log houses on it, besides this little frame house I built. And the mill was on the ninth section…I suppose George [W.] Powell had about three or four acres probably, then, and I suppose Lassiter had about the same…Old man Powell never permanently left there until some time in ’81 or ’82, but he used to go backwards and forwards to Lake Harney, and around where his children were, and stay with them for awhile”[61]

While running cutting lumber and running his mill on his large property was George C. Powell’s business venture during this time, he still continued to preach the gospel and establish churches when he could. His time as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Orlando was short lived. He had established the church in March of 1871 but, “he was strict in his discipline and had some of the members turned out for non-attendance. The church became tired of his strict discipline and in October 1872 they called Rev. A. C. Tindall as pastor.”[62] Rev. Powell’s dismissal from Bethel Baptist Church gave him more time to work on his farm and mill.

In April of 1875, back in the Powells’ former home of Lake Jesup Settlement (soon to be renamed Oviedo), a new church was established on land that had previously been owned by the Rev. Powell.[63] It was called Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and it was founded in part by Martin Powell, one of the three formerly enslaved members of the Powell household who had moved with them from Live Oak to Lake Jesup.[64] Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was the first church established to serve the growing Black population in the area.

A few months later, on August 15, 1875, Rev. Powell founded the Lake Harney Baptist Church which is now known as the First Baptist Church of Geneva, Florida. There was no church building during Rev. Powell’s time there with the congregation meeting in private homes.[65] It is likely that two of the homes that the congregation met in belonged to his daughters. In 1870, the Powells’ two youngest daughters, Minerva and Ann Hazeltine Judson Powell married two brothers named Isaiah and Daniel Hart. Both couples established homes near Lake Harney (Geneva), Florida. As was noted in the 1909 testimony of William Slade, Rev. Powell, “used to go backwards and forwards to Lake Harney, and around where his children were, and stay with them for awhile.”[66] The 1880 census confirms this as Rev. and Mrs. Powell are enumerated as living with Minerva and Isaiah Hart, with Ann and Daniel Hart living next door. In September of 1880, a new reverend from Oviedo was called as pastor of the Lake Harney Baptist Church[67] and so it appears that Rev. and Mrs. Powell moved back to their 5,000 acre property north of Orlando.

Despite, Rev. Powell’s attempt to make his mill a successful one, it appears that financial misfortunes plagued him. According to another witness’ testimony in 1909, “I understand that [George C. Powell] was heavily in debt to the Sanford store for advances for raising cotton.”[68] William Lassiter had also testified that his father-in-law, “had mortgaged [the property] to Sanford, and he turned it over to Sanford.”[69] The Sanford referred to by these men was Henry Shelton Sanford, a wealthy businessman from Connecticut who had invested heavily in land in Florida. The town of Sanford, Florida, just to the east of the Powell land and mill, had been founded and financed by the wealthy northerner. On October 27, 1881, Rev. and Mrs. Powell “sold” their 5,426 acres to Henry Sanford for $1. Involved in that transaction was Henry L. Meeks, the second husband of their daughter Elizabeth Miranda Powell, with whom the elderly couple was living with at the time.[70]

A month later, in November of 1881, Rev. George Cader Powell died at the age of 71. His obituary in the Florida Baptist Annual spoke glowingly of the devoted missionary who spread the gospel across three states. No mention was made of his misguided son who had contributed to Lincoln’s assassination.[71] Rev. George Powell died at the home of his daughter Elizabeth Miranda Powell and her second husband Henry L. Meeks near Apopka, Florida. Unfortunately, we do not know where he was buried.

After the death of her husband, Patience Powell continued to live with her children. In the 1885 Florida Census, Mrs. Powell can be found living with her daughter Angeline and her husband William Lassiter. They lived right next door to Ann Hazeltine Judson Powell and her husband Daniel Hart near Geneva, Florida. There is a lot of erroneous information out there regarding when Mrs. Powell died. Some of her descendants believed that Mrs. Powell preceded her husband in death,[72] but her presence on the 1885 Florida Census proves this to be incorrect. FindAGrave and Ancestry Family Trees give 1904 as her year of death, but provide no supporting evidence. Luckily, while researching this piece, I was furnished with an obituary from the Florida Baptist Historical Society. The January 14, 1886 issue of the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper gives the following obituary:

“At Lake Harney, Orange county, Florida, on the 2nd day of December, 1885, Sister Caroline Powell fell asleep in Jesus, aged 75 years. She was born in Jones county, Georgia, and united with the Baptist Church at the age of 17. She married Elder G. C. Powell, our dear elder brother in the ministry, who preceded her to the better land nearly five years ago. Before he died they had lived to see the fiftieth return of their wedding day. She was to him a helper in the gospel, aiding and comforting him in his labor of love, her desire to glorify God, and her longing for the salvation of souls were supreme.”[73]

Patience Caroline Powell was buried at Geneva Cemetery. Her grave reads:

“In Memory of
Caroline Powell
Wife of George
Born Apr. 23, 1811”

The omission of a death date and the more modern appearance of her headstone, makes it appear that this stone was put in at a later date by descendants who were unsure about certain details. Geneva Cemetery would also be the final resting place of Minerva Powell and her husband Isaiah Hart, with Minerva dying in 1904. This is likely where the year 1904 somehow got erroneously connected with Mrs. Powell.

It wasn’t until almost 109 years after Mrs. Powell’s death that she was reunited with her son Lewis. In 1994, the skull of Lewis Powell was interred beside the grave of his mother in Geneva Cemetery. For more on that fascinating story, read this post and then this one.

Thus ends our journey into the early life of Lewis Thornton Powell and the post assassination life of his parents. What mostly remains today to mark the existence of Lewis, Rev. George, and Patience Powell are pieces of land, graves, and churches. In July of 2020, I took a trip to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida to visit some of these sites. Here are the addresses and/or GPS coordinates for the different places and people that have been covered in this piece.


Alabama Sites

  1. Birthplace of Lewis Powell in Randolph County, Alabama:

“Rev. Powell is listed as having owned 40 acres in Section 7, Township 21S, Range 12E [Note: should be 13E], which would put the property near the present-day County Road 79 or County Road 710 in the Springfield community.”[74]

The lot shaded in yellow on the image above marks a 39.8 acre plot of land located in the Springfield community of Randolph County. This is the likely birthplace of Lewis Powell. While the land is private property, the blue pin marks where this plot meets the public road, from which one could see the land without trespassing. The GPS coordinates for the blue marker are:  33.201987, -85.330071.

  1. Liberty Baptist Church in Lee County, Alabama

This is the church where George C. Powell was ordained as a minister in 1847. The address of the church is 2701 W Point Pkwy, Opelika, AL 36804. The GPS coordinates are: 32.675667, -85.325172. The church is located on the same site as it was in the 1840s but the current building dates to 1972.

  1. Grave of Mary Ann Caroline Powell in LaFayette, Chambers County, Alabama

Mary Ann Caroline Powell was Lewis Powell’s older sister. She married James M. Newman in 1850 and lived with the Powell family for a time in Stewart County, Georgia. By 1855 she and her husband moved back to Alabama where they lived out the rest of their lives. Mary Ann Caroline Powell Newman died in 1919 and is buried in Rock Springs Baptist Church Cemetery. The address for the cemetery is 2408 County Road 62, La Fayette, AL 36862 and the GPS coordinates for her grave are 32.954257, -85.457772.

Georgia sites

  1. Site of Beulah Baptist Church in Stewart County, Georgia

In 1848, Rev. Powell moved his family to the community of Green Hill in Stewart County, Georgia and took up the pastorate at Beulah Baptist Church.

“Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery – Green Hill Community

Church was organized in 1839, dissolved about 1885; building sold about 1910 to Davis Brothers. Church stood northwest of cemetery in beautiful grove of moss-covered trees. Wire fence with iron posts placed around large cemetery in about 1910 under supervision of Mr. Will Davis. Mr. Clark Prather of Columbus was one of the contributors to the fund to place the fence.”[75]

The GPS coordinates for the Beulah Baptist Church cemetery where the church once stood are: 32.207229, -84.753594. I attempted to visit the site of Beulah church during my trip but was stymied by poor weather and a lack of four wheel drive.

