Mary E. Jenkins was born in 1823 near Waterloo, MD. In 1840, at the age of 17, she married 28 year old John H. Surratt, and the couple moved to Washington, DC. Their third child, John Jr., was born there 13 April 1844. In 1851, after fire destroyed their home, John Sr. decided to buy a farm and establish a tavern. Three years later, John Sr. was appointed postmaster and the area was called Surrattsville, MD (now Clinton, MD). The 1860 census of Prince George County, MD, shows the family living in the 9th Election District. They appear to have been quite wealthy. During this time, the Surratts bought property on H Street in Washington, DC, that would become Mary's boarding house after the death of her husband in 1862.
When Mary and her children moved back to Washington, she rented the tavern in Surrattsville to John Lloyd. When the Civil War broke out, young John became a Confederate spy and messenger and it was in this capacity that he met John Wilkes Booth through Dr. Samuel Mudd. During her trial, Mary was described as keeping the nest that hatched the egg, meaning that it was in her boarding house that the plot was hatched and the conspirators met. Whether she knew about the change in plan to murder Lincoln is still debatable, but she certainly knew of the plot to kidnap him. On 11 April, she traveled to a meeting with John Lloyd in the company of one of her boarders, Louis J. Weichmann, who happened to be a government employee. She later claimed that the meeting was to discuss money he owed her; Weichmann claimed, in court, that she told Lloyd to get the "shooting irons" ready. On the day of the assassination, she made another trip to Surrattsville with Weichmann to give Lloyd a pair of field glasses belonging to John Wilkes Booth. It was at this tavern that Booth and Herold stopped a couple of hours after the assassination to get the guns, glasses and whisky.
Mary was questioned about her involvement early in the investigation (because it was known that John Wilkes Booth spent a lot of time at her home and at the tavern in Surrattsville) and it was while officers were at her boarding house at 11 p.m. on 17 April that Lewis Powell appeared carrying a pick-ax. Mary claimed innocence and that she had never seen Lewis Powell before. Some claimed she had poor eyesight but this aspect was examined and cross-examined during her trial. Being Catholic, Mary's priest was called to testify in her behalf during her trial.
John Lloyd and Louis Weichmann provided the damaging testimony, and Mary Surratt (known as the "French Woman" to some) was sentenced to be hung along with Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt on 7 July 1865, all on charges of conspiracy to murder. The hangman didn't think they would actually go through with it, her being a woman. In reality, the judge had recommended mercy for her "due to her sex and age" and suggested life imprisonment, but Pres. Andrew Johnson maintained that he was never shown the plea for mercy. She died with the others.
John's involvement in the plot apparently ended when the attempt to kidnap Pres. Lincoln failed on 17 March 1865. On the night of the assassination, John claimed to have been in Elmira, NY. He then fled to Canada and was in hiding there when his mother was hung. In September he fled to England and later to Rome then Egypt. He was arrested in Alexandria , Egypt, on 27 Nov 1866 and brought back for a civil trial. He was acquitted in the summer of 1868. John later became a teacher and lecturer, trying to prove his innocence and that of the Confederate government. In 1872, he married a second cousin of Francis Scott Keye, and they had 7 children. He outlived all the others involved in Lincoln's assassination, dying of pneumonia in 1916.