An alleged member of the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy, Mary Surratt has the dubious distinction of being the first woman executed by the U.S. government. Born Mary Jenkins in 1820 in Waterloo, Maryland. She was hung for treason in July 1865, after being tried and convicted for her role in the plot, a plot prosecutors argued was hatched in her Washington, D.C., boarding house.

Despite her dramatic exit from this world, her life began quietly. Surratt was educated at a Catholic female seminary and married John Surratt in 1840. They lived in the District of Columbia for a time and had three children, Issac, Anna and John, Jr. The couple later settled in the Maryland countryside where they started a tavern and opened a post office and polling place. During the Civil War, the tavern was thought to have served as a safe house for the Confederate underground.

After her husband’s death in 1862, Mary Surratt moved to Washington, D.C., where she opened a boardinghouse. It is believed John Wilkes Booth devised his assassination plot at this location. Angered over the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War, Booth wanted to kill President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Booth shot President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre. Lincoln died the next morning from his gunshot wound.

Soon after, the authorities rounded up anyone who might have been associated with the plot. Mary Surratt was arrested on April 30. Surratt’s son, John, Jr., was also thought to be involved in the conspiracy, but he fled to Canada. Although she claimed to be innocent, she was tried and convicted by a military commission. Mary Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865.

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