An interesting trip to Surrattsville
I recently took a field trip that I had been thinking about for some time. For several years I have been researching and writing about Edman “Ned” Spangler, the native Yorker who was a carpenter and stagehand at Ford’s Theater, working there shifting scenery on April 14, 1865, the night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Ned was one of the eight persons tried by a military court, in June and July 1865, on charges of conspiring to murder the president. The other seven were found guilty, four quickly hung and three sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson, off the southwestern tip of Florida. Ned was found not guilty of conspiracy, but found guilty of helping Booth escape from the theater, which he strongly denied the rest of his life. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment at Fort Jefferson.
The more you read about the Lincoln assassination, the more curious you become about the other characters in the story, besides their widely known fates. What about Mary Surratt, the owner of the Washington boarding house where the conspirators allegedly met? What about Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set the leg Booth broke when he leaped from the president’s theater box? Spangler and Mudd became good friends at Fort Jefferson and Spangler eventually died at Mudd’s house and is buried nearby.
Last Sunday I visited two interesting Maryland historical sites not far south of our nation’s capital—the Surratt House and Tavern at Clinton (formerly Surrattsville) and the Dr. Samuel Mudd House near Waldorf. The two house museums are only about 15 minutes apart.
Mary Jenkins Surratt was the first women executed by the U.S. government. She was living at her Washington boarding house at the time of the assassination, but she still owned the Surratt Tavern at Surrattsville (now Clinton) in Prince George’s County that she had run with her late husband. Her tenant, John Lloyd, testified that Booth and a co-conspirator, David Herold, stopped at the tavern after fleeing Washington the night of the assassination to pick up rifles and other items hidden there after their failed plan to kidnap Lincoln. According to Lloyd, Mary Surratt had added a pair of field glasses to the cache just that morning. Her D.C. boarder Louis Weichmann also testified for the prosecution. She was found guilty of conspiracy in the assassination of the president and hung on July 5, 1865. Whether she was knew of the assassination plan or only of the previous kidnapping plan is still hotly debated.
Considering that the tavern had a succession of owners between the Surratts and the Miller family who donated it to The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1965, and that it is surrounded by Washington sprawl, it is amazing that it still stands. The Surratt House is now a well-restored and well-interpreted museum, operated by the MNCPPC in cooperation with the Surratt Society, and can be toured most of the year Wednesdays through Sundays. The James O. Hall Research Center, named for the late authority on the Lincoln Assassination, is in the visitors’ center. Resources, such as full transcripts of the assassination trial, are also available on the Surratt Museum website.
The second museum I visited Sunday, the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, is only about 15 minutes away from the Surratt house. Besides being infamous for setting Booth’s broken leg that night, Dr. Mudd later took in his friend, Ned Spangler, so Ned figures in on the interpretation of that site. More on Mudd, Spangler and that site to follow.
Scroll down for more Surratt House photos.