  1. First Baptist Church of Warwick in Worth County, Georgia

Rev. Powell preached here from December of 1856 to 1859 when it was known as Fort Early Baptist Church. The names of the Powell family, including Lewis Powell, can be found on its member rolls. The address of the church is 139 Magnolia St SE, Warwick, GA 31796. The GPS coordinates for the church are: 31.828483, -83.919961. While the current church building is on the older side, it does not appear to be old enough to have been the same building the Powells attended.

Florida Sites

  1. Bellville Baptist Cemetery in Hamilton County, Florida

Bellville was once a thriving community but nothing really remains of the place the Powell family first settled in Florida. There still stands a small cemetery sometimes referred to as Bellville Baptist Cemetery.[76] Where the church building connected to the cemetery once stood is unknown at this time, but it can be assumed that the Powells at the very least attended it. Buried in Bellville Baptist Cemetery is James Joseph Polhill[77] the brother of Florida State Senator Augustus J. Polhill who commented that Lewis Powell was, “full of fun and frolic.”[78] The GPS coordinates for the Bellville Baptist Cemetery are: 30.600696, -83.254167.

  1. Henry J. Stewart’s Grave in Jasper, Hamilton County, Florida

Lewis Powell enlisted into Capt. Henry J. Stewart’s “Hamilton Blues” on May 30, 1861. Stewart later wrote about his memories of Powell during his time in the Blues. Stewart died in 1898 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Jasper, Florida. The address for the cemetery entrance is 699 8th St SW, Jasper, FL 32052 and the GPS coordinates for Capt. Stewart’s grave are 30.512516, -82.955443.

  1. Powell land north of Live Oak in Suwannee County, Florida

The Powell family occupied 200 acres of land just north of Live Oak Station until September of 1863. Lewis Powell was likely living here when he traveled to Jasper to enlist in the Confederacy, never to return. Below is a map highlighting the former Powell property.

The property can be best seen from the point where 119th Rd. takes a 90 degree turn to the west. The approximate address for this point is 7330 119th Rd, Live Oak, FL 32060 while the GPS coordinates would be 30.323093, -82.992267.

  1. Powell land south of Live Oak in Suwannee County, Florida

Powell property south of Live Oak Station

In November of 1864, Rev. Powell purchased 80 acres, six miles south of Live Oak Station. The family was living here when news of Lincoln’s assassination reached them. Below is a map showing this Powell property.

The address for this property is 12182 128th St, Live Oak, FL 32060 with the GPS coordinates being 30.219520, -82.998692, but this is private land. The closest one could get to the property is likely from where 128th St. crosses State Highway 249 which is located at 30.217401, -82.988039.

  1. Old Providence Baptist Church in Lake Butler, Union County, Florida

According to George Powell’s 1881 obituary, he, “preached for Providence church, Bradford county, one year at least, during which a number were added to the church, five of whom became ministers.”[79] Still located in Lake Butler, Florida today is the Old Providence Baptist Church which was established in 1833. While the church building located here is newer, the organization is the same church where Rev. Powell preached. The address of the church is 9316 NW County Rd 245, Lake Butler, FL 32054 and the GPS coordinates are 30.014194, -82.558749.

  1. Property and Churches in Oviedo, Seminole County, Florida

In December of 1867, Rev. Powell bought 160 acres in what is now downtown Oviedo. The approximate boundaries of his land are highlighted on the image below.

Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in the lower right hand corner of Rev. Powell’s property was established in 1875 by Martin Powell, a man formerly enslaved by Rev. Powell. Martin and his family stayed with the Powells after the end of slavery and moved with them to the Lake Jesup Settlement. The address of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church (pictured below) is 311 E Broadway St, Oviedo, FL 32765 and the GPS coordinates are 28.670702, -81.203558.

The current CrossLife Church to the west of Antioch was known as the First Baptist Church of Oviedo until 2015. In 1869, Rev. Powell founded this church under the name Orange Grove Baptist Church. The address of CrossLife Church is 45 W Broadway St, Oviedo, FL 32765 and the GPS coordinates are 28.671116, -81.210250.

  1. Powell land grant in Seminole Springs, Lake County, Florida

The 5,426 acre plot of land Rev. Powell purchased for $1,500 was located in what is now the Seminole Springs area of Lake County, Florida. The grant was about four miles long and two miles wide. The map below shows the size and location of the property.

The land is privately owned but the blue pin on the image above marks Seminole Springs Cemetery, a cemetery that was built on the Powell land after they had sold it. The GPS coordinates for the entrance of this cemetery on the public road are 28.847164, -81.527759.

  1. First Baptist Church of Geneva in Seminole County, Florida

In August of 1875, Rev. Powell founded the Lake Harney Baptist Church which is called First Baptist Geneva today. The church did not have a building during the time Rev. Powell was the pastor but a structure was erected near the cemetery not long after he left. The congregation experienced several moves over the years to various church buildings. The church’s current building at 325 1st St, Geneva, FL 32732 was built in 1985 but across 1st street remains the building that had been used from 1927 until the new one was built. The old church building (pictured above) has a sign bearing “First Baptist Church, 1875, Geneva, Florida” above it even though that building did not exist them. The GPS coordinates for the 1927 – 1985 church building are 28.740096, -81.115542.

  1. Geneva Cemetery in Geneva, Seminole County, Florida

Geneva Cemetery is the final resting place of Patience Caroline Powell, her daughter Minerva Powell Hart, and the skull of her son, Lewis Thornton Powell. The address of the cemetery is Cemetery Rd, Geneva, FL 32732. The GPS coordinates of the approximate area where the Powells and Lewis Powell’s skull are buried are 28.736501, -81.107610.

  1. George W. Powell’s grave near Brooksville, Hernando County, Florida

George Washington Powell. From Betty Ownsbey’s book Alias “Paine”.

George Washington Powell was the only surviving brother of Lewis Powell. Despite being wounded in the war, George Powell lived a full life later becoming a judge in Florida. He died in 1923 at the age of 86. He is buried in a cemetery sometimes called the, “Old Spring Hill”, “Ayers”, of “Confederate” Cemetery located near 8580 Fort Dade Ave, Brooksville, FL 34601. Now there is a cemetery at this address called Spring Hill Cemetery, however this still remaining cemetery is a Black cemetery and George was not buried there. Right across Fort Dade Avenue, near the entrance to Spring Hill Cemetery is where Powell and a few others are buried. Their cemetery is in bad shape and incredibly overgrown. It is unknown at this time if George has a stone that is still visible in the area. There is a stone for his son, George Oliver Powell, but this one is knocked over and slightly buried. I made an unsuccessful search for any stones as can be seen in the video below.

  1. Hardy Dormany’s grave in Zephyrhills, Pasco County, Florida

Hardy Dormany was a friend of Lewis Powell’s you enlisted with him on the same date. The men were together all the way through until after Gettysburg where both were wounded. While Powell’s wound was fairly slight, Dormany’s right arm had to be amputated and he was sent home for the rest of the war. Dormany is buried in Geiger Cemetery in Zephyrhills. The address for the cemetery is 5200 Geiger Cemetery Rd, Zephyrhills, FL 33541. The GPS coordinates for Hardy Dormany’s grave in the cemetery are approximately 28.234200, -82.226097.

  1. Joshua H. Frier’s grave in Plant City, Hillsborough County, Florida

Joshua Frier was a native of Georgia who lived not far from the Powells when the family was residing in Bellville, Hamilton County, Florida. In his later memoirs Frier recounted meeting Lewis Powell in the years before the war. Frier is buried in Shiloh Cemetery in Plant City. The cemetery is sort of crammed into a residential area today. The address for the cemetery is 378 E Terrace Dr, Plant City, FL 33563 and the approximate GPS coordinates for Joshua Frier’s grave are 28.041383, -82.119247.

