Lincoln conspirator. John Harrison Surratt implicated his own mother by associating with the various members of the conspiracy party which assassinated Abraham Lincoln allowing them to meet at her Washington D.C. boarding house. After the assassination, he fled the country. When finally captured and extradited from Egypt back to the U.S. for trial, he escaped again by acquittal. His only punishment was the short jail time served while awaiting trial and then during the 62 days it took for a verdict. He was the son of John H. Surratt and Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt. When the war broke out, eighteen year old John Harrison Surratt abandoned his studies at St. Charles College in Maryland for the priesthood and became a Confederate courier as well as a spy. Catholic bigotry and discrimination was at its height in the country. Even the Federal Government refused them jobs. Catholics, especially Irish, were not allowed enrollment in the public school system which gave birth to the Catholic parochial school system. John developed a natural sympathy for the south during the civil war and became a courier for the Confederate government, operating in southern Maryland and Washington D.C. He made secret trips to Canada and New York State on Confederate business. Upon the death of his father, he assumed the duties as postmaster and innkeeper at the family tavern in what is now Clinton, Maryland. Northern authorities aware of his Southern leanings, removed him from his postmaster appointment. Once enlisted in the conspiracy scheme, he recommended a reliable participant to Booth, pharmacist David E. Herold. At the time of the assassination, John was in Elmira, New York having just returned from a courier assignment in Canada and a meeting with Confederate General Edwin G. Lee. Now a wanted man, he showed up in Montreal days later and agents passed him along to St. Liboire where two local Catholic priest sheltered him for months until he was placed, disguised with colored eyeglasses and dyed hair, aboard a ship at Quebec bound for Liverpool, England. He lodged in the oratory at the Church of the Holy Cross where Catholics visiting Liverpool often stayed. Surratt received money from Canada and departed for Rome taking up residence at the English College, a Catholic institution. Its Headmaster arranged for John to gain employment and concealment by enlistment in the Papal Zouaves which at that time was part of the Vatican army. His identity was short-lived and the Pope ordered his arrest and then escorted to the military prison in Rome to await extradition. Still in a Zouave uniform he made a break and escaped. He turned up in Naples, part of the kingdom of Italy, hostile to the Papal States, telling them he was deserter from the Papal Zouaves thusly allowed to board a vessel bound for Egypt. While in quarantine, he was arrested. On orders from Secretary of State Seward, a naval ship was dispatched to Alexandria to transport John Surratt to Washington for trial. Upon arrival in Alexandria still wearing his tattered Zouave uniform, he was arrested and lodged in the Old Capitol Prison. A civil court trial with a jury of twelve, after 62 days, the defense of the indigent Surratt presented 98 witnesses on his behalf and then the prosecution paraded 108 witnesses against. The jury could not reach a unanimous decision and a mistrial resulted. He was released on bail awaiting a new trial which was blocked by virtue of the statute of limitations. The government abandoned further legal action. A free man, he began to deliver lectures where admitting his role in the abduction plot but denied any part in the assassination. However, further lectures were canceled due to hostile and enraged citizens. Surratt later secured a job as a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Some time later he was hired by the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. He rose to be freight auditor and then treasurer of the Company. He married Mary Victorine Hunter a relative of Francis Scott Key. The couple lived in Baltimore and had seven children. He died of pneumonia at the age of 72 and was interred in the New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield
Mary Victorine Hunter Surratt