“I live at Dr. Sam Mudd’s:” Shedding light on the obscure residents of the Mudd farm in April 1865

The historical narrative of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold’s stay at the Mudd farm is usually retold through the accounts of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd. In reality, fifteen other individuals inhabited the farm on April 15, 1865. Who were they and what did they have to say about that day?

On April 21, 1865, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd found himself interrogated by Colonel Henry H. Wells in Bryantown. Wells wanted to know about the “two strangers” that Mudd claimed arrived at his farm the morning following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. During the interview, Mudd indicated “my family at this time consisted of my wife, four children, a widow lady, and a sister-in-law.” He also noted “there are three working hands on the place-two white, one colored.”[1] Dr. Mudd’s statement revealed that there were far more individuals on his farm than are generally included in discussions of Booth and Herold’s visit. Interestingly, there were even more individuals than those referenced by Dr. Mudd in his statement to Wells. In all, seventeen people were present on that historic day. Many of these individuals left accounts of their recollections of Booth’s visit to the farm. Some testified in the trial of the conspirators. Some remained silent. What follows attempts to identify and share the stories of all of those who were on the Mudd farm in April 1865.

House in the morning
The home of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd. Photo by Bob Bowser

Those Identified in Dr. Mudd’s Statement

By April 1865, the population of St. Catherine, Dr. Mudd’s farm, was much higher than most realize. The immediate Mudd family had already grown to six individuals. Sam and Sarah were the proud parents of four young children. Six-year-old Andrew, four-and-a-half year old Lillian, or “Sissie,” as she was known, three-and-a-half year old Thomas, and fourteen-month old Samuel Jr. filled the house with the love and joy that coincides with small children. Due to their ages, no records exist of their experience during Booth and Herold’s stay, however their lives were undeniably impacted by the events of that day.

Mudd Children
The Mudd Children as Adults: Lillian, Thomas, Samuel Jr. (no known photo exists of Andrew)  courtesy of Robert Summers muddresearch.com

In addition to six Mudd’s, there were two Dyers living on the farm in April 1865. Mrs. Mudd was born a Dyer, so it is logical that there were members of the family inhabiting the farm. Dr. Mudd’s statement to Colonel Wells confirmed the presence of “a widow lady” living with his family. She was Mrs. Mary Jane (Dyer) Simms. In 1850, Mary Jane and her husband Joseph Simms lived next door to the family of a then sixteen-year-old Sam who resided at his father’s farm about ½ mile east of St. Catherine. In 1855, Joseph died. Little is known of Mary Jane’s whereabouts until 1860, when she appeared on the census living with the Mudds at St. Catherine. With the maiden name “Dyer,” it is highly likely that Mary Jane was extended kin of Mrs. Mudd.[2] Mary Jane testified on behalf of Dr. Mudd during the trial. In her testimony, she was question about her living arrangements in 1864. She noted that she lived with the Mudds “except when I was at my sister’s visiting” adding “I never staid over two or three weeks at a time.”[3] Interestingly, she was not questioned about Booth and Herold’s visit on April 15 and her voice has remained silent on the subject. Mary Jane was listed as still living with the Mudds on the 1870 census.

Joseph and Mary Jane Simms
Joseph and Mary Jane Simms as they appeared on the 1850 census. NARA

Another Dyer joined the household in 1863. The “sister-in-law” Dr. Mudd referenced was Elizabeth “Betty” Dyer. Betty had been living about ½ mile west and across the Zekiah Swamp with her bachelor brother Jeremiah. In the summer of 1863, Jeremiah opened a dry goods business in Baltimore and eventually sold his farm in Charles County.[4] When Jeremiah departed the area, Betty went to live with her sister Sarah’s family across the swamp. She, too, left no record of Booth’s visit in 1865.

Aside from family members, there were many laborers living on the farm. The “two white” laborers were John Best and Thomas Davis. At sixty-five years of age, John Best was the oldest individual on the property by two decades. Best was another transplant from Jeremiah Dyer’s decision to sell the family farm. He had served on the Dyer farm as a “farm laborer” since 1850. Best made the half-mile move across the Zekiah in late 1864. Mrs. Mudd referred to Best as “our old gardener,” but census records again list him as a “farm laborer.”[5] He is best known for helping Dr. Mudd make the crutches that Booth requested on April 15. Oddly, Best was never asked to write a statement, give an interview, or testify in the trial although it seems unlikely Best had any interaction with the assassins.[6]

john best
“Our Old Gardiner” John Best (misspelled on the record) NARA

The other “white laborer” was Thomas Davis. He arrived on the farm in early January 1865 to fill a vacancy opened by Maryland’s decision to abolish slavery the previous November. Many former enslaved workers completed the calendar year and left the farm. Davis occupied the upstairs room in the “new” section of the house. Today, this room is occupied by our caretaker and is not on the tour. For reference, the room is located above the gift shop. The room did not open to any of the upstairs rooms in the main house. This provided privacy for both the hired worker and the family and limited any possible interaction between Davis and the assassins.

