Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born in June, 1823, near Waterloo, Maryland. In 1840, she married John H. Surratt and together they bought a farm and established a tavern and post office at what became known as Surrattsville, Maryland. In 1864, following John’s death, Mary and her daughter moved to Washington, D.C., and opened a boarding house in a property on H street that John had purchased two years earlier.
Mary’s son, John, was a Confederate spy and messenger who frequently met with John Wilkes Booth at the boardinghouse. There, Surratt, Booth and other Confederate sympathizers plotted President Lincoln’s assassination. Reportedly, Mary made a trip to Surrattsville on April 11, where a conspirator told her the “shooting irons” would soon be needed. Three days later, the day of Lincoln’s assassination, Mary traveled again to Surrattsville to deliver field glasses to Booth, and supposedly to remind him to prepare his weapons and escape gear.
No one knows if Mary was aware of the assassination plot , however she was arrested, charged with conspiracy and aiding the assassins’ escape.
After a trial, along with 7 conspirators, Mary Surratt was found guilty and sentenced to death, although the jury recommended her sentence be changed to life in prison, due to her “sex and age”. President Andrew Johnson said he was not aware of the plea for mercy, however Judge Advocate Joseph Holt said he was with Johnson when the plea was read, and quoted Johnson as saying Mary “kept the nest that hatched the egg.”
Although conspirator Lewis Paine adamantly maintained Mary’s innocence, she was hanged on July 7, 1865. Her last words were “Don’t let me fall.”