“A casual or accidental meeting”: How last-minute Christmas shopping transformed Dr. Mudd into a conspirator.

By Bob Bowser

On December 23, 1864 two men set off from Bryantown, Maryland en route to Washington City. Dr. Samuel A. Mudd and his cousin, Jeremiah T. Mudd, departed Bryantown on a last-minute Christmas shopping trip. That summer, Dr. Mudd had finished adding a two-story addition to his home. The number of inhabitants on his farm was growing and he wanted to purchase a new wood stove to facilitate cooking. Dr. Mudd knew the markets and shops of Pennsylvania Avenue were the perfect place to acquire the new stove, as well as afford him the opportunity to pick up various other small gifts for the family.[1]

Jeremiah T. Mudd
Jeremiah Mudd (The History of the Mudd Family in the US)

Even on horseback the twenty-five mile trip took hours to complete. The men finally reached the Navy Yard bridge and crossed into Washington’s city limits in the late afternoon. Jeremiah reported that they stabled their horses “near the Navy Yard,” which meant employing the services of Mr. M. J. Pope. Located a few blocks north of the Navy Yard at K and 8th Streets southeast, Pope’s livery stable was the only of its kind in the vicinity.[2]

According to Jeremiah Mudd, the two men then made their way to the hotels and shopping district of Pennsylvania Avenue. Jeremiah noted that it was “a little in the night” by the time the men reached their destination, adding “the lamps were lit on the street.” Sunset in Washington occurs around 4:45 pm in late December. While Jeremiah did not know the exact time of their arrival on Pennsylvania Avenue, simple estimation and his description places it sometime around or a little after 5 pm. The two men went to the Pennsylvania House Hotel and registered for a room.

Pennsylvania house
Source: Boyd’s Washington City Directory, 1864

Famished from their long journey, the two Mudds went in search of a meal. They walked one block west and settled in at Dubant & Brother’s restaurant located on the corner of 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.[3] The meal lasted around one hour. Feeling invigorated by the food and the buzzing atmosphere of Pennsylvania Avenue at Christmas time, the men decided to continue several blocks farther west to Brown’s Hotel to “see if we could recognize anybody from the country.”

Google Earth Dubants
A modern satellite view of the scene on Pennsylvania Avenue. The pins mark the approximate location of most of these buildings. In the late 1800s the address system was amended in Washington rendering addresses before that time obsolete. To determine these approximate locations, Boyd’s 1867 Washington Directory was used as a guide. Using this system allowed the pins to be placed within a door or two of where the actual buildings were located. (Google Earth)

Disappointed by the lack of excitement at Brown’s, the duo remained only about fifteen minutes. They concluded to go the more popular National Hotel a few blocks east. Extrapolating time evidence, it was probably around 7 pm when they reached their new destination. Jeremiah noted that there was a “tremendous crowd” at the National.[4] The two men became separated in the confusion. Jeremiah found an old acquaintance and struck up a conversation. Following the conversation, he visited some clothing shops along Pennsylvania Avenue to plan for purchases the next day.[5]

National Hotel
The National Hotel in 1860 looking east toward the unfinished Capitol Building. (Library of Congress)

Like Jeremiah, Dr. Mudd also ran into an acquaintance at the National Hotel. The actor John Wilkes Booth resided in the National Hotel while in Washington. Mudd had been introduced to Booth a little over one month prior to this occasion at St. Mary’s Church in Bryantown. Evidence suggests that it seems likely that Mudd and Booth met a second time in Bryantown in the week prior to this December 23 encounter. Now, the acquaintances again found themselves in each other’s company.

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth (LoC)

Booth had a favor to ask of Dr. Mudd. He desired an introduction to John Surratt. Mudd claimed that Booth’s justification for this meeting was “to select a good locality for a country residence.” According to Dr. Mudd, he attempted to deflect the request by pleading that he was in town with a relative from the country and the two needed to reconnect for the night. He added that he was also expected to meet acquaintances at his hotel at 8 pm. Judging by the extrapolated time evidence, this conversation was probably happening between thirty and forty-five minutes of that deadline. Mudd noted that Booth “had the number, street, and name of John Surratt written on a card, saying, to comply would not detain me over five minutes.” Today, one can only assume that the address written on the card was 541 H Street, which was the location of the boarding house owned by John’s mother, Mary Surratt. The Surratt Boarding House was a simple five block walk north up 6th Street from the National Hotel.[6]

John Surratt in 1867 (LoC)

While the journey would take longer than the promised five minutes, it was certainly possible to complete a round trip in thirty minutes. Dr. Mudd decided to walk with John Wilkes Booth. He noted that instead of simply walking up 6th Street, he and Booth “started down one street, and then up another.” This put the two men walking north on 7th Street. At just about the same time, John Surratt and his friend Louis Weichmann were leaving the Surratt boarding house. In later years, Weichmann reported that the two men had just left the establishment “to take a stroll on Pennsylvania Avenue” as he “anxious to purchase a few Christmas presents for my sisters.” The pair began walking down 7th Street.

