John Surratt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John Harrison Surratt, Jr
John Surrat - 1868.jpg
John H. Surratt, Jr. in 1868.
Allegiance Confederate States of America
Service Confederate Secret Service
Rank courier, spy
Operation(s) co-conspirator in plan to kidnap U.S. President Abraham Lincoln
Other work Friend of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln

Born (1844-04-13)April 13, 1844
Washington, D.C.
Died April 21, 1916(1916-04-21) (aged 72)
Baltimore, Maryland
Cause of
Buried New Cathedral Cemetery
Baltimore, Maryland
Nationality United States[1]
Religion Roman Catholic
Parents Mary Surratt
John Harrison Surratt
Spouse Mary Victorine Hunter
Children John Harrison Surratt, III
William Hunter Surratt
Mary Eugenia Surratt
Leo Jenkins Surratt
Mary Victorine Scott Surratt Weller
Ella Key Surratt
Occupation U.S. postmaster, farmer, parochial school teacher, Pontifical Zouave, public lecturer, company treasurer
Alma mater St. Charles College, Maryland
English College, Rome

John Harrison Surratt, Jr. (April 13, 1844 – April 21, 1916) was accused of plotting with John Wilkes Booth to kidnap U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and suspected of involvement in the Abraham Lincoln assassination. His mother, Mary Surratt, was convicted of conspiracy and hanged by the United States Federal Government. She owned the boarding house where Booth and fellow conspirators planned the scheme.

John Harrison Surratt, Jr., avoided arrest immediately after the assassination by fleeing the country, as the other conspirators were executed by hanging. He served briefly as a Papal Zouave before his later arrest and extradition from Egypt. By the time he returned to the United States the statute of limitations had expired on most of the potential charges and he was not convicted.

Early life[edit]

John Harrison Surratt, Jr., was born in 1844, to John Harrison Surratt, Sr., and Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt, in what is today Congress Heights. His baptism took place in 1844 at St. Peter's Church, Washington, D.C. In 1861, Surratt was enrolled at St. Charles College, where he was studying for the priesthood[2] and also where he met Louis Weichmann. When his father suddenly died in 1862, John Jr. was appointed the postmaster for Surrattsville, Maryland. His distant cousin on her mother's side is Elizabeth Lail.

Lincoln kidnapping[edit]

Surratt served as a Confederate Secret Service courier and spy and had been carrying dispatches about Union troop movements across the Potomac River for some time. Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced Surratt to John Wilkes Booth on December 23, 1864, and Surratt agreed to help Booth kidnap Abraham Lincoln. The meeting took place at the National Hotel, where Booth lived in Washington, D.C. Booth's plan was to seize Lincoln, take him to Richmond, Virginia, and exchange him for thousands of Confederate prisoners of war. On March 17, 1865, Surratt and Booth, along with their comrades, waited in ambush for Lincoln's carriage to leave the Campbell General Hospital and return to Washington. However, Lincoln had changed his mind and remained in Washington. Following Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, Surratt denied any involvement with the murder plot, claiming at that time he was in Elmira, New York. Surratt did not take part in the assassination, but he was one of the first people suspected of the attack on Secretary of State William H. Seward. However, it was soon discovered that Lewis Powell had tried to kill Seward.


When he learned of the assassination, Surratt fled to Canada. He reached Montreal on April 17, 1865. He then went to St. Liboire, where a Catholic priest, Father Charles Boucher, gave him sanctuary. Surratt remained there while his mother was arrested, tried and hanged for conspiracy in the United States.

Aided by ex-Confederate agents Beverly Tucker and Edwin Lee, Surratt booked passage under an alias and disguise and landed at Liverpool in September, where he lodged in the oratory at the Church of the Holy Cross.[3]

Surrat would later serve for a time in the Ninth Company of the Pontifical Zouave in the Papal States, using the name John Watson.[4][5]

An old friend, Henri Beaumont de Sainte-Marie, recognized Surratt and notified papal officials and Rufus King, U.S. minister in Rome.[6] On November 7, 1866, John Surratt was arrested and sent to Velletri prison. He escaped and lived with the Garibaldians, who gave him safe passage. Surratt traveled to the Kingdom of Italy, posing as a Canadian citizen named Walters. He booked passage to Alexandria, Egypt, but was arrested there by U.S. officials on November 23, 1866, still in his Pontifical Zouaves uniform.[7] He returned to the United States on the USS Swatara to the Washington Navy Yard in early 1867.[8]


John Harrison Surratt, Jr. in Papal Zouave uniform, c. 1867.

