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Surratt House Archives

The following article is from the Surratt House archives, from an unidentified paper, is dated September 1, 1971:

"History Occupies Vacant House: The two-story white frame house stands among trees on Brandywine Road, less than a block from the center of Clinton in southern Prince George's County.  Just to the north is a small business center, housing a newspaper office and a dry cleaning store.  Across the street is a gasoline station.

The remains of a gravel drive curve around trees on a once spacious front lawn and passes in front of the wide porch.  To the east stands an old brick springhouse, long disused.  The rear of the property abuts a fenced-in, asphalt-covered storage area for pipes and heavy equipment.  Trucks come and go during the day.  To a passerby it seems like just another old house caught up in the rapid development of the county.

Part of U.S. History.  But this house is different.  It is a part of American history.  It is the Mary Surratt house.  A move is under way to make it a historic site.  A ceremony has been schedule there for 10 a.m., Sept. 24 by the Committee for the Restoration of the Mary Surratt House, which is hoping to raise money for that purpose.  The structure is now boarded and unoccupied.

Thomas S. Gwynn, Jr., of Clinton, chairman of the committee and assistant supervisor of supporting services for the county public school system, estimates the project will cost between $50,000 and $100,000.  He envisions the hall furnished with pieces from the 1860s and displays of mementos from that era.  He sees the Surratt House as part of a tour starting with Ford's Theater in the District where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.

Burned to Death.  Booth was supposed to have stopped at the Surratt house for supplies while attempting to escape.  His life ended a short time later when federal troops trapped him in a tobacco barn in nearby Virginia and set it afire when he refused to surrender.  Mary Eugenia Jenkins of Jenkins Corner in Prince George's County married John Harrison Surratt of Fairfax County in 1835, according to Gwynn's chronology.

The house, built in 1840, overlooked their 1200 acre corn and tobacco farm.  In 1850 they opened a country store in the house and made one room a tavern.  When her husband died in 1862, Mrs. Surratt leased the tavern to a retired District policeman and moved here with her two children to operate a rooming house.

Mrs. Surratt Hanged.  Booth happened to be one of her roomers, but Mrs. Surratt later denied she knew him very well or took part in the plan to assassinate Lincoln.  Nevertheless, she died on the  gallows because of that association.  On the night Lincoln was fatally shot as he sat in the theater's presidential box, Mrs. Surratt was at home.  She was roused from bed by federal troops at 11:30 p.m. and accused of being a co-conspirator in the shooting.

She maintained that she was innocent, but was taken to the Old Capitol Prison and then to the penitentiary where she was required to wear the same garments in which she was arrested until hanged on July 7, 1865.

Conflicting Testimony: She had been linked to the assassination by the tavern operator who claimed she had gone there on the afternoon of April 14 and left guns, ammunition and supplies for Booth.  Mrs. Surratt admitted visiting the house that afternoon, but said she went there to collect the rent from the tavern operator.  A military tribunal convicted her and passed the death sentence.  The government later halted military trials of civilians as a result of the case.

Three weeks after the assassination, the little community known as Surratts became Robeystown.  In 1878 the community's name was changed to Clinton.  That the community respected Mrs. Surratt, however, was illustrated by the fact that the residents refused to have the election district's name changed from Surratts, which it remains today.  Elementary, junior and senior high schools, as well as some housing developments and businesses, bear the Surratt name today.

The house was donated to the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1965 by B. K. Miller of Clinton.  In 1968 the commission purchased the land on which the house is located and has submitted an application to have the house placed on the National Register of Historic Sites.  Earlier this month, the commission allocated $10,000 for the restoration of the hosue.  But, as Gwynn said, it will cost much more and the campaign to raise funds is underway."