As they all reached a spot opposite the Odd Fellows Hall, Dr. Mudd realized that he had just passed John Surratt and another man on the sidewalk.[7] It would have been approaching 8 pm and nighttime darkness had set in two hours prior. In the dim light of the street lamps, it would have been hard for Mudd to recognize Surratt even from as close as a few feet. Realizing who he had just passed, Mudd stopped and called out “Surratt, Surratt!” John Surratt and Louis Weichmann stopped and turned to see who was calling them. Upon seeing an old friend, Surratt reportedly exclaimed “why, Doctor, how do you do? I am so glad to see you, let me make you acquainted with my friend.” Formal introductions took place. First, Surratt introduced Dr. Mudd to Weichmann and then Dr. Mudd introduced Booth to both men. At Booth’s invitation, the party of four returned to the National Hotel.[8]

7t street with arrows
7th and D Streets in 1864. Mudd and Booth used the sidewalk to the left of this image and would have been walking away from the camera. Surratt and Weichmann would have been on the same sidewalk walking towards the camera. The blue arrow points out the Odd Fellows Hall. The red arrow points out the approximate location of the introductions. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Modern Odd Fellows
A modern street view of the Odd Fellows Hall taken from the location of the introductions. (Bob Bowser)
opposite odd fellows modern
A modern street view of the site of the introductions. The Odd Fellows Hall is behind the camera. (Bob Bowser)
Walk to boarding house with photographer
Modern satellite image of Mudd and Booth’s search for Surratt. The location of the photographer in the 1864 image is marked for reference. (Google Earth)

Upon reaching the lobby of the National, Booth invited the men to his room for cigars and drinks. Mudd politely declined the offer using his prior engagement as an excuse, but “finding that Weichmann and Surratt were disposed to accept- I yielded, remarking, that I could remain many minutes.”[9] Upon entering Booth’s room, Dr. Mudd noted that he immediately took Surratt into a hallway for the purpose of apologizing for introducing him to “a man I knew so little concerning.” He stated that this only took about three minutes and Booth stayed in the room with Weichmann while it occurred. Upon their return, Booth and Surratt struck up a conversation about land speculation in Charles County. Booth pulled out an old letter and had Surratt trace roads and properties on the back. Mudd claimed to have been a “mere onlooker” to this conversation. The entire meeting only took fifteen minutes. Needing to get to his appointment at the Pennsylvania House, Dr. Mudd invited the men to follow him there.[10]

Weichmann remembered things differently. He recounted Dr. Mudd calling Booth, not Surratt, initially into the hallway. He claimed that after a few minutes both men re-entered and asked for Surratt to step into the hall, as well. Weichmann claimed to have been alone in the room for nearly twenty minutes while this private conversation unfolded. The three men then returned to the room, apologetic about the secrecy of the discussion. Weichmann recalled witnessing the discussion over land in Charles County. However, rather than being a mere onlooker, Dr. Mudd was an active participant in the conversation. Weichmann claimed that this second meeting took place for an additional twenty minutes, placing the four men at the National for nearly an hour.[11]

Louis Weichmann (LoC)

All four men left the National and walked around the corner to the Pennsylvania House Hotel. They entered the first floor sitting room and broke into two separate conversations. Booth spoke with Surratt. Weichmann spoke with Mudd. Weichmann and Mudd spoke of the war. The recent news of Hood’s disastrous defeat at Nashville became the topic of their discussion. Weichmann noted that Mudd “expressed an opinion that the war would soon come to an end” judging that Dr. Mudd “spoke like a true Union man” with his sentiments on the battle. Following his short conversation with Surratt, Booth bid the men good night and exited the hotel. Weichmann and Surratt followed soon after. Dr. Mudd reunited with his cousin Jeremiah, who he found sitting in an adjoining lobby room. The two men retired to bed for the night in preparation for a busy day.[12]

Dr. Mudd and Jeremiah awoke on Christmas Eve morning ready to complete the objective of their trip. They took breakfast at the Pennsylvania House and then headed to Pennsylvania Avenue to shop. Dr. Mudd was most interested in purchasing the wood stove for his kitchen. Jeremiah accompanied him on his quest. When trying to recall the name of the stove manufacturer, Jeremiah’s memory faltered. In his testimony he stated “I think by the name of McGregor.”[13] While no stove maker by the name of McGregor can be found in the historic record, E.H. & H.I. Gregory stove makers had a store on the southside of Pennsylvania Avenue near 7th Street. Using the closeness of McGreogor and Gregory, it plausible that this was the business the two men entered that Christmas Eve morning.[14]

Gregory Stove Ad
Source: Boyd’s Washington City Directory, 1864
Stove, bank, and market google earth
Locations of Dr. Mudd’s shopping trip of December 24, 1864.

