Mary Surratt’s Execution

On July 6 1865, Mary was informed that she would be hanged the following day. She then wept up until her final moments, and was joined by a priest and her daughter Anna. The night prior to her execution, Mary was up all night praying and refused breakfast the next morning. Her family and friends were ordered to leave her at 10am on July 7th. She spent her final hours with her priest.

As Mary walked up the thirteen steps to the gallows, she needed the support of two soldiers. The gallows themselves were on a ten foot high platform. Mary wore a long black dress and veil. In addition to those who were in charge of the execution and officials, one hundred additional spectators with tickets were present to watch the hanging. Mary Surratt’s last words were spoken to a guard as he placed the noose around her neck. She spoke, “please don’t let me fall”.

All four conspirators were dropped approximately 6 feet, but Herald and Powell did not die immediately as Surratt and Atzerodt did. Mary supposedly gagged as she died hanging in the noose. The bodies hanged for 25 minutes before they were examined and pronounced dead. Today, Mary Surratt’s body rests in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington DC. Her headstone simply reads, “Mrs. Surratt”, and the man who may have sealed her fate, John Lloyd, rests in the very same cemetery.

  • Mary Surratt- Being Read the Death Warrant
  • Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt was an American boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. She was the first woman executed by the United States federal government.
    Photo: Gen. Hartranft read the death warrant for the four convicted of conspiracy, as they stood on the scaffold on July 7, 1865. The four were Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt; this detail from the photograph shows Mary Surratt at the left, under the umbrella.

"We know now that slavery made him immoral, that war made him a murderer, and that necessity, revenge, and delusion made him an assassin."

At his trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder, Lewis Thornton Powell remained detached and almost aloof from the proceedings. There was never any question about his guilt, but his attorney W. E. Doster argued that Powell was a fanatic swayed by those around him. Doster went on to say, "We know now that slavery made him immoral, that war made him a murderer, and that necessity, revenge, and delusion made him an assassin." He attemped suicide by banging his head against the wall - an act which won him a hot and uncomfortable padded hood. Sentenced to be hung at the same time as Mary Surratt, David Herold and George Atzerodt, he was the last to die. Powell’s skull was found in 1992 at the Smithsonian Institution and returned to a family member who had it buried in Florida.

While hangman Christian Rath was placing the noose over young Powell’s head he remarked, “I hope you die quick.” He had been impressed by Powell’s courage and determination in the face of death. To this Powell replied, “You know best, captain.” However Powell did not die quickly as hoped by Rath. After the drop he struggled for life more than five minutes. His body swinging wildly, twice he “Moved his legs up into the sitting position” and was the last to die. Mary Surratt died instantly. David Herold gave a brief shudder. George Atzerodt, whose neck did not break upon impact, also shuddered for several minutes before dying.

Library of Congress Photograph Lincoln Conspirators on the Gallows
Mary Surratt, 42, the first woman to be hanged by the United States government, is the body hanging at the left. Virtually everyone expected her sentence to be commuted by President Andrew Johnson, but it was not. From the left, after Mary Surratt, hang the bodies of Lewis PowellDavid Herold, and George Atzerodt. Roughly 1,000 people, viewing from windows, walls, the courtyard, and buildings, witnessed the affair. Because such a large number of people wished to view the execution, tickets had been issued to limit the actual number in the courtyard.