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The Name of Surratts Still Held in Esteem


(This item is an undated article from the Star News, from the 1975-6 era, by Lorrenzo Middleton, titled "The Name of Surratt Still Held in Esteem")

The local people in the Clinton area of southern Prince George's County have been standing behind the good name of Mary E. Surratt for a hundred years.  The widow of a prominent land owner, Mrs. Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865, for conspiring to shoot President Abraham Lincoln.  Three weeks after her execution, the federal government added insult to the protesting residents of their little community – then called Surrattsville – by changing the name of the town.

But the people of the area have maintained her innocence throughout the years and continue to has the Surratt name in high esteem.  In defiance of the federal government, they refused to remove the Surrattsville name from the local election district and have added the title to roads, schools, housing developments and businesses in the region.  The latest effort to bring attention to the plight of what one resident calls 'the most maligned woman in American history' has been a long struggle for the restoration of her house as a historic landmark.

After more than six years of research, planning and delays, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission announced this week that construction finally is about to begin and that restoration of the house should be completed by next summer.  The county and state governments have appropriated about $140,000 to buy land around the house and to return it to its 19th century appearance.  Now boarded-up and unoccupied, the crumbling two-story frame house stands just off a busy Clinton intersection on Brandywine Road.

Thomas S. Gwynn, Jr., chairman of the Committee for the Restoration of the Surratt House, says the restored house will serve as an historical attraction for the area and will 'help correct the bad name that has been given to Mary Surratt.'  Gwynn said the house was built in 1840, overlooking a 1200 acre corn and tobacco farm.  The house later was converted into a country store and tavern which became the center of community activity.

When John Surratt died in 1862, his widow leased the tavern and moved with two children to the District, where she operated a boarding house near Ford's Theater.  John Wilkes Booth, one of her roomers, was said to have conspired with others in the rooming house to assassinate Lincoln.  On April 14, 1865, the night of the shooting, Mrs. Surratt was roused from her bed by federal troops at 11:30 p.m. and charged in the conspiracy.  She maintained her innocence until she was hanged three months later.  She had been further linked to the assassination, however, by the tavern operator who claimed she had left guns, ammunition and supplies for Booth, who stopped at the tavern on his escape route.

Mrs. Surratt admitted being at the tavern on the afternoon of the shooting, but she said it was only to collect rent.  She was convicted and sentenced to death by a military tribunal.  Partly because of the public outcry over the case, the government later halted military trials of civilians."