Unlike John Best, Thomas Davis was arrested and taken to the Old Capitol Prison with Dr. Mudd. He remained there until called to testify on Sam’s behalf on May 29 and again on June 5, 1865. While Davis testified that he did not see either Booth or Herold, he did admit to handling their horses. Davis reported an injury to one of the horses. He noted its “shoulder was swelled right smart…the swelling of the shoulder was fresh…” Davis then spent the day “grubbing” in the field. He returned home near dark, but Booth and Herold had already gone. Davis was released from prison after his testimony and vanished into history. [7]

The “colored” individual identified by Dr. Mudd was Frank Washington. Frank arrived on the Mudd farm in early 1864 as an enslaved ploughman. Frank stated that he belonged to a woman named Lydia Ann Dyer when he went to work at Dr. Mudd’s.  Frank decided to stay on the Mudd farm as a hired laborer after statewide emancipation freed him. He stated that Dr. Mudd paid him $130 per year for his services.

Frank was asleep in the kitchen on April 15, 1865. Around 4 am, Dr. Mudd woke Frank to put two horses in the stable. Frank completed his duty and went back to sleep. Later in the day, Frank was asked to saddle two horses, one for Dr. Mudd and the other for one of the visitors. Frank saddled the horses and led them into the yard. According to his testimony, he went to work in the fields before the doctor or Herold came out to mount their horses. He did not see them leave the farm and noted that both of the horses that came early that morning were missing from the stable when he returned near dark.[8]

the house from rear
The kitchen where Frank Washington and his family resided is the smallest portion of the house in the foreground. Photo by Bob Bowser

Those Omitted from Dr. Mudd’s Statement

For unknown reasons, Dr. Mudd chose not to mention several individuals who resided on the farm on April 15, 1865. Historical records clearly indicate their presence and several of them left accounts of Booth and Herold at the house on the day following the assassination.

Two of these individuals inhabited St. Catherine almost as long as Dr. and Mrs. Mudd. Lettie Hall and Lousia Christie were half-sisters enslaved by the Mudds as early as 1860. Both were very young when they came to the farm and were referred to as “the orphans.” At the time of the assassination, Lettie was only around thirteen and Lousia about eleven years of age. In an interview given in 1929, Lettie recalled the morning of Booth and Herold’s arrival. She noted that Dr. Mudd woke both sisters. Lettie was tasked with making breakfast for two men that had just arrived. She proudly recalled, “I got up, killed a chicken, and had the finest biscuits I believe I ever baked. I put cream in for shortening, and they were so pretty and nice.” She continued, “A Mr. Harold…came down with the family to breakfast, but Lousia was ordered to take Mr. Booth’s breakfast upstairs…” Lettie alleged that Booth paid both girls for their services noting “I learned later that Mr. Booth gave my sister two 25-cent pieces, and told her to give me one. I shall never forget that first piece of money I ever had…”[9]

Lettie and Lousia lived with the Mudd family into the 1870s. Lettie eventually moved to Alexandria, Virginia and later to Butler, Pennsylvania where she died and was buried. Lousia never left an account and her whereabouts after leaving the Mudd farm remain a mystery.

lettie hall dade marker
The grave site of Lettie Hall in Rose Hill Cemetery located in Butler, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bob Bowser

Another individual known to be living on the farm at the time of the assassination was Betty Washington. Betty was the wife of Frank Washington and came to St. Catherine in January 1865. She had been enslaved by Mrs. Adelaide Middleton in 1864. Following emancipation Betty moved to be with her husband. Betty did not come to St. Catherine alone. By 1865, the Washingtons had a family of their own. Betty arrived with three sons: eight-year-old Edward, four-year-old J.R., and two-year-old Sidney. Thomas Davis remembered “Frank Washington, his wife, and their children” all lived at the farm when Booth and Herold were there in 1865.[10]

the washingtons
The Washingtons living on the farm in April 1865 NARA

Like her husband Frank, Betty testified on Sam’s behalf. She remembered being at the kitchen window when she saw David Herold “going in the direction of the swamp.” She did not see Booth with Herold, however this must have been in the afternoon when the two men left because she noted that “Mrs. Mudd had started off a little girl for a woman to come and clean the house, as the gentleman had gone…”[11]

The Washingtons remained with the Mudd family until the 1870s. Frank and Betty added two more children to the family the time they moved away from the farm. Unfortunately, the Washingtons also faded into history when they relocated.