  1. William Slade’s grave in Kissimmee, Osceola County, Florida

William Slade enlisted in the same company as Lewis Powell at the start of the Civil War. Slade was with Powell at Gettysburg when Powell was captured. Slade avoided capture then but was later captured himself in 1864. After the Civil War, Slade married Powell’s sister, Lydia, and lived on Rev. Powell’s 5,000 acre property running his mill. Slade died in 1909 and is was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Kissimmee. The approximate GPS coordinates for William Slade’s grave in the cemetery are 28.179388, -81.438960.

  1. Angeline Powell and William Lassiter’s graves in Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, Florida

Angeline Powell was the closest younger sibling to Lewis Powell and some of the family stories about him growing up involve Angeline. She married William P. Lassiter and the pair lived on Rev. Powell’s 5,000 acre piece of land in Lake County. William Lassiter died in 1912 and Angeline died in 1924 and were buried in Riverview Memorial Park. The address for the cemetery is 1109 N US Highway 1, Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, Florida, 34950 and the GPS coordinates for the cemetery are 27.460034, -80.328895. I did not visit the Lassiter graves during my trip.

  1. “Ann” Hazeltine Judson Powell’s grave in Fort Myers, Lee County, Florida

Ann Hazeltine Judson Powell was Lewis Powell’s youngest surviving sibling. She married Daniel Hart and for a time lived in Geneva, Florida. She died in 1921 and is buried in Fort Myers Cemetery in Block 2, Lot 12. The address for the cemetery is 3200 Michigan Ave, Fort Myers, FL 33916 and the GPS coordinates for the cemetery entrance are 26.648319, -81.849259. I did not visit this grave during my trip.


References

[1] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 21, 1865, 2.
[2] Betty J. Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy, Second Edition (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2015), 4 – 5.
[3] “The county’s link to Lincoln: Assassination plotter was born here,” The Randolph Leader (Roanoke, AL), July 26, 2006, https://web.archive.org/web/20200628034926/https://www.therandolphleader.com/news/article_8445eb29-1d8a-53a0-8a19-6d217ae34ae6.html.
[4] Rev. George C. Powell’s obituary as quoted in Vaughan Shelton, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965), 451.
[5] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 5.
[6] Rev. Powell’s obituary as quoted in Shelton, Mask, 451.
[7] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 128.
[8] American Baptist Registers, for 1852, ed. J. Lansing Burrows (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1853), 57, https://books.google.com/books?id=NsrBaWBCxbgC&pg=PA57#v=onepage&q&f=false.
[9] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 9.
[10] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 7 – 8.
[11] Leon O. Prior, “Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 43, no. 1 (Jul. 1964): 3.
[12] Gary Posey, “The Minutes of Fort Early Baptist Church, now Warwick 1st Baptist Church, Warwick, Worth County, Georgia, 1837 to 1865,” USGenWeb Archives, October 16, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20200628043434/http://files.usgwarchives.net/ga/worth/churches/fortearlybaptistminutes.txt.
[13] “Lewis Payne, Seward’s Would-be Assassin,” The Herald & Georgian (Sandersville, GA), February 24, 1887.
[14] Leon O. Prior, “Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 43, no. 1 (Jul. 1964): 2.
[15] Rev. Powell’s obituary as quoted in Shelton, Mask, 451.
[16] “Bellville Baptist Cemetery,” FindAGrave, created January 1, 200, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/72088/bellville-baptist-cemetery.
[17] “James Joseph Polhill,” FindAGrave, created November 2, 2008, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/31086577/james-joseph-polhill.
[18] “Booth’s Conspiracy, The Desperado of the Party,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 3, 1887, 2.
[19] William C. Edwards, ed., The Lincoln Assassination – The Court Transcripts (Self-published: Google Books, 2012), 1266 – 1267.
[20] Joshua H. Frier, Reminiscences of the War Between the States by a Boy in the Far South at Home and in the Ranks of the Confederate Militia (Unpublished manuscript: State Archives of Florida, M76-134), https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/341152?id=18.
[21] Stacy Browning, Church Secretary of First Baptist Church Apopka, email message to Dave Taylor, June 11, 2020.
[22] Eric Musgrove, Suwannee County Clerk of the Circuit Court, email message to Dave Taylor, June 9, 2020.
[23] Suwannee County deed records, furnished by Eric Musgrove, Suwannee County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
[24] “Booth’s Conspiracy, The Desperado of the Party,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 3, 1887, 2.
[25] “Lewis Payne, Seward’s Would-be Assassin,” The Herald & Georgian (Sandersville, GA), February 24, 1887.
[26] “More about Lewis Powell, alias Payne,” The Herald & Georgian (Sandersville, GA), March 17, 1887.
[27] “Lewis Payne, Seward’s Would-be Assassin,” The Herald & Georgian (Sandersville, GA), February 24, 1887.
[28] Rev. George C. Powell to Rev. Abram D. Gillette, November 7, 1865 (Letter: Library of Congress, George C. Powell correspondence, 1865-1866).
[29] “Booth’s Conspiracy, The Desperado of the Party,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 3, 1887, 2.
[30] Suwannee County deed records, furnished by Eric Musgrove, Suwannee County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
[31] William E. Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War (New York, NY: G. P Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 265, 268.
[32] Doster, Lincoln, 272.
[33] Rev. George C. Powell to Rev. Abram D. Gillette, November 7, 1865 (Letter: Library of Congress, George C. Powell correspondence, 1865-1866).
[34] William C. Edwards, ed., The Lincoln Assassination – The Court Transcripts (Self-published: Google Books, 2012), 811.
[35] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 911.
[36] Doster, Lincoln, 272.
[37] The Press (Philadelphia, PA), August 16, 1865.
[38] “Booth’s Conspiracy, The Desperado of the Party,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 3, 1887, 2.
[39] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 122.
[40] Daniel Gillette, “Last Days of Payne. The Assailant of Seward was the son of a Baptist Minister,” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), April 6, 1892.
[41] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 124.
[42] Ibid., 123.
[43] “Lewis Payne, Seward’s Would-be Assassin,” The Herald & Georgian (Sandersville, GA), February 24, 1887.
[44] Ibid.
[45] Doster, Lincoln, 272 – 273.
[46] Rev. George C. Powell to Rev. Abram D. Gillette, November 7, 1865 (Letter: Library of Congress, George C. Powell correspondence, 1865-1866).
[47] Rev. George C. Powell to Rev. Abram D. Gillette, March 4, 1866 (Letter: Library of Congress, George C. Powell correspondence, 1865-1866).
[48] Ownsbey, Alias “Paine”, 122.
[49] Eric Musgrove, Suwannee County Clerk of the Circuit Court, email message to Dave Taylor, June 8, 2020.
[50] Rev. Powell’s obituary as quoted in Shelton, Mask, 451.
[51] Jim Robison, “Fleeing shame of Lincoln’s killing leads family to settle in Oviedo,” The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL), September 8, 1988, 8.
[52] Steve Rajtar, “Oviedo Historical Trail,” copyrighted 2008, https://web.archive.org/web/20200701033246/http://www.geocities.ws/krdvry/hikeplans/oviedo/planoviedo.html.
[53] Mrs. B. F. Wheeler, Jr and Mr. C. W. Holder, History of the First Baptist Church, Oviedo, Florida: First 100 Years, 1869 – 1969 (Oviedo, FL: Privately printed, 1969), 16, https://richesmi.cah.ucf.edu/omeka/items/show/5657.
[54] Jim Robison, “Post-Civil War Preacher Planted Seeds of Powerful First Baptist,” The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL), December 22, 1996, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1996-12-22-9612191697-story.html.
[55] “Meet the Pastor & Staff,” CrossLife Church, copyrighted 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20200701043434/https://www.crosslifechurch.com/im-new/meet-the-pastor-staff/.
[56] “Featured,” First Baptist Orlando, accessed June 30, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200701043840/https://www.firstorlando.com/featured/
[57] Supreme Court of the United States, Wilson Cypress Company, Appellant vs. Enrique Del Pozo y Marcos et al. (Washington, DC: Judd & Detweiler, 1913), 871, https://books.google.com/books?id=Y2tBAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
[58] Supreme Court, Wilson vs. Marcos et al., 957.
[59] Ibid., 236 – 248.
[60] Ibid., 958 – 959.
[61] Ibid., 262 – 288.
[62] History of Orlando Baptists by E. H. Gore as quoted in Vaughan Shelton, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965), 390.
[63] Steve Rajtar, “Oviedo Historical Trail,” copyrighted 2008, https://web.archive.org/web/20200701033246/http://www.geocities.ws/krdvry/hikeplans/oviedo/planoviedo.html.
[64] Ophelia Moore, “History of Antioch,” Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, accessed June 30, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200701034954/https://antioch-mbc.org/history/.
[65] “The First Baptist Church of Geneva,” Geneva Historical & Genealogical Society, Inc., updated May, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200702125914/http://www.usgennet.org/usa/fl/county/seminole/Geneva/baptist_church.htm.
[66] Supreme Court, Wilson vs. Marcos et al., 284.
[67] “The First Baptist Church of Geneva,” Geneva Historical & Genealogical Society, Inc., updated May, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200702125914/http://www.usgennet.org/usa/fl/county/seminole/Geneva/baptist_church.htm.
[68] Supreme Court, Wilson vs. Marcos et al., 485.
[69] Ibid., 241.
[70] Ibid., 847 – 875.
[71] Rev. George C. Powell’s obituary as quoted in Vaughan Shelton, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965), 451.
[72] Vaughan Shelton, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965), 391.
[73] Florida Baptist Witness (Jacksonville, FL), January 3, 1886, 3.
[74] “The county’s link to Lincoln: Assassination plotter was born here,” The Randolph Leader (Roanoke, AL), July 26, 2006, https://web.archive.org/web/20200628034926/https://www.therandolphleader.com/news/article_8445eb29-1d8a-53a0-8a19-6d217ae34ae6.html.
[75] “Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery,” FindAGrave, created May 29, 2010, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2355851/beulah-baptist-church-cemetery.
[76] “Bellville Baptist Cemetery,” FindAGrave, created January 1, 200, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/72088/bellville-baptist-cemetery.
[77] “James Joseph Polhill,” FindAGrave, created November 2, 2008, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/31086577/james-joseph-polhill.
[78] “Booth’s Conspiracy, The Desperado of the Party,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 3, 1887, 2.
[79] Rev. Powell’s obituary as quoted in Shelton, Mask, 451.

