Posts Tagged With: Fort Jefferson

Mudd and a Broken Leg

In the “Weird Coincidence” file of Lincoln assassination trivia, we find this little gem.

In 1868, a horse fell on, and broke, the leg of James Mudd, the brother of Dr. Samuel Mudd:

James Mudd suffers a broken leg 1868

Since his brother was serving a life sentence at Fort Jefferson at the time for the assistance he gave to another man with a broken leg, James Mudd had to seek medical help from a different local doctor, Dr. William Boarman (misspelled as “Bowman” in the article).

Setting James’ broken leg was the second piece of assistance that Dr. Boarman provided to the Mudd family. In 1865, he had testified on Dr. Mudd’s behalf at the trial of the conspirators. Dr. Boarman testified about meeting John Wilkes Booth at St. Mary’s Church in November of 1864 and that the actor told him he was in the area looking for land to purchase. We know now