Those in the Haze of History

As is often the case when studying historical events, it is possible that some individuals existed who were present on the farm yet remain hidden in the haze of history. One such individual was the mysterious woman requested by Mrs. Mudd “to come and clean the house,” mentioned by Betty Washington. The historical record identified Lettie Hall and Lousia Christie as “domestic servants” indicating that they were tasked with cooking, cleaning the house, and helping with the children. It is logical that they should be the ones who cleaned up after Booth and Herold left the property. However, the wording of Betty’s testimony leaves this theory open to debate. Betty mentioned “Mrs. Mudd started off a little girl…” This is almost undoubtedly Lousia Christie, the youngest female laborer on the property. Betty then continued that the woman was “to come and clean the house.” At approximately thirteen, it seems implausible that Lettie Hall was grown enough to be called a “woman.” Additionally, Lettie’s role on the farm had her located in the house. It does not seem reasonable that Mrs. Mudd should have to send Lousia to get Lettie to come and clean the house.

Mrs. Mudd offered another clue to the woman’s identity. Near the turn of the century, she noted that a “servant while cleaning the room had thrown it (Booth’s boot) under the bed…I sent Martha, the house girl to get it…”[12] It is logical that “Martha” was the woman for whom Mrs. Mudd had sent, however there is no one by that name in the historical record. The fact that someone needed to be sent to get her indicates that she may have resided on another part of the property, such as the small cabin that sat about 200 yards to the south of the house, or a neighboring farm like that of Dr. Mudd’s father. It is also plausible that Martha was a free woman of color who lived nearby. Perhaps, Mrs. Mudd was simply mistaken with her recollection. History may never reveal the secret of Martha’s identity.

Yet another mysterious individual was revealed in an interview that Mrs. Mudd granted to the Baltimore News on February 11, 1909. In the interview Mrs. Mudd recalled that her “children’s nurse, a white girl named Nancy Tilly” may also have been present on April 15. Like “Martha,” no record of anyone named Nancy Tilly exists living on the Mudd farm. Additionally, this account directly contradicts what the interview Dr. Mudd gave Colonel Wells just days after Booth’s stay. It needs to be remembered that Mrs. Mudd gave this interview nearly forty-four years after the incident.

The final individual shrouded in mystery was “Aunt” Caroline Wade.  In the post-war years, Caroline Wade claimed to have been a slave on the Mudd farm. She stated that she was present on April 15, and saw John Wilkes Booth. She also stated that she witnessed Federal soldiers destroy the farm in the days following Booth’s departure. Once again, no historical evidence exists that Caroline Wade was ever on the Mudd farm. She may have been the woman for whom Mrs. Mudd sent to clean the house. Alternatively, she may have lived in the area and by chance saw Booth that day. Perhaps she was simply looking for a little notoriety and attempted to work her way into history by fabricating her story.[13]

Caroline Wade
“Aunt” Caroline Wade in later life. Image courtesy of Garth Bowling 

Most historical interpretations of Booth and Herold’s stay at Dr. Mudd’s farm narrowly focus on the major participants. This creates the false impression that Dr. Mudd was alone with his family when the assassins came calling. In reality, there were at least seventeen individuals who uniquely experienced this historic event. Their presence adds depth to the story and gives a better understanding of the farm in April 1865. Regardless of whether they interacted with Booth and Herold, their lives were impacted nonetheless. They have earned a place in history.

Written by Bob Bowser. This article may not be used in part or in full without consent of the author. All rights reserved. 2020.

[1] Investigation and Trial Papers Relating to the Assassination of President Lincoln, 1865 (NARA microfilm M599). National Archives, Washington, D.C., reel 5, frames 226-239. (henceforth Lincoln Assassination File)

[2] 1850; Census Place: Bryantown, Charles, Maryland, Roll: 290; pg. 293a and 1860; Census Place: Bryantown, Charles, Maryland; pg. 82; Family History Library Film 803473.

[3] 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), 341.

[4] Poore, Volume II, 304-305.

[5] Nettie Mudd-Monroe, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd (Baltimore: The Neale Publishing Company, 1906), pg. 35

[6] Lincoln Assassination File, reel 5: frames 226-239.

[7] Lincoln Assassination File, reel 4: frames 245-254.

[8] Poore, Volume II, 316-318.

[9] “Butler Woman Cooked Breakfast for Booth after He had Killed Lincoln at Close of Civil War.” Butler Eagle (Butler, Pennsylvania), March 16, 1929.

[10] Lincoln Assassination File, reel 4: frames 245-254.

[11] Poore, Volume II, 284-285.

[12] Mudd-Monroe, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, pgs. 33-34.

[13] Julia King, Christine Arnold-Lowe, Susan Shaffer, Pathways to History: Charles County, Maryland, 1658-2008 (Smallwood Foundation, Inc.: Mount Victoria, Maryland 2008), pg. 152.

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