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“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

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.

“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.