There's a Robert Redford film out now about the trial of Mary Surratt before a military tribunal for conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.. That film inspired today's SEPIA SATURDAY post. (Click on the link to visit Alan and the other Sepia Saturday participants).
Mary Surratt (nee Mary Elizabeth Jenkins) was born in Waterloo, Maryland in 1823. She was educated in Alexandria, Virginia by the Sisters of Charity at the school for girls run by St. Mary's Catholic Church.
|Mary Surratt photo from the Surratt.org website|
In 1840, at 17, she married John Harrison Surratt of the District of Columbia. They lived on a small farm in Oxon Hill where they reared three children : Isaac, Anna, and John Jr.
John H. Surratt bought 287 acres of farmland in Prince Georges County, Maryland (near present-day Andrews Air Force Base) in 1852. On the land, he built a two-story frame building that became not only the family's living quarters, but the Surrattsville tavern, polling place, and post office.
In the decade leading up to the Civil War, the tavern was a community gathering place and likely housed lively discussions about the country's political direction (and divisions).
|From the Surratt.org website - Reproduction of Harper's Weekly cover 1867 showing Surrattsville|
Though Maryland did not secede during the Civil War, the Surratts' sympathized with the Confederacy during the war and there is much evidence that their tavern served as a safehouse in the Confederate underground network in southern Maryland.
And it was to the Surratt Tavern that John Wilkes Booth fled after the assassination of the President at Ford's Theater on the night of April 14, 1865.
|Currier and Ives print - in Library of Congress Collection LC-USZ62-2073 (b&w film copy negative)|
By then, Mary Surratt was widowed and no longer the proprietress of the tavern.. Her husband had left her deeply in debt and of necessity, she rented the tavern and farm to an ex-policeman named John Lloyd. In 1864, she moved to northwest D.C. where she owned a townhouse.
|Mary Surratt House, 604 H Street N.W. St. in Washington, D.C.|
taken about 1908 - photo in Library of Congress Collection LC-USZ62-92592
There, she opened her dwelling to boarders and visitors - including John Wilkes Booth.
|Carte de Visite by Alexander Gardner showing John Wilkes Booth|
Library of Congress Photo Collection
(digital file from original recto) ppmsca 19233 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.19233
In the post-assassination search for Booth and his accomplice David Herold, the net was widened to include any who rendered assistance to the plot. (For info on Booth's death, click HERE.)
|David Herold, convicted co-conspirator in the Lincoln Assassination|
Library of Congress Photo Collection - LC-USZ62-121530.
Mary Surratt was arrested as a conspirator almost immediately and taken to the Old Capitol Prison
|Library of Congress Photo Collection - LC -DIG - ppmsca -12611 (digital file)|
where she was held pending trial before a military tribunal at the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary.
|J. Orville Johnson photograph of Surratt jury -- apparently the jury for John Surratt's trial, Mary's son|
Trial began May 9, 1865 and lasted throughout June. Despite vigorous defense by attorney Frederick Aiken, Mary Surratt was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, along with convicted co-conspirators Lewis Payne (a/k/a Powell, Hall and Wood), David Herold, and George Atzerodt.
|George Azerodt, Lincoln Assassination Conspirator - photo by Alexander Gardner|
in Library of Congress Collection - LC-USZ62-22995 b&w print negative
|Lewis Payne, Lincoln Assassination co-conspirator|
Library of Congress photo collection LC-USZ62-134024 (b&w film copy neg.)
Five of the nine military tribunal members recommended to President Andrew Johnson that "because of her age and her sex" that her death sentence be reduced to life in prison. Johnson refused, saying Mary Surratt "kept the nest that hatched the egg."
|President Andrew Johnson - photo reproduction from Library of Congress Collection|
Surratt, Powell, Herold and Atzerodt were hanged on July 7, 1865. She was the first woman executed by the U.S. government.
|Execution of Lincoln's Assassins 1865 - Library of Congress photo collection|
At the time of her death, a case questioning the jursidiction of military courts in cases involving civilians was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Less than a year after Surratt's execution, the court ruled that -- so long as civil courts were available -- military courts have no jurisdiction in civilian cases. Some legal experts think that, had this case been decided before the execution, that Mary Surratt's conviction would have been overturned, though the court did not specifically address the application of the laws of war and the respective jurisdictions of military tribunals and civil courts. Lincoln was assassinated, of course, during time of war.
Several other co-conspirators were also found guilty but were sentenced to life in prison. At the time of Mary Surratt's trial, her son John was in hiding and thus wasn't tried with her and the other principal accused. After the Supreme Court decision, he was arrested and tried in regular criminal court and judged by a jury of his peers. They could not reach a guilty verdict.
For more information, see the Surratt website.
Here's a trailer for the Redford-produced film.