The following is a newspaper article from the Surratt House Archives, labeled "1952":
 
"Uncle Jimmie Night"   No story of Surrattsville would be complete without the story of James Hawkins, or "Uncle Jimmy" as he was known to hundreds of students.  After serving as custodian for thirty-three years, an affair was planned in his honor known as "Uncle Jimmie Night".  It was the culmination of thoughts in the minds of a great many in the community for a long time, to give homage to this kindly old man, so well known and so well loved.  Therefore, in April 1949, when "Uncle Jimmy" was soon to be seventy-nine years old, the Surrattsville Athletic Association sponsored a party for him.
 
Presentations were made to "Uncle Jimmy" by the elementary grades, by the high school and by the Athletic Association.  He was given a new accordian for he had long wanted to entertain the pupils with selections on an old battered one down in the "boiler room" at school.  Alumni on visiting Surrattsville always went to the boiler room to see "Uncle Jimmy".  Mr. Ernest Loveless, Jr., Chairman of the Planning Committee was most emphatic that in the "Archives" shown at the Dedication and Homecoming next Wednesday an honored place must be reserved for "Uncle Jimmy.  What manner of man was this that everyone knew so well and revered?  We are indebted to the Program for "Uncle Jimmy Night" for the following excerpts"
 
'Born April 15, 1870, on Mr. Phil Marbury's plantation on Thrift Road, "Uncle Jimmy's" mother was a slave cook in the Marbury family and his father was a slave hand and carpenter on Mr. Coe's plantation at Piscataway. "Uncle Jimmy" walked four miles to school at T. B..  When he as about 23, he married and had five sons and five daughters.  When "Uncle Jimmie" was forty years old he bought the land and house on Thrift Road where he lived up until the time of his last illness.  He passed away in the Fall of 1950.
 
About the time he bought his home, he began working a "little plot of ground" for Mrs. McKay, principal of the old Surratts School.  She talked to him about being a janitor and in 1915 he started a job that was to last many years.  During his early years along with his other duties he cared for the horses and buggies that the children used for transportation.  During all those years as janitor "Uncle Jimmy" missed only ten days of work.
 
"Uncle Jimmy" -- now a legend, his humility, his gentleness, his willingness to work, his dependability -- all will be remembered as he takes his rightful place in the "Archives" of Surrattsville to be forever remembered in the hearts of its students." 


The following is an undated newspaper article, from the Surratt House archives, that appeared in an unidentified local Clinton paper sometime during Mr. Pryde's tenure as Principal:
 
"Historic Surrattsville School Homecoming Day Wednesday.  Historic Surrattsville School graduates are coming home.  From near and far, alumni of the second oldest school in Prince George's County, MD will assemble Wednesday at the spot where some of them learned the three R's around the turn of the century. [Ed note: For you younger readers, that would be the turn of the 20th century!] The school is now headed by Principal John M. Pryde.  Those of the 750 graduates who can make the journey will join knuckle-rapping teachers of other days in dedicating an addition to the present streamlined school.  They will be welcomed by old friends in the gala afternoon and evening program climaxed by an address delivered by R. Floyd Cromwell, State Supervisor of Education and Vocational Guidance.
 
Received First Diploma - Among those selected for special honor is Miss Blanch Hurtt, who received the school's first diploma in 1907.  She still lives in the area.  The celebration, arranged by a group of community workers, will begin at 2 o'clock with an "open house" featuring displays of fading photographs, final certificates, rosters and other mementos of another era.  A fried chicken dinner, to which the county commissioners, members of the board of education and other dignitaries have been invited, will be served from 5 to 7 o'clock.  Goodbye handshakes will be exchanged at a reception following dedication exercise.
 
A first grader will give a stage performance and proud members of the school's new band will provide instrumental and vocal music.  Ernest A. Loveless, Jr., Class of '39, will be master of ceremonies.  Refreshed memories of older grads will recall the 8-room school, plus stable, on a knoll above Route 5 as it was in the horse and buggy days of 1906.  Available records do not definitely establish when its doors were opened.  A brick wing was constructed in 1927 and 21 years later two rooms were added to the original frame building.  The brick addition to the be dedicated Wednesday has six classrooms, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a home economics suite and a science laboratory.  It cost $650,000.
 
