Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Lincoln by Kate Clifford Larson

Mary Surratt, mother of Charles Surratt ( a known Southern sympathizer and courier), was the first woman to be executed in the United States after being found guilty of taking part in John Wilkes Booth's plot to assassinate President Lincoln.  Perhaps the best description of her role is this one --"She kept the nest where the egg was hatched."  Mary and her husband had run a tavern in Surrattesville, MD, but when he died unexpectedly she leased the tavern to another and set up a boarding house in Washington D. C.  Over the months that preceded Lincoln's death in April 1865,
John Wilkes Booth and other conspirators met several times at the boarding house, often talking with Mary's son and with Mary herself.  Lewis Paine, who would later brutally attack Secretary Seward, stayed at the boarding house multiple times, under more than name.  It is speculated that Mary's daughter Anna, a naive 22 year old, had a crush on the famous actor Booth.

It can not be disputed that Mary and her son had southern sympathies, but whether Mary was an active participant in the actual assassination conspiracy continues to be debated.  Author/historian Larson expected that her research would add credence to those that questioned the military court's finding in July 1865 that Mary was guilty.  What she found, instead, was a preponderance of strong, credible evidence that can't be cast aside -- Mary knew what was being planned and she in several ways aided the effort.

I began listening to an audio version of this book and within ten minutes I knew that I had to save my listening experience for a time when both my husband and I could hear the book.  This past weekend we did just that as we drove to our cabin.  We were both so captivated by the complexities of her story that we listened to several chapters at the cabin both Saturday and then again on Sunday.  We were able to complete the book on the drive home.  Historical books such as this one which are packed with names, dates, and locations can be  confusing and tedious to listen to, but both of us had enough basic knowledge of the assassination to be able to follow along.  My book club just finished discussing Killing Lincoln so many names and theories were fresh in my mind.  Instead of being tedious, it was compelling.

I strongly recommend this book.  Even with all that I've read and studied, I still can't wrap my mind around the extreme hatred that the conspirators felt for President Lincoln, but it is fascinating to delve into the minutiae of their actions and of Washington D.C. that fateful April.  I downloaded the audio book through WPLC, our Wisconsin library consortium for digital and audio books.

The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln

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