Eighteen months after his mother was hanged, Surratt was tried in a civilian court of the State of Maryland, not before a military commission, as his mother and the others had been. A recent Supreme Court decision had declared the trial of civilians before military tribunals to be unconstitutional (Ex parte Milligan). Judge David Carter presided over Surratt's trial, and Edwards Pierrepont conducted the federal government's case against him. Surratt's lead attorney, Joseph Habersham Bradley, admitted Surratt's part in plotting to kidnap the President, but denied any involvement in the murder plot. After two months of testimony, Surratt was released after a mistrial; eight jurors had voted not guilty, four voted guilty. The statute of limitations on charges other than murder had run out, and Surratt was released on bail.[9]

Later life[edit]

Surratt tried to farm tobacco, then taught at the Rockville Female Academy. In 1870, as one of the last surviving members of the conspiracy, Surratt began a much-heralded public lecture tour. On December 6, at a small courthouse in Rockville, Maryland, in a one-hour-and-fifteen-minute speech, Surratt admitted his involvement in the scheme to kidnap Lincoln, but still denied any knowledge of the assassination plot, reiterating that he was in Elmira at the time. He disavowed any participation by the Confederate government, reviled Louis Weichmann as a "perjurer" responsible for his mother's death and claimed his friends had kept the seriousness of her plight in Washington from him. After this revelation, it was reported in Washington's Evening Star that the band played "Dixie" and a small concert was improvised, with Surratt the center of female attention. Three weeks later, Surratt was to give a second lecture in Washington, D.C., but public outrage forced its cancellation.[10]

Surratt later took a job as a teacher in St. Joseph Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1872, Surratt married Mary Victorine Hunter, a second cousin of Francis Scott Key. The couple lived in Baltimore and had seven children.[11]

At some point after 1872 he was hired by the Baltimore Steam Packet Company, rising to freight auditor and ultimately treasurer of the company. Surratt retired from the steamship line in 1914, and died of pneumonia on April 21, 1916, at the age of 72. He was buried in the New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore.[12]

In film[edit]

Surratt was portrayed by Johnny Simmons in the 2010 Robert Redford film The Conspirator.[13]


  1. ^ "The Surratt Family Tree - Surratt House Museum". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  2. ^ Trindal, Elizabeth Steger (1996), Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy, Pelican Pub. Co., p. 46, ISBN 978-1-56554-185-6, LCCN 95050031 
  3. ^ Steers, Edward (October 21, 2005), Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, University Press of Kentucky, pp. 231–, ISBN 0-8131-9151-3 
  4. ^ Shuey v. United States, 92 U.S. 73 (1875).
  5. ^ Howard R. Marraro. "Canadian and American Zouaves in the Papal Army, 1868–1870". Canadian Catholic Historical Association Report, 12 (1944–45). pp. 83–102. Retrieved December 23, 2011. Footnote 1 lists documents and works related to Surratt. 
  6. ^ Martinkus, Mary Salesia (1953). "Diplomatic Relations between the United States and the Vatican During the Civil War". Loyola University Chicago. pp. 40–42. Retrieved June 4, 2016. 
  7. ^ Hatch, 2016, p. 130
  8. ^ Hatch, 2016, p. 134
  9. ^ Loux, Arthur F. (August 20, 2014), John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, McFarland, p. 224, ISBN 978-0-7864-9527-6 
  10. ^ "The Text of John Surratt's Lecture at Rockville, Maryland". Washington Evening Star. December 7, 1870. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  11. ^ Trindal, Elizabeth Steger (1996), Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy, Pelican Pub. Co., p. 233, ISBN 978-1-56554-185-6, LCCN 95050031 
  12. ^ Jampoler, Andrew C. A., The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt's Flight from the Gallows, Naval Institute Press, 2009
  13. ^ Puente, Maria (April 14, 2011). "Redford's 'Conspirator' lets Mary Surratt testify". USA Today. Retrieved February 26, 2015. 

See also[edit]

  • James W. Pumphrey – Surratt introduced Booth to Pumphrey, who supplied Booth's get away horse.


External links[edit]