Mary Surratt: An American Secret Essay

1984 words - 8 pages

Most Americans know John Wilkes Booth as the assassin of Abraham Lincoln- shot at a play at Ford’s Theater on April 14th, 1865. However, the names of the conspirators that surrounded Wilkes Booth are relatively unknown, especially that of Mary Surratt. Mary Surratt, a mother and boardinghouse proprietor, was arrested and tried for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln along with her son, John Surratt. Pleas from her family, lawyer, and fellow conspirators did not allow her to escape her fate, and she was hanged for her crimes on July 7th, 1865. Even from the scaffold, Lewis Powell, another conspirator condemned to die, cried, “Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn't deserve to die with the rest of us.” So who was this woman, and most importantly, what role did she really play in the assassination of the President of the United States? Was she simply blindly aiding her son and thus innocent, as claimed by Lewis Powell, or did she have a more involved role in the plot? Mary Surratt opened up her home to conspirators and ended up paying the price for her decision.
Mary Eugenia Surratt, née Jenkins, was born to Samuel Isaac Jenkins and his wife near Waterloo, Maryland. After her father died when she was young, her mother and older siblings kept the family and the farm together. After attending a Catholic girls’ school for a few years, she met and married John Surratt at age fifteen. They had three children: Isaac, John, and Anna. After a fire at their first farm, John Surratt Sr. began jumping from occupation to occupation. Surratt worked briefly in Virginia as a railroad contractor before he was able to purchase land in Maryland and eventually establish a store and tavern that became known as Surrattsville. However, the family’s finances soon took a downward turn, especially with the Civil War. All of the family’s slaves ran away, their eldest son left to join the Confederate army, and their farm was raided by Union soldiers. Surratt died a ruined man in 1862, prompting Mary to call her son John home from school to take over his father’s job a postmaster, but this did not last long. The job was taken over by someone else, and Mrs. Surratt was forced to rent out the tavern and move to Washington to open a boardinghouse. Thus sparked the beginning of her involvement in the assassination conspiracy. Unbeknownst to Mary Surratt, her son John had become involved with John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate supporter. Along with secretly carrying Confederate messages to Richmond, John Surratt was one of the group planning to carry out Wilkes Booth’s plan of kidnapping Abraham Lincoln and holding him ransom for the release of Confederate prisoners of war. At this point, Mrs. Surratt sensed that something was going on, and despite pleas to her son to tell her what he was involved in, he refused. With the collapse of the Confederacy came Wilkes Booth’s decision to assassinate the president. Records show that at this point many of his group abandoned him,...

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