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Dr. Samuel Mudd, Lincoln Co-conspirator

Dr. Samuel Mudd

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Dr. Samuel Mudd

Washington, DC

Other than John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln himself, probably more has been written about Dr. Mudd than any of the other players in the Lincoln assassination. Mudd was born in 1833 to Henry and Sarah Mudd in Charles County, MD. In the census taken October 1850, he is shown living at home in Bryantown, Charles Co., MD, with his parents and six siblings. He gained his medical training at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, graduating in 1856. After returning home to Bryantown, he set up his practice and married. By 1861, the Mudds were fairly wealthy, and had 2 children and a farm north of Bryantown. The 1860 Slave Schedule shows he owned 5 slaves. He was a Southern sympathizer and member of the Confederate underground.

Under the guise of looking for land to buy (but in reality probably "casing" the country for support and escape routes), Booth made many contacts in Maryland. In one of these excursions, Booth was introduced to Dr. Mudd at St. Mary's Catholic Church near Bryantown at least as early as November 1864. They met again later that year in Bryantown and then in Washington, DC, with Booth wanting Dr. Mudd to introduce him to John Surratt, a Confederate courier, which he did. In 1977, a statement by another conspirator, George Atzerodt, was found which indicated that Booth had sent liquor and provisions to Dr. Mudd's home two weeks prior to the assassination.

The two apparently did not meet again until early in the morning of 15 April 1865, when John Wilkes Booth and David Herold woke the doctor up, requesting him to look at the leg Booth had broken as he jumped from the President's box at Ford's Theater. They had stopped previously only at Surrattsville to pick up weapons, field glasses and whisky. Dr. Mudd cut the left boot off Booth's leg, and fashioned a rough splint for him. He requested his handyman to make a pair of crutches for him. Booth and Herold left the Mudd home about 4 p.m. the following day.

Dr. Mudd did not immediately contact the authorities when he heard that Lincoln had been assassinated and that Booth was involved. [He claimed, during his trial, that he had never met Booth before and that the two men gave their names as Tyson and Henston.] To complicate his defense, he waited until Sunday to tell his cousin, at church, to contact the 13th NY Cavalry at Bryantown. This delay brought attention upon Dr. Mudd; inconsistencies in his story fueled further suspicion.

On Friday 21 April, a week after Lincoln's assassination, authorities questioned Dr. Mudd at his home. Mudd's wife, Frances, retrieved the boot that had been cut off Booth's left leg. Lt. Lovett found the initials of J Wilkes Booth inside. Mudd was arrested 26 April and charged with conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln. The trial began 10 May. The Lincoln Assassination Papers on Footnote document the trial.

Dr. Mudd was tried with the seven other conspirators, and found guilty on 29 June 1865. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, off the coast of Florida. Ironically, the Fort had been used to house deserters from the Union army, some 600 of whom were still there when Mudd, Arnold, O'Laughlen and Spangler arrived. In September, control of the Fort was transferred to the 82nd United States Colored Infantry. Because he was a Southerner, a former slave owner, and convicted of conspiring to murder Pres. Lincoln, Dr. Mudd feared for his life, so he attempted to escape. Caught, he and the other three were put in isolation from the rest of the prison population for 3 months.

Dr. Mudd worked in the prison's carpentry shop until an outbreak of yellow fever in the fall of 1867. When the Fort's doctor died of the illness, Mudd agreed to take over his position and consequently saved many lives (but not that of Michael O'Laughlen). The petition that the soldiers wrote to Pres. Johnson, along with letters written by Mudd's wife, probably resulted in Mudd being reassigned to the Provost Marshall's office in the Fort after the epidemic, rather than going back to the carpentry shop.

Early in 1869, Pres. Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd, Arnold and Spangler. Mudd returned to his home in Maryland on 20 Mar 1869, where he continued his medical practice and became politically active. The 1870 census shows an additional 18 people in his household - 10 of whom are black or mulatto - and the handyman who had made Booth's crutches. The 1880 census shows only 3 additional people (besides his wife and 8 children) and they are all black. Dr. Samuel Mudd died from pneumonia in 1883, at the age of 49. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Bryantown.

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