Class bells in the new wing first rang February 11.  Their clamor signaled the first day in two years that all of the 754 pupils had sufficient room for all-day sessions.  A total of 29 teachers impart instruction in grades one to twelve.
 
Pryde Admits Pride - Supervising their work and school administration is Mr. Pryde who admits his pride in the school and arrangements for the Alumni Homecoming.  "It will be the proudest day in Surrattsville's history, " he prophesied.  The little community has a history of its own.  John Wilkes Booth tarried a while there just after he assassinated President Lincoln.  Trustees of the school are Ernest A. Loveless, Sr., J. Paul Duke and R. Moss Carrico.  Its nearly 200-member PTA is presided over by Cyril M. Wildes.
 
 
The following is from an undated, unsigned document from the Surratts House archives (written by a Surratts grad from either the late nineteen teens or early 1920s who returned to Surratts to teach after college):
 
"Surrattsville High School, As I Remember It.   I was the youngest of four children.  When I was old enough to enter first grade, my sister and one of my brothers were high school students and my second brother was in the fourth or fifth grade.  So we all went to school together at the new Surrattsville High School (1910 version).  We lived on a farm in the Camp Springs area, which was a good five miles from the school.  My father provided a horse that was steady and sturdy for us to drive to school.  Four of us could squeeze into the "Cozy Cab" or closed buggy, and one of the boys did the driving and tended the horse giving it water and feed, and unhitching and hitching it at our arrival and departure.  We endured cold and inclement weather and bad roads in those days.  My mother heated bricks and wrapped them in burlap to keep our feet warm, and lap robes were tucked around our legs.  Five miles on a cold day was a long journey for a first grader, so my record of attendance that first year was not too good; I was absent almost as much as I was present.
 
My first teacher was Miss Celeste Young, a most attractive beginning teacher, who insisted that I write with my right hand and reinforced her insistence with a few taps of the ruler, although I was quite obviously left-handed.  At the first opportunity she moved into the higher grades and Mrs. Elizabeth Van Ness Duvall took over the primary grades.  She was trained in the use of Ward's Rational System of teaching reading (a phonetic approach) which worked well with all of us.  She used flashcards and we all hissed and puttered in concert each day.  We sat in double desks and had a lot of seatwork to keep us busy.  If at the end of hte day, we could truthfully say we had been quiet workers, we received a merit card.  When we had earned five of these cards we could trade the smaller ones in on a larger one.  If by chance we could ever earn four of the larger ones, these could be exchanged for a certificate which became ours to keep.  Being a talkative six year old, I didn't have many merits to display when I completed first grade.
 
Mrs. Duvall let us dramatize stories and I vividly recall being chosen to play "Goldilocks" because of my long blonde hair, for I was a cottonhead then.  As I think back over my educational experiences, I owe a lot to Mrs. Duvall.  She gave me a good foundation in the 3-Rs, which stood by me as I continued my education.  She was a motherly person, middle-aged, and a most capable and conscientious teacher.  We became fast friends, and when I graduated from Towson State Normal School in 1923, one of my most treasured momentos was a note from her.
 
Mr. Eugene S. Burroughs was the principal at Surrattsville.  To me as a primary pupil, he seemed to be a giant of a man.  He taught in the assembly room separated from our classroom by a cloakroom.  I can remember his deep, booming voice, and on occasion when he would sneeze, the window would rattle!  Later he became Superintendent of Schools for the County and Mr. F. Bernard Gwynn became the new principal. SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1
 
I can recall few of Supt. Frederick Sasscer's visits to our classroom.  In those days the superintendent was required to visit each school and assess the situation personally.  He always consulted with our teacher, asked a few general questions of the class, and heard some of us read.  We tried to do our best for him.  When Mr. Burroughs became superintendent, Miss Blanche Ogle visited our school in his stead, as she did other elementary schools in the area.
 