Categories: History | Tags: , | 4 Comments

The Testimony Regarding Lewis Powell

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day project documenting the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. To further support usability of this project for students and researchers, I am releasing individualized tables of the testimony given at the trial relating to each conspirator. 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. I have previously released the testimony regarding Mary Surratt and continue today with Lewis Powell. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Lewis Powell Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of Powell 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 Lewis Powell, known as Lewis Payne during almost the entirety of the trial. 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 Lewis Powell, I organized the testimony into four categories, labeled A – D. 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. Lewis Powell’s Association with other Conspirators

The first witness to discuss Lewis Powell at the trial was a prosecution witness who claimed to have seen him in Canada plotting the assassination of Lincoln with Confederate agents. While this testimony was later found to be perjury, the prosecution did work to establish Powell’s connection to the other conspirators, mainly through his lodging at Mrs. Surratt’s boardinghouse two separate times before the assassination. Powell’s subsequent arrest at the Surratt boardinghouse was testified to several times, mostly in regards to Mrs. Surratt. This all worked to show his connection to John Surratt, Mrs. Surratt, and the other conspirators who filtered into her home.

B. Lewis Powell’s Connection to John Wilkes Booth

While going hand-in-hand with the prior descriptor, the prosecution also made sure to establish Powell’s connection with John Wilkes Booth outside of the other conspirators. The horse Powell used and the boots he wore on the night of April 14th belonged to Booth. Booth also took an active role in helping to get Powell accommodations when he was staying in D.C.

C. The Attack of Secretary Seward and his Household

The case against Powell was the strongest out of all of the conspirators. The prosecution brought forth many witnesses to identify Powell as the man who viciously attacked William Seward and other members of his household. To drive the point home, the government even had two of Seward’s doctors testify about the carnage that was wrought by Powell’s gun and knife attack. Powell was even forced to stand up and dress in the blood-stained clothing he wore on the night of April 14th for further positive identification.

D. Debate over Lewis Powell’s Sanity

The only defense that Lewis Powell’s lawyer, William Doster, attempted was that of trying to have his client declared insane. Doster first tried to show this by showing the drastic change in temperament Powell experienced between his service in the Confederacy and his time with Booth. Doster then enlisted medical experts to assess his client. Unfortunately, this plan backfired when four doctors brought in by the prosecution (one of which had been one of Doster’s witnesses) testified that Powell was not mentally insane. Doster tried to spin this to mean that his client was more likely morally insane, but this gambit failed to change the minds of the commissioners.

For the closing argument in defense of Lewis Powell 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. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

Categories: History | Tags: , | 6 Comments

The Execution and Burial of Lewis Powell

Though I have already published a post today about the 155th anniversary of the execution of the four condemned conspirators in the death of Abraham Lincoln, I have another quick one to mark the occasion. Over the last three days I have been in Florida visiting sites connected to conspirator Lewis Powell. Someday in the near future, I will be publishing a very long post all about Lewis Powell’s early life and the post-assassination lives of his parents here in Florida complete with images I have taken during this trip. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you all a video I shot today at Lewis Powell’s grave in Geneva, Florida. In the video, I read accounts of the execution on this day and discuss the post-execution wanderings of Lewis Powell’s skull. I hope you enjoy it.

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 22 Comments

“Helped to Guard the Conspirators”

While doing a little searching tonight, I came across an interesting article from the December 15, 1902 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It highlights a Philadelphia resident named Isaac M. Marshall who claimed to have been among the guards detailed the watch over the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their trial and imprisonment. The article gives some candid thoughts that Corporal Marshall had about the conspirators, which I thought would be worth sharing.

Living at 3213 Mt. Vernon street is a veteran of the Civil War – Isaac M. Marshall – who was one of the guards of the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln, and who has still a vivid recollection of how they looked and acted when on trial for their lives at the old Arsenal in Washington. “I was a member of Company I, of the Third Regiment, Hancock’s Veteran Corps, at the time,” he said yesterday to a reporter of The Inquirer. “We were camped outside the capital in 1865, and the morning after the great crime had been committed we got orders to watch all the approaches leading from the city. The entire regiment was given this duty and no one was allowed to go through the lines without establishing his or her identity, and that they had a right to pass on.

“Later on our company was at the Arsenal during the trial of the men and Mrs. Surratt. I remember all of the conspirators well. Lewis Payne, one of those who were hanged, always wore a knit shirt. He was stalwart and of athletic build and had an eagle eye. The stern look on his face never appeared to change. David E. Herold was handsome, and he knew it. He had long black hair and he frequently pushed it above his forehead. There were many young women present – admitted by card – and to some of these he frequently bowed. One of his peculiar actions was to raise his hands so that they could see his manacled wrists.

“Of Samuel B. Arnold, whose story of alleged cruel treatment I have read with deep interest, as it appears from day to day in The Inquirer, I want to say this: Whatever may have happened to him at the Dry Tortugas, he did not look as if he had suffered any before his trial occurred. On the contrary, he appeared to have been well fed and otherwise well cared for. You could scarcely tell what kind of a man he was. At times his countenance wore a look of defiance; then of sternness and again of unconcern. He was neatly attired, as were all the others, save Payne, who managed to change his clothes after the crime, assuming the garb of a laborer.

