The untold story of Lincoln's Assassination
1864, Washington City. One has to be careful with talk of secession, of Confederate whispers falling on Northern ears. Better to speak only when in the company of the trustworthy. Like Mrs. Surratt. A widow who runs a small boardinghouse on H Street, Mary Surratt isn't half as committed to the cause as her son, Johnny. If he's not delivering messages or escorting veiled spies, he's invited home men like John Wilkes Booth, the actor who is even more charming in person than he is on the stage. But when President Lincoln is killed, the question of what Mary knew becomes more important than anything else. Was she a cold-blooded accomplice? Just how far would she go to help her son?
Based on the true case of Mary Surratt, Hanging Mary reveals the untold story of those on the other side of the assassin's gun.
After writing five novels set in medieval and Tudor England, I decided to switch centuries and continents and tackle a subject I'd been interested in since childhood, the Lincoln assassination. My focus, however, was not on the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, but on Mary Surratt, whose suspected role in the conspiracy to kill the President resulted in her becoming the first woman to be hanged by the United States government.
A widow with three grown children, Mary in 1864 leased her tavern in Prince George's County, Maryland, to a tenant and moved to nearby Washington, D.C., where she opened a boardinghouse. In early 1865, her son John Surratt brought home a glamorous guest: the actor John Wilkes Booth. Soon Booth was a regular visitor to the boardinghouse.
Just hours after Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, detectives came to search Mary Surratt's boardinghouse in hopes of finding Booth concealed there. They found nothing, but on April 17, they returned, this time to take Mary and those living with her into custody. Mary would never again be a free woman. Just a few weeks later, on July 7, 1865, having been tried for conspiring to murder the President and found guilty by a military commission, she was executed.
Was she actually guilty? Some of the evidence against her was damning, especially the fact that on the very day of the assassination, Booth had visited Mary and given her a package, which she carried that afternoon to her tavern in Maryland. There, she delivered the package, which contained a pair of field glasses, to her tenant along with a message: that he was to have some shooting irons and whiskey available that evening, as a party would be stopping by to call for them.
That very night, a party did call: Booth, who had shot the President just hours before. Yet the two chief witnesses against Mary were not ideal: John Lloyd, her tenant, was an alcoholic who had been drunk when Mary visited him, and Louis Weichmann, one of her boarders, was thought by many to be testifying in order to save his own neck. A fair argument can be made for either the prosecution or the defense; indeed, the two most recent biographies of Mary reach opposite conclusions about her guilt.
In Hanging Mary, I offer my own beliefs as to what Mary knew--and didn't know.
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About the Author
Susan Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham, and owns a bulletin board, Historical Fiction Online. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Apex, North Carolina, with her family. You can find out more about her books at www.susanhigginbotham.com. Find Susan on Faceboook and follow her on Twitter @S_Higginbotham