Miss N. Eva Turner came to Surrattsville as a beginning teacher when I was ready for the intermediate grades.  She was young, energetic, with a keen sense of humor, and a good disciplinarian.  She put us through our penmanship drill, saw that we knew our multiplication tables, and introduced us to history and geography.  We were seated separately now and had to pass a few notes in order to communicate.  In general, we were kept too busy to get into any mischief.
 
When I moved into the upper grades I had my first male teacher, Mr. J. A. Carrico.  We were in the large assembly room now and were "called up" to sit on a bench and recite our lessons.  If a person ahead of us on the bench missed his turn by giving the wrong answer, or by not having an answer, the next one in line had to go above him.  This motivated some of us to try to get to "the head of the class".  When the one at the head missed an answer he was sent to "the foot" to work his way up again.  Once in a while I had the exciting experience of being head of the class, for a brief period.  We held different positions for different classes and had to remember our place.
 
It was at this point that we included some civics and health in our weekly schedule.  Our physical education took the form of "recess," when we "choose up sides" and play games.  Dodge ball was one of our favorites.  Any music was handled as part of our preparation for a program we were to present.  I can't recall an art lesson as such, but we were introduced to the works of the great artists through the pictures in "The Instructor" magazine.
 
I remained in the same building throughout my seven years of elementary school and four years of high school.  The more advanced pupils were always upstairs on the second floor.  They moved about from room to room as the bell rang periodically.  At first this was a gong in the downstairs hall.  The principal would pull the cord and sound the gong, or send someone to do it.  This was also our fire alarm.
 
When I advanced up to high school Miss Eva Turner was my homeroom teacher.  She had moved up from the elementary division and taken a schedule in English and Math.  Mrs. Louise Blandford Burroughs taught Home Economics; Mrs. Catherine Gardiner was my French teacher and my science teacher.  Our music teacher served more than one school and came to our building once or twice a week.  Miss Turner also coached the girls' teams in volley ball and end ball.  At that time the Public Athletic League held meets in the counties each spring and then a statewide meet for the local winners (usually at Johns Hopkins Field in Baltimore).  I earned my bronze, silver, and gold medals for individual events and several bronze and silver bars for team events.  I wear the silver and gold medallions on my charm bracelets today.  Representing your school in the meet was enough motivation to keep us practicing all year through.


By the time I was ready to graduate from Surrattsville, automobiles had replaced most of the horse-drawn vehicles, but I was still driving the five miles from my home using "Old Flora" as the source of power.  By community effort a frame gymnasium, a separate structure, had been completed on the school grounds and was used for exhibits, programs, and graduation exercises, as well as basketball games and dances.  Mrs. Anna Flowman McKay was our principal when I graduated in 1921.  There were eight in our graduating class, four boys and four girls.  Only two of the eight had started in first grade together.  The others had come from the wider community and other states.
 
After two years of training at Towson I came back to Surrattsville, and taught in the very room where I had started school as a first grader.  Mr. Milton Somers was my principal.  The same double desks were there, the same chalkboards and "Uncle Jimmy" Hawkins was there as our custodian as he had been for years before.  A single electric light hung from the cord in the center of the ceiling and a time clock controlled the bells, but the old gong still hung in the hall.  While I was there as a teacher, our first P.T.A. was organized.  I remained for four years and then enrolled in American University to complete work for a degree.
 
After I left, the old Surrattsville High School I had known disappeared, to be replaced by the larger and more facilities now embracing an elementary, a junior high and a senior high in separate locations.  The old familiar school busses have replaced the pony carts and buggies.  But, as in the days of yore, it's the good teachers who provide good learning experiences for the children, who make the real difference in the quality of our education.


 
[Might someone be able to identify, from the various historical clues, the author of these wonderful Surrattsville memories?]

 

 

 

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