“Michael O’Laughlin, who also went to the Dry Tortugas, was the only one who seemed to be affected and sorry. George Atzerodt I didn’t pay much attention to. Dr. Mudd did not have the appearance at all of a physician or professional man. Mrs. Surratt was always veiled; sat immovable and looked like a statue. After the trial the Third Regiment was sent to Camp Butler, at Springfield, Ill., and I was there when the lamented Lincoln was buried…”

Marshall’s extended comment about Samuel Arnold is due to the fact that this article came out in 1902, the same year that Arnold allowed his lengthy memoirs to be printed in the newspapers after he had read his own obituary. In his memoir, Arnold complained at length about the treatment he received at the hands of the government. Marshall provides a small rebuff to Arnold’s claims that he was mistreated while in Washington (though considering the hoods Arnold and the others were forced to wear, you can’t blame him too much for complaining). The other descriptions of the Lincoln conspirators are very much in line with what other visitors of the trial observed.

While I can’t positively confirm that Isaac Marshall was one of the guards at the trial of the conspirators, it seems fairly likely he is telling the truth. The Old Arsenal Penitentiary, where the conspirators were imprisoned and tried, was largely manned by members of the Veteran Reserve Corps, which Marshall was a member. On the day of the execution of the conspirators, Marshall’s specific group, the Third Regiment, was assigned duty as sentinels from the northeast corner of the arsenal grounds extending along the east bank of the river. Members of the 3rd regiment were also stationed in a line 100 yards south of the prison grounds. So, at the very least, Marshall did have guard duty on the day of the conspirators’ death. Even Marshall’s claim to have been in Springfield when Lincoln was buried is possible. The Third Regiment wasn’t officially mustered out of service until December of 1865 and Abraham Lincoln’s remains were “buried” in a temporary vault in Oak Ridge Cemetery on December 21, 1865. Isaac Marshall may have had the unique experience of being present at both the execution of the conspirators and at one of Abraham Lincoln’s many burials.

Isaac Marshall died on July 6, 1919 and is buried in Fernwood Cemetery, outside of Philadelphia.

References:
(1902, December 15) Helped to Guard the Conspirators. Philadelphia Inquirer, p 5.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Beyond the Courtyard

Good evening to the historically theatrical nerds out there.

As many of you know, yesterday was the anniversary of the Lincoln conspirators’ execution. Just prior to this, July 6th marked the reveal of the commission’s verdict to both the public and, more importantly, to the four people condemned to die the following day. On this July 6th, 153 years later, the Society for the Restoration for Port Tobacco (SRPT) hosted for their First Friday event “Beyond the Courtyard: The Final Hour of the Lincoln Conspirators.”

Set in Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary on the afternoon of the infamous hanging, the first person performance (written by Dave and me) had a four person cast, making it the largest of the Lincoln assassination themed reenactments done with the SRPT. Being a woman, I took on the role of Mary Surratt.

Dave, with all his impressive height, played Lewis Powell (called Paine by the other characters).

Bob Bowser, a board member and docent at the Dr. Mudd House Museum was David Herold.

Lastly, Southern Maryland naturalist Mike Callahan lent his German accent to the role of George Atzerodt.

Throughout the unfolding narrative, each person reflects on the various choices that drove them to conspire against the Union government, and the witnesses who brought those choices to light, until their tales intersect and lead to a collision of opinions and an outburst of violence. However, in the end, history still came with a vengeance.

Although we were all inside the Port Tobacco Courthouse, miles from Washington and in conditions much better than those suffered by the conspirators, it still felt eerie to be bringing a past back to life so soon before the anniversary of its haunting termination. Though over 150 years have passed, the echoes of the event which closed the Civil War can still be felt today.

Below you can view the program and see if you too can hear those reverberations of a time not so unlike our own. Please note that this was a staged reading and also took creative license with the dialogue. No incarceration accounts from the conspirators exist.

Local photographer, Eva Lightfoot, captured the great photos of the event that accompany this blog post. The rest of the album, along with other examples of her work, can be seen on her website.

Until next time.

-Kate

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The Execution of the Lincoln Conspirators

The sun was bright and hot as Alexander Gardner tended to his equipment on July 7, 1865. The noted Civil War photographer had brought two cameras with him, one wet plate and one stereoscopic, with which to capture the day’s event. Gardner was lucky, due to his prestige he was able to set himself up in the cool shade of a nearby building overlooking the scene. From his vantage point, facing out of two windows on the second floor of an old shoe factory on the property, Gardner could take in the entire scene.

Men began trickling into the courtyard below. Most were soldiers on assigned guard duty, but there was also a notable contingent of civilians. Many were newspapermen, here to commit to writing what Gardner would record on glass. A few others had come, in spite of the oppressive heat, to see justice meted out. Gardner focused his cameras on the object around which all the men had gathered – a hastily built gallows. Over the course of the next thirty minutes or so, Gardner would take at least 10 photographs of the proceedings. Through his lens, the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt was recorded in haunting clarity.

By using high resolution versions of Alexander Gardner’s photographs available through the Library of Congress, one can splice most of the execution photographs together to recreate the final moments of the four condemned conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in vivid detail. NOTE: The animation is below but is a bit large so it might take a second to load, especially on mobile devices.

Alexander Gardner’s photographs of the hanging provide us with a glimpse of the past that no newspaper report can equally replicate. Combined with modern technology, these photographs bring realism to a story whose epilogue was written 153 years ago today.

Click to view the full sized composite image

References:
The post was inspired by the work of Barry Cauchon and John Elliott

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The Hidden History of Spencer Clark

On April 1, 2017, I spoke at the annual Surratt Society Conference. The topic of my speech revolved around the hidden histories of some of the minor characters in the Lincoln assassination story. One of the subjects of that talk was Spencer M. Clark, a witness at the conspiracy trial with a very scandalous past. The following text comes from my speech. Click here to read about another subject of the speech, James P. Ferguson.


Spencer Morton Clark

Burial Location: Spring Grove Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Spencer Morton Clark was the very first superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. At the trial of the conspirators Clark was called to testify regarding the pair of boots that had been confiscated from conspirator Lewis Powell. The day before Clark gave his testimony he was given one of Powell’s boots by the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and was asked to inspect them. Inside one of the boots was a mark of ink. After examining the boot under a microscope, Clark came to the conclusion that the mark of ink had been put there to obscure some sort of writing that lay beneath it. Using a bath of oxalic acid, Clark was able to remove the top layer of ink. He was clearly able to see the letters J W then a letter that was either a P or a B. He also determined the last two letters were th. Clark concluded that the written word that had been cover up was the name J W Booth. Unfortunately Clark left the oxalic acid on too long and the ink from the name was also dissolved away. However, Clark was supported in his assessment by two other treasury workers who were with him. Spencer Clark’s testimony at the trial was brief but worked to prove that the boots worn by Powell had either been owned or purchased by John Wilkes Booth.

Hidden History:

Spencer Clark was born in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1811. As a young man Clark entered into many business ventures all of which failed. He declared bankruptcy twice before gaining employment in D.C. in a position he was not qualified for. In 1860, Clark was made the Acting Engineer in the Bureau of Construction for the U.S. Treasury Department despite the fact that he was not an engineer. However Clark made a good impression on Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase and was retained.

Salmon P. Chase was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 – 1864

Clark’s employment in the Treasury department came at a monumental time. Prior to the Civil War the only legal tender in the United States were gold and silver coins produced by the Treasury. These coins were known as specie. However the costs associated with the Civil War were so high and the amount of gold and silver was limited. Lincoln and his government had to look elsewhere to find a way to finance the war. The decision was finally made to introduce paper notes to serve as legal tender bills. This is commonplace to us now, but back then it was highly controversial and even Lincoln only agreed to it as a necessary, yet unfortunate, war effort. The treasury at this time did not have the facilities to print their own notes and there was great fear that the practice of printing money would fuel corruption within the government. Therefore these early notes were printed by private companies and then sent to the Treasury in sheets. In his position in the Treasury, Clark and his clerks were charged with cutting out the notes, signing them on behalf of the treasury officials, and the imprinting each note with a seal.

Clark soon required a larger work force to handle the increased output of the notes. With most able-bodied men off fighting in the war, the Treasury became one of the first government agencies to hire a large number of female clerks. The women who joined the ranks were often teenagers and young women whose fathers were either off fighting or had been killed. The Treasury sought to hire only girls and women who demonstrated a true need for employment to help provide for their families. Over 300 women found employment in the Treasury department before the end of the war.