Dr. Mudd purchased the stove but had a problem. He needed someone to haul it back to Charles County for him. He checked with a Bryantown huckster named Francis Lucas to see if he could haul the stove home. Lucas, who ran a stall in the Seventh Street Market located just to the rear of Gregory Stoves, concluded that he could not as business was slow that day and he needed to continue to sell his all of his poultry in order to have room for the stove in his wagon.[15] Jeremiah noted that  Lucas could not take the stove “on that trip,” indicating that the stove was delivered on a later trip. It seems that Mrs. Mudd would not have her new stove in time for the Christmas holiday.

Seventh Street Market
A wartime view of the Seventh Street or Central Market where Francis Lucas was selling poultry and the Mudd cousins were Christmas shopping. Today, the National Archives and Records Administration Building sits on the site of the market. (LoC)

Dr. Mudd and Jeremiah spent the next few hours drifting in and out of shops, purchasing various articles of clothing and other small items. Jeremiah even noted the doctor making a stop at the Bank of Washington on the corner of 7th and C Streets. They wrapped up their shopping around 1 p.m. and started for their horses near the Navy Yard. According to Jeremiah, the pair left the city near 3 p.m.[16]

Dr. Mudd’s December meeting with Booth returned to haunt him following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was arrested on April 21, 1865 and endured six hours of interrogation by Colonel H. H. Wells. Mudd admitted to having been introduced to John Wilkes Booth in Bryantown in the fall of 1864, going so far as to state “I have never seen Booth since that time to my knowledge until last Saturday morning.” [17] However, he unwisely avoided mentioning the “casual or accidental” meeting in Washington at Christmas time.[18]

On April 24, Mudd was transferred from the makeshift jail at the Bryantown Tavern to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. In the opinion of Colonel Wells, Dr. Mudd had concealed information that potentially could have led to Booth’s capture had the doctor simply acted promptly with his information. The government used the Old Capitol Prison to hold dozens of individuals they considered as persons of interest in the assassination investigation. Those suspected by the government as conspirators were being held on board two iron clad monitors anchored in the river at the Navy Yard. Despite the information provided by Colonel Wells, the government still did not consider Dr. Mudd a conspirator.

The Old Capitol Prison circa 1864 (LoC)

Among those being held at the Old Capitol Prison was Louis Weichmann. He arrived at the prison on April 30 having been arrested for his connections with Mary and John Surratt. Mary had been in prison ever since a raid on her boarding house that occurred on April 18. The raid resulted in the arrest of all present. Conspirator Lewis Powell had also been captured in the raid and occupied a small room on board one of the monitors to await trial.

On April 30, Weichmann recalled meeting with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, as well as special Judge Advocate Henry L. Burnett. Weichmann  was required to give a detailed statement recounting all that he knew of the conspiracy. During the interview, he shared the story of Mudd’s introduction of Booth to John Surratt during the December visit to Washington. Dr. Mudd had confessed to meeting John Wilkes Booth in November 1864, but never mentioned the late December meeting. Worse yet, he never mentioned introducing Booth to Surratt. Upon hearing this new information, Stanton reportedly rose from his desk and “bringing down his clenched hand on the table with much force exclaimed with great earnestness to General Burnett, ‘By God, put that down, Burnett; it is damned important.’” This statement provided key evidence against John Surratt, Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, and Dr. Mudd. The evidence regarding Mary Surratt was so damning that Stanton ordered that she be transferred to the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary that evening. Her fate was sealed.[21]

Weichmann was transferred to the Old Capitol Prison. The Secretary of War had yet to determine whether he was better suited for the witness stand or prisoner dock. Defendants were not allowed to testify in most states in 19th century America and would not be allowed to testify in the conspirators trial. It was easy to see that Weichmann was present at many key moments of the conspiracy and could be charged as a conspirator. However, if Stanton charged Weichmann valuable testimony against Surratt, Powell, and potentially Mudd would not be heard by the commission. Stanton needed to decided if he could trust Weichmann on the stand. The two would need to meet again in the coming days. 

