Mary Surratt – The Woman, The Town, The Conspiracy

By | Jul 7, 2010

On July 7, 1865, four persons who had been tried and convicted in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln were lead to the gallows to be hung. At a little before 2 PM the trap door was tripped and the four fell to their death. Those hung that afternoon were Lewis T. Powell, George A. Atzerodt, David E. Herold and Mary Surratt.

Mary Elizabeth Eugenia Jenkins Surratt, who was the mother John Surratt, another possible conspirator, but one who was never found guilty, was the first woman executed by the United States Government. In fact, few thought that the government would actually put her to death, including the hangman. He only put five loops, instead of seven, on her noose, thinking that the noose would never be used.

Surratt owned a tavern in the town of Surrattsville, Maryland as well as a boardinghouse in Washington. It was at the boardinghouse that the conspiracy for the assassination may have been hatched. When John Wilkes Booth escaped Washington he and David Herrold stopped at the tavern in Surrattsville.

Surrattsville was named for the family of Mary Surratt’s husband, John Surratt, Sr. John Surratt Sr. held the post of postmaster of Surratsville when he died unexpectedly in August of 1862. Because of the notoriety of the name Surratt, the Post Office renamed the town Robeysville. In 1879 the town was again renamed to its present name of Clinton.

It’s now believed that at most she was a minor member of the conspiracy. The Surratt society has preserved the tavern in Clinton. Her boarding house in Washington also still survives.

Those who were executed that day were tried and convicted by a Military court. A year later in 1866. The United State Supreme Court ruled that Military court had no jurisdiction in civilian cases, if civil courts were open. Had this ruling been in place a year earlier, Surratt and the others would have been tried in civil courts with possible different outcomes.


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