In July of 1862, Clark and his department were investigated by a Congressional committee over the government’s contracts for the notes and qualifications of its workers. The committee determined that the contracts signed by the government with the private printers resulted in an extravagance in the expenditure of public money. They also found that Clark was not qualified for his position and suggested his removal. Clark was retained however due to his familiarity with Secretary Chase and his other superior, Francis Spinner, who was the Treasurer of the United States.

Francis Spinner was the Treasurer of the United States from 1861 – 1875

In August of 1862, Clark was authorized to purchase the machines necessary for the government to print some of its own notes rather than buying all of them from private companies. This decision essentially established the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and resulted in Spencer Clark becoming its first Superintendent. Clark supervised the production of the $1 and $2 notes. Clark’s new bureau was also tasked with the printing of the government’s new fractional currency. These bills were worth less than a dollar and were meant to supplement the dwindling supply of specie. In the initial run of fractional notes only Thomas Jefferson and George Washington appeared.

Examples of U.S. fractional currency

Clark, it should be noted, did a good job of instituting better security measures to impede counterfeiting. In the second issue of fractional currency, Clark had a copper circle placed around the head of Washington and Jefferson. If the bill was photographed, this ring would come out as black, thwarting the counterfeiter. Yet despite the positive aspects Spencer Clark brought to his position, there were also many negative aspects. Clark’s investment in the government’s printing presses proved to be misplaced. The presses Clark acquired literally came from the lowest bidder and the quality was lacking. Broken presses were common and delayed their production. Clark was also very poor in his book-keeping. His incomplete records of production and distribution were troublesome to members of Congress who were already worried about the corruptible nature of printing the country’s money.

In late 1863, Secretary Chase began hearing rumors about his printing department. These rumors were not about poor books or broken machines, however. The rumors being spread were about Clark, his female employees, and “gross immoralities” that were occurring under his supervision. Chase, who still held aspirations of his own to become President, decided to look into the matter in order to prevent any political enemy from discovering something that might damage his future. Chase requested that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton lend him a capable investigator to look into the rumors. Specifically Chase requested the assistance of Lafayette Baker.

Lafayette Baker

Chase would come to regret his request to have Baker investigate. Baker had served as a detective, special agent, and finally as a special provost marshal under Stanton. While Baker made himself useful to the government, his methods and character were highly questionable. He was notorious for throwing those he believed of wrongdoing into the Old Capitol Prison without charge. The declaration of martial law during the war gave him the authority to do so. After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Stanton would call on Baker again to help manage the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators.

Lafayette Baker committed himself to his investigation into the Treasury and opponents of the administration could smell the scent of scandal brewing. Salmon Chase had hoped for a quick exoneration of his subordinates but that was not what Baker had in mind. Baker believed that the public demanded a full and detailed inquiry and he would not allow himself to be a tool for Chase’s benefit. Baker was far too much of a loose cannon to do Chase’s bidding and wrap up the investigation quietly. While Baker charged a couple of Clark’s clerks with corruption, his biggest accusations were about Clark himself whom he accused of committing sexual misconduct with his female workers. Baker gathered statements by female employees that added up to a very damning picture against Clark, a married man.

Ella Jackson stated that she and another female clerk had traveled to Philadelphia at the invitation of Clark and another male clerk in the department named Gustavus Henderson. In Philadelphia, Miss Jackson registered at a hotel under an assumed name and spent the weekend with Clark. She also stated that Clark often offered her beer in his private office late at night, though she insisted she never drank more than two glasses and was never drunk at work. Ada Thompson, an actress, provided further details of Clark’s affair with Miss Jackson by informing to Baker that, “During the month of December last, Miss Jackson seldom came home before two or three o’clock in the morning. She stated to me that during these times she did not work later than ten or eleven o’clock and that the balance of that time…she spent in Mr. Clark’s private office.” Thompson also stated to Baker that she had “often seen in Miss Jackson’s possession obscene books, pictures, and prints, which she…informed me were given to her by Clark.”

Baker interviewed and received a statement from another young woman who had been in the employ of Mr. Clark. This girl stated:

“Mr. S M Clark came to me in the office, and asked me to come to his private residence, at the same time informing me that his wife was in the country. I did not at first comply with his request. On the next Saturday night…I went to Mr. Clark’s house about eight o’clock in the evening…Mr. Clark and myself occupied the same room until morning…About two weeks after my first visit to Mr. Clark’s house, he again asked me to go to his house and spend another evening with him; this request I complied with. I recollect distinctly a conversation I had with Mr. Clark. He said his wife was very jealous and at one time told him that she believed the Treasury Department was nothing more nor less than a house of ill-fame…Clark paid me as high as forty dollars; these amounts were independent of my wages earned in the Department…I freely confess my shame and disgrace, trusting that no publicity will be given to my statement.”

Lafayette Baker did not heed this woman’s request for confidentiality. Slowly, different pieces of Baker’s investigation were being leaked to public. Secretary Chase was seeing the reputation of his department and himself sullied. Chase suspended Clark but stopped short of firing him. Chase wanted Clark to resign but the latter would not go so easily. “I think it right that the country should know that your confidence in my official management has not been misplaced,” Clark wrote in an open letter to Chase that was published in the newspaper. Clark claimed that the charges against him were politically motivated since he was a hold out from President Buchanan’s administration. Essentially Clark set it up that if Chase moved to fire him, it would be far more damaging to Chase and his prospects as it would be confirmation that he had allowed things to get so out of hand in his department. Chase was trapped. The allegations against Clark were so detailed and extensive that they were undoubtedly true, but Chase had to save face. And so Chase turned to the only thing left of him, partisan politics.

While Baker’s investigation failed to find any major examples of monetary corruption in the Treasury department, the reports surrounding Clark’s sexual malfeasance became blood in the water to opponents of Lincoln’s administration in Congress. An investigative committee was created. Chase however, was connected enough to make sure that the majority of the Congressmen placed on the committee were friends. While there were a few token Democrats to provide the illusion of impartiality, the chairman of the committee was Republican representative, and future President, James Garfield.

Representative James A. Garfield

Chase and Garfield had become extremely close with Chase considering Garfield to be the son he never had.  The Republican majority committee worked extensively to attack Baker’s investigation. Each political party now found itself in a strange place. The Democrats, who loathed Baker and his methods, jumped to Baker’s defense while the Republicans, who had relied on Baker many times to be the shady means to achieve their ends, turned against him. Baker, feeling betrayed by his friends released all the pages of his scandalous findings to the public. Many newspapers would not print the reports deeming them too depraved to print, but others published the ladies’ statements in all their depraved detail. A political cartoon of the day even included the scandal with a brazen gentlemen eyeing a group of young ballerinas preparing for the Treasury Department’s production of “A New Way to Pay Old Debts”.

One might think that with all of the uproar that was being caused in the Democratic newspapers over Clark’s misconduct and the release of Baker’s reports that it would be impossible for Chase, Clark, and the Republicans to come out unscathed. However, in the end, Lafayette Baker’s own over-zealousness in his investigation would cause his downfall.

In early May of 1864, right about when the congressional investigation began, one of the Treasury department’s female clerks, Maggie Duvall, suddenly died. Maggie was described as “a beautiful and attractive young lady, with auburn hair, somewhat freckled.” Baker did not believe this death was a coincidence. He believed that Maggie had been a victim of Mr. Clark and died as a result of an abortion. Baker was able to collect a statement from another clerk that seemed to support this idea. And so, against the heartrending protests of Maggie’s family, Baker had Maggie’s funeral halted and had her body sent to an examining committee of local physicians to check for signs of an abortion.