Another famous inmate at the Old Capitol Prison was theater owner John T. Ford. He recalled an encounter with Louis Weichmann shortly after his incarceration began. This ominous encounter foretold the fate of Dr. Mudd. Ford recalled noticing Weichmann’s behavior was very nervous and erratic. When Ford asked Weichmann why he was behaving so strangely, Weichmann confessed that he was to report to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for another interview. Ford recalled “he was greatly agitated and begged my advice as to how he should act. I answered, simply tell the truth, be right in all you say—don’t be frightened or influenced any other way.” The two parted and Weichmann again went to see Stanton. Ford next encountered Weichmann a few days later. He noted that Weichmann “seemed unnerved and beyond the power to control his terror.” Apparently, Stanton had threatened Weichmann by telling him that the “blood of the President was as much on his hands as much as Booth.” Ford recalled that Weichmann  was “shaking with fright” as he recalled the meeting. [19]

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (LoC)

Several days elapsed and Ford again encountered Weichmann. He was shocked by a considerable change in Weichmann’s demeanor. Ford remembered that Weichmann now “exhibited considerable self-control and said he had again been to the War Department and had made up his mind to stand by the government-which he repeated several times within the few minutes we were together.” The sudden change in Weichmann’s attitude was tied to information that put Dr. Mudd in peril. [20]

Weichmann’s  information had connected the vital link between John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. On May 4, Weichmann again met with Burnett and Stanton. By the time of this meeting, the government had unraveled much of the web of conspiracy and viewed  John Surratt as Booth’s right-hand man. The government felt that Surratt was responsible for helping build the plan and much of the team for the initial kidnapping conspiracy. Stanton’s desire to apprehend Surratt was so strong that he had issued a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Wanted poster
The government reward offered for Booth, John Surratt, and David Herold. (LoC)

By the beginning of May, Surratt was the only conspirator still at large. Weichmann’s revelation that Dr. Mudd was responsible for introducing Booth and Surratt was the final piece of evidence against Mudd. By the end of the May 4 meeting, Stanton had decided Weichmann’s testimony was too valuable not to be heard in court. Weichmann was returned to the Old Capitol Prison to prepare for his role as star witness. Dr. Mudd was transferred from the Old Capitol Prison to the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary to await trial. He was the last of the suspects to be transferred to the building that would soon host the trial of the conspirators. John Ford noted in disgust, “from that time [the May 4 meeting] Weichmann seemed to devote all his intelligence and energy in discovering and creating testimony for the prosecution.”[22]

The Trial of the Conspirators (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated)

Louis Weichmann testified in the early days trial and was recalled several times for follow up testimony. On the stand, he recounted the fateful meeting in December 1864 in vivid detail, clearly describing Dr. Mudd’s importance in connecting John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. Despite noting that nothing in the meeting led him to suspect that there “was anything like a conspiracy going on,” the commission took Weichmann’s testimony as proof of Dr. Mudd’s complicity in the scheme.[23]

In late June 1865, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd was convicted of conspiring with and aiding and abetting John Wilkes Booth in his heinous crime. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in February 1869. Mary Surratt was not as fortunate. On July 7, 1865 Mary Surratt and three others were executed for their role in the conspiracy against President Abraham Lincoln. She became the first woman executed by the Federal Government.

Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 6
The execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators: “The Drop.” (LoC) 

While there were certainly other factors that led to Dr. Mudd’s arrest and conviction, the December 23, 1864 meeting was the final piece of evidence the government needed to charge him as a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It appears that even men a century and a half ago waited until the last minute to complete their Christmas shopping. However, in the case of Dr. Mudd it seems that penalties for holiday procrastination went far beyond long lines, grumpy patrons, and lack of gift selection.

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd

This article may not be used in part or in full without consent of the author. All rights reserved. 2019.

[1]Ben Perley Poore, The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President, and the Attempt to Overthrow the Government by the Assassination of its Principal Officers: Volume II (Boston: J.E. Tilton and Company, 1865), 259.

[2] Andrew Boyd, Boyd’s Washington and Georgetown directory, Contains also a Buisness Directory of Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria (Washington DC: A. Boyd, 1864) pg. 342.

[3] Boyd, City Directory, 144.

[4] Poore, Vol. II, 259.

[5] Ibid., 260.

[6] Nettie Mudd Monroe, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1906), 42-43.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Poore, Vol. I, 70.;Louis J. Weichmann, A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of the Conspiracy of 1865, Edited by Floyd E. Risvold, (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 32.

[9] Mudd, Life of Mudd, 43.

[10] Ibid., 43-44.

[11] Poore, Vol. I, 70-71.

[12] Ibid., 100.

[13] Poore, Vol. II, 260.

[14] Boyd, City Directory, 351.

[15] Poore, Vol. II, 268.

[16] Ibid., 260.

[17] Signed statement of Dr. S.A. Mudd, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC, m-599.

[18] Mudd, Life of Mudd, 42.

[19]Maryland Historical Society, John T. Ford Papers, File 371, Folder 10.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Weichmann, A True History of the Assassination of Abraham, 226.

[22]MHS,  JTF Papers, File 371, Folder 10.

[23] Poore, Vol. I, 104.

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