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Mary Surratt - At Her Trial

Mary Surratt - At Her Trial Crimes and Criminals American History Famous Historical Events Social Studies Trials

At her trial, Mary Surratt wore a veil which covered her face, as depicted in this contemporary drawing. 

Lafayette Baker, whose investigation led to the arrest of the conspiracy defendants - and to the capture of Booth - provides details about the last day of Mary Surratt's life.  The following are relevant excerpts from his book, History of the United States Secret Service, which he published in 1867:

Aiken and Clampitt [Mrs. Surratt’s lawyers] are both here.  They walk impatiently up and down the room, whispering a word to each other as to the prospect of Mrs. Surratt's being reprieved through the operations of the habeas corpus, which, Aiken confidently tells us, has been granted by Justice Wylie, and from which he anticipates favorable results.  Strange infatuation!  It was the last straw to which, like drowning men, they clutched with the fond hope that it was to rescue their client from her imminent peril.  (Baker, page 509.)
...
The rumbling sound of the trap, as it falls in the course of the experiments which are being made to test it, and to prevent any unfortunate accident occurring at the critical moment, is heard through the windows, and all eyes are involuntarily turned in that direction, for curiosity is excited to the highest pitch to view the operations of the fatal machinery.  There are two or three pictorial papers represented.  One calmly makes a drawing of the scaffold for the next issue of his paper, and thus the hours till noon passed away.  (Baker, page 511.)
...
The bustle increases.  Mr. Aiken approaches General Hancock, and a few minutes' conversation passes between them.  Aiken's countenance changes perceptibly at General Hancock's words.  The reason is plain; there is no hope for Mrs. Surratt.  The habeas corpus movement, from which he expected so much, has failed; and Aiekn, in a voice tremulous with emotion, said to me:  "Mrs. Surratt will be hung."

The bright hopes he had cherished had all vanished. and the dreadful truth stood before him in all its horror.  Clampitt, too, till General Hancock arrived, indulged in the hope that the habeas corpus would effect a respite for three or four days.  (Baker, page 512.)
...
About a thousand soldiers were in the yard and upon the high wall around it, which is wide enough for sentries to patrol it.  The sun's rays made it very oppressive, and the walls kept off the little breeze that was stirring.  There was no shade, and men huddled together along the walls and around the pump to discuss with one another the prospect of a reprieve or delay for Mrs. Surratt.  But few hoped for it, though some were induced by Mrs. Surratt's councel to believe she would not be hanged to-day.  When one of them came out and saw the four ropes hanging from the beam, he exclaimed to one of the soldiers:  'My God!  they are not going to hang all four, are they?'   (Baker, page 514.)
...
Mrs. Surratt cast her eyes upward upon the scaffold, for a few moments, with a look of curiosity, combined with dread.  One glimpse, and her eyes fell to the ground, and she walked along mechanically, her head drooping, and if she had not been supported would have fallen.

She ascended the scaffold, and was led to an arm-chair, in which she was seated.  An umbrella was held over her by the two holy fathers, to protect her from the sun, whose rays show down like the blasts from a fiery furnace.  She was attired in a black bombazine dress, black alpaca bonnet, with black veil, which she wore over her face till she was seated on the chair.  During the reading of the order for the execution, by General Hartranft, the priests held a small crucifix before her, which she kissed fervently several times.

She first looked around at the scene before her, then closed her eyes and seemed engaged in silent prayer.  The reading and the announcement of the clergymen in behalf of the other prisoners having been made, Colonel McCall, assisted by the other two officers, proceeded to remove her bonnet, pinion her elbows, and tie strips of cotton stuff around her dress below the knees.  This done, the rope was placed around her neck and her face covered with a white cap reaching down to the shoulders. 

When they were pinioning her arms, she turned her head, and made some remarks to the officers in a low tone, which could not be heard.  It appeared they had tied her elbows too tight, for they slackened the bandage slightly, and then awaited the final order. 

All the prisoners were prepared thus at the same time, and the preparations o each were completed at about the same moment, so that when Mrs. Surratt was thus pinioned, she stood scarcely ten seconds, supported by those standing near her, when general Hartranft gave the signal, by clapping his hands twice, for both drops to fall, and as soon as the second and last signal was given, both fell, and Mrs. Surratt, with a jerk, fell to the full length of the rope. 

She was leaning over when the drop fell, and this gave a swinging motion to her body, which lasted several minutes before it assumed a perpendicular position.  Her death was instantaneous; she died without a struggle.  The only muscular movement discernible was a slight contraction of the left arm, which she seemed to try to disengage from behind her as the drop fell.

After being suspended thirty minutes, she was cut down, and placed in a square wooden box or coffin, in the clothes in which she died, and was interred in the prison yard.  The rope made a clean cut around her neck, fully an inch in diameter, which was black and discolored with bruised blood.  The cap was not taken off her face, and she was laid in the coffin with it on, and thus has passed away from the face of the earth Mary E. Surratt.  Her body, it is understood, will be given to her family for burial.  (Baker, pages 515-16.)

Mrs. Surratt, and the other three condemned prisoners, were executed on July 7, 1865.


Media Credits

Image of Mary Surratt, at her trial, online courtesy Surratt House Museum.

Excerpted passages from History of the United States Secret Service, by La Fayette Curry Baker, published (in Philadelphia) in 1867.

 

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