In the end, however, Baker’s gamble backfired. It was found that Maggie had died of consumption and that her “virtue” was still intact. When the press heard the news of what Baker had done, they crucified him for it. His desecration of the poor girl’s body against the wishes of her family and the way he had attempted to sully her reputation became more of an outrage that than Clark’s alleged actions towards the other women. The Republicans were amazingly able to refrain the issue and turn Baker into the enemy. When Garfield and his majority in the congressional committee released their report they alleged that most of the charges against Clark were fabrications created by Baker on behalf of private printing companies in New York who were unhappy with having lost their contracts to print the government’s notes with the establishment of Clark’s bureau. In the end, the committee found that Lafayette Baker, “by the aid of coerced testimony” and with the assistance of “female prostitutes associated with him” had set out to destroy the reputation of Spencer Clark.

Lafayette Baker was livid and challenged Garfield to produce any evidence that he was working behalf of printing companies, had coerced any testimonies, or had used female prostitutes to make his case. In truth, all of these charges were groundless but it didn’t matter. Garfield had managed to reframe the issue in the public mind to protect his friends and his party. The Treasury scandal just went away which is why Spencer Clark was still in his position as superintendent of the printing division when he was asked to examine Lewis Powell’s boot in 1865.

But we’re still not done with Mr. Clark. In fact, we haven’t even touched on the scandal he is most known for and the way in which he changed the course of American currency forever.

In June of 1864, just after the inquiry over Clark’s sexual misconduct ended, Congress approved the creation of a third issue of fractional currency. The first and second issues, which ranged from 5 cents to 50 cents, had only contained the portraits of Washington and Jefferson. The design process was a lengthy affair with dies having to be created by outside companies. During this time Secretary Chase resigned from his post. He was replaced by Maine Senator William Fessenden who became the new Secretary of the Treasury.

William Fessenden was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1864 – 1865

Clark was in charge of the creation of the new fractional notes. It’s possible he was trying to curry favor with his new boss when he approached him with his idea for the portraits that should be placed on the new notes. Clark suggested that the notes contain the images of Secretary Fessenden, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury George Harrington, Controller of the Currency Hugh McCullough, and the Treasurer of the United States Francis Spinner.  Secretary Fessenden agreed to have his own face on one of the bills but told Clark to ask the other gentlemen for their consent. The other gentlemen were reluctant to the proposition but eventually agreed to it when they were assured by Clark that Secretary Fessenden wanted it so (which was a lie). In time Secretary Fessenden’s portrait appeared on the 25 cent note, and Treasurer Spinner’s portrait went on the 50 cent note.

Fractional currency notes bearing the likenesses of William Fessenden and Francis Spinner

These high value notes went into circulation but were not as common as the lower ones. The die for Controller McCullough’s note was damaged upon delivery to the Treasury and he, already being uncomfortable with the idea of being on currency, refused to allow Clark to order a new one. The design for Harrington’s note was apparently not yet in production. What occurred next is a little uncertain but end result was this:

A 5 cent fractional note bearing the likeness of Spencer Clark

Spencer Clark put his own face on the 5 cent fractional note. The story goes that the demand for 5 cent notes were so high that the treasury was under a time crunch to release the new issue of these bills. Strangely, or perhaps purposefully, Clark had originally planned for Francis Spinner to be on the 5 cent note but moved him to the less popular 50 cent note. Clark went up to Treasurer Spinner, told him of the almost completed design for the 5 cent note but lamented he had no portrait to put upon it. According to one story, Clark then said, “What head shall we use?” Clark asked Spinner, “the boys have got up a die with my head, what objection is there to using it?” Spinner then allegedly replied, “I have none”. Clark then went off telling people that he had the authorization of Francis Spinner to use his own image and he just so happened to have a die with his own portrait on it ready to go. However the truth is that Francis Spinner did not have the authority to approve designs nor did he claim to. When Secretary Fessenden saw the early proofs of the new 5 cent notes with Clark’s face, he rebuffed Clark. Clark then told him that it was Spinner who had insisted that Clark’s image be put upon the notes due to his years of faithful service to the bureau (which was a lie). The other story surrounding the placement of Spencer Clark’s face states that, when Clark approached Treasurer Spinner inquiring about who to put on the 5 cent note, he said something along the lines of, “Would the likeness of Clark do?” Spinner apparently believed that Spencer was referring to that great American explorer William Clark, of Louis and Clark fame. Spinner agreed to this and it was not until after the proofs were made that it was discovered that there had been a “misunderstanding”. Regardless of what really happened, due to the time constraints and demand for the bills, the production of the 5 cent notes with Spencer Clark’s face was allowed to continue.

As you might imagine, when these new 5 cent notes first appeared in public in February of 1866, there was quite an uproar. People had previous talked of the impudence of when Salmon Chase was placed on the $1 notes produced by the treasury and now here were fractional bills containing the images of three more treasury workers. Though George Washington was retained on the 3 cent and 10 cent notes, Thomas Jefferson had lost his place among our nation’s money completely.

Members of Congress were the most outraged especially considering the drama that had unfolded around Clark just two years earlier. The man had been rightfully accused of using his position to solicit sexual favors from his female subordinates and now he was the face of the 5 cent note. So, on March 1, 1866, Representative Martin Thayer of Pennsylvania added the following amendment to an appropriations bill for the Treasury:

“Hereafter no portrait or likeness of any living person shall be engraved or placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, or postal currency of the United States.”

Thayer humorously demonstrated how teachers all over the country will have to do away with their old table of Federal currency and learn the one currently promoted by the Treasury.

Rep. James Garfield expressed his disagreement with the amendment, initially citing his belief that money should represent the leaders of the day. However, his argument quickly shifted into a prolonged and flowery defense of Spencer Clark:

“Sir, I take pleasure in saying a word for an abused man, who is not here to answer his accusers; and I say it, too, remembering the declaration of an ancient philosopher, that people love to hear accusation better than defense. I do not hesitate to declare it as my opinion that when the history of our financial struggles during the later war shall have been written; when all passion and prejudice shall have died away; when the events of the present shall be seen in the clear light of veritable history, this man, whose picture is now sneered at; this man, so little known to fame, and so unfavorably spoken of among many members of this House, will stand out in that history as a man most remarkable for genius and ability, for having accomplished a work which will take its place among the wonders of mechanism and useful invention, and for having saved to the Treasury, by his skill and fidelity, millions of money. Whatever people please to say concerning S. M. Clark and his antecedents, he has done his country signal service; and, sir, I believe his merits will some day be recognized by the American people as they have been and still are by those who know what he has done and is still doing in the public service.”

Representative James Brooks from New York, the Congressman who had started the call to investigate Clark two years ago and served as one of Garfield’s token Democrats in the committee could not let Garfield’s aggrandizement of Clark go without a response.

Rep. James Brooks of New York

“What a eulogy he has pronounced upon a great hero of this war! When the name of Grant shall have faded away; when the magnificent victories of Sherman, from the mountains of Tennessee throughout all George, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, shall have been forgotten; … when even Lincoln shall have been buried with Julius and Augustus Caesar, there will arise one remarkable man; high on the horizon, and that is Clark, the printer of the public money!”

This response was met with laughter from the House. Garfield and Brooks then argued for some time about the past investigation into Clark before Brooks brought the attention back to the matter at hand.

“Sir, the honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Thayer is right. No man should be immortalized upon the public money of the country until the verdict of posterity has been pronounced upon his name, and it can go down upon that record sanctioned by the voices of men of all parties, all politics, and of all religions.”

In the end, the Representatives voted to put Rep. Thayer amendment in. When the amendment arrived in the Senate the only change made was to allow the current plates of notes to be used until their expiration in order to avoid the cost of halting production and purchasing new ones at this time. This was agreed to by both the Senate and House without dissent.

Finally on April 7, 1866, the appropriations bill was passed which contained the amendment banning living people from appearing on our money and stamps.

This policy still stands today. Coincidentally. the same appropriations bill that banned portraits of living people on money also approved the expenditure of $100,000 for the purchase of a property in Washington City “for the deposit and safe keeping of documentary papers relating to the soldiers of the army of the United States, and of the museum of the medical and surgical department of the army.” The property’s name? Ford’s Theatre.

Spencer Clark survived an investigation into his qualifications. He survived an investigation into his immoral and predatory behavior with his female clerks. Spencer Clark even survived the aftermath of the widespread embarrassment he had brought upon his government by putting his own face on money. However, could not survive one last scandal. On November 17, 1868, Clark tendered his resignation after an investigative committee found him guilty of…improper book-keeping. After leaving the Treasury, Clark acquired a position in the Department of Agriculture, eventually becoming the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Clark died on December 10, 1890 and is buried in Hartford, Connecticut next to his wife.

Spencer Clark was a failed businessman, a fake engineer, the Superintendent of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a scumbag sexual predator, and man who put his own face on money. That’s quite a scandalous hidden history.

References:
The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North by Michael Thomas Smith – a fascinating book which details Spencer Clark and the Treasury Scandal

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lewis Powell at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is among the most well-known of all Civil War battles. While, today, many view it as an important turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg’s original notoriety was derived from the sheer number of soldiers who fought and died there in July of 1863. Over one hundred thousand men from the Union and Confederate armies fought in the foothills of Pennsylvania during the three day battle. Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln would speak at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg to honor the sacrifice of the Union soldiers who were lost during the fight. His speech, known as the Gettysburg Address, is among one of the greatest speeches ever written and it also helps to propel the Battle of Gettysburg in the minds of people today. Many wonderful texts have been written about the actions of the famous Union and Confederate officers who squared off in this pivotal battle. The movements of their units are depicted and recounted on monuments and signs throughout the Gettysburg National Military Park. In the sea of ranks, infantry, and units, it is difficult to adjust one’s view to consider the stories of individual soldiers. To each soldier who fought, Gettysburg was its own unique experience with very few being exactly alike. However, as Walt Whitman so noted, “the real war will never get in the books,” and so many of the stories of the common men and women of the Civil War are unrecorded. However, thanks to the research of author Betty Ownsbey, we do know at least some of the Gettysburg experiences of a 19 year-old private with the 2nd Florida Infantry named Lewis Thornton Powell.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Lewis Powell was a teenager living in Hamilton County, Florida. The Sunshine State seceded from the Union in January of 1861, and shortly thereafter Lewis made up his mind to enlist in the Confederate army. On May 30, 1861, Lewis Powell joined up with the Hamilton Blues which later became a company of the 2nd Florida Infantry. Powell was 17 years old at the time of his enlistment, below the age requirement of 18. To get around this, the tall and muscularly built Powell claimed to be 19 years old.

In a time before widespread identification methods, Powell was apparently taken at his word. It wouldn’t be the last time Powell would lie about his identity.

Powell’s early military career was plagued by visits to base hospitals for different illnesses. Despite this, when his one year term of serviced ended in 1862, Powell chose to re-enlist for the duration of the war and claimed the $50 bounty that was offered for re-enlistment. As part of the 2nd Florida Infantry, Powell saw battle during the Peninsula Campaign and at the Battle of Chancellorsville. In the summer of 1863, the 2nd Florida Infantry became a part of the Army of Northern Virginia and were, therefore, present at the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, Powell’s unit was part of Perry’s Brigade, which consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida Infantry combined. While the brigade was named for Brigadier General Edward Perry, a future governor of Florida, Perry had contracted typhoid fever during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was not present in Gettysburg. Instead, Perry’s Brigade was led by Col. David Lang.

Col. David Lang was Lewis Powell’s brigade commander during the battle of Gettysburg.

On July 1st, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, the 700 plus men of Perry’s Brigade did not see battle. They, as part of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s Division, were too far to the rear to engage with the Union. By July 2nd, the Union forces had established a fishhook line around Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill just to the southeast of the city of Gettysburg. During that morning, Anderson’s Division had moved closer to the front and took refuge in a patch of woods running from Seminary Ridge southward. Perry’s Brigade was located just north of the Peach Orchard. At 6:00 pm, Perry’s Brigade advanced forward along with the rest of Anderson’s Division. They attacked Brig. General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Division, forcing the Union to abandon several artillery guns as they retreated. Despite the push and the large number of casualties the Confederate forces inflicted on Humphreys’ Division, they were not able to advance to Cemetery Ridge as planned. The Union Infantry on the slope of the ridge prevented further advancement. Union reinforcements pressed in on their right flank and made the ground Perry’s Brigade had gained untenable. Perry’s Brigade, and the rest of Anderson’s division, were pushed back into the woods that they started from.

After pushing the Confederates back, the Union advanced, “recovered the artillery that had been abandoned and captured many prisoners and held the position during the night.”

One of the prisoners that was captured by the Second Division was a wounded Lewis Powell who had suffered a gunshot wound to his right wrist. While we do not know the exact circumstances surrounding Powell’s wounding, it is safe to say that it occurred after 6:00 pm on July 2nd, as Perry’s Brigade was making either their advance or retreat. He may have fallen on the field and not been found until the next morning, as his records state he was captured on July 3rd. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Powell was now a wounded prisoner of war. After his capture, Powell was sent about 2.5 miles to the southeast to a field hospital that had been established by the Twelfth Corps on the farm of George Bushman.

The brick building which served as the main hospital at Bushman farm still stands today. Powell was one of about 1,200 wounded soldiers brought in for triage style treatment, with the majority of these being Union soldiers not Confederate prisoners of war like himself. Powell is recorded to have been a patient in the the 12th Army Corps Hospital on July 4th. On July 6th, Powell was transferred from the field hospital to the larger makeshift hospital that had been set up on the grounds of Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College). The Confederates had seized Pennsylvania College on the first day of battle and had converted one of the buildings, Pennsylvania Hall (also known as the Edifice), into their own field hospital. When the Confederates were forced to abandon the hospital, the Union took it over.

Penn Hall circa 1878

Penn Hall, 2017

Though Powell arrived at the Penn Hall hospital for his own recovery, before too long he found his position at the hospital expanded from patient to nurse. Even with his arm in a sling, Powell started to provide assistance to the doctors and stewards in their care for other wounded Confederates. During his service at Penn Hall, Powell was described as, “good at the work, and kind to the sick and wounded.” The fact that Powell had been previously laid up in other hospitals during his early military career no doubt helped him in his assumed position.

Lewis Powell is given the title of “nurse” on this register list of Confederates in Gettysburg hospitals.

The number of casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg brought in many more volunteers hoping to provide comfort to the wounded. One of these volunteers was a woman from Baltimore named Maggie Branson. Branson was a Confederate sympathizer and she traveled to Gettysburg specifically to tend to the wounded boys in gray. Branson was 30 years-old and unmarried. Over the course of July and August, Branson and Powell worked side by side in the hospital. At the end of August, the Penn Hall Hospital was shutting down. Powell met with the Provost Marshal who decided it would be a better use of the young Confederate’s abilities to continue his work as a nurse in a hospital rather than languish away in a prisoner of war camp. Powell was transferred away from Gettysburg and arrived at West’s Buildings Hospital in Baltimore on September 2, 1863. After only a few days in Baltimore, Powell was able to facilitate his escape. Though Lewis Powell’s exploits from this date onward would eventually bring him back into the military service of the Confederacy, when he did enlist again he did so under a new, assumed name (for that story click here). For the remainder of the war the muster rolls for the 2nd Florida Infantry would record Pvt. Powell as a prisoner of war.

In time, Lewis Thornton Powell would come into contact with John Wilkes Booth. The meeting between soldier and actor would start a series of choices that would change Powell’s life forever. It led the “kind” nurse of Gettysburg to savagely and ruthlessly stab a helpless man lying in his bed. It transformed Lewis Powell from one of the countless faces in the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, into one of the most infamous criminals in our nation’s history. In his final moments, as the Confederate stared at the rope which would strangle him to death in July of 1865, one wonders if Lewis Powell wished his end had come among the foothills of Pennsylvania in July of 1863 instead.

References:
Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy by Betty J. Ownsbey
Interactive Gettysburg Battle Map featured in A Cutting-Edge Second Look at the Battle of Gettysburg by Anne Kelly Knowles
The Battle of Gettysburg – Stone Sentinels: Perry’s BrigadeAnderson’s DivisionHumphrey’s 2nd Division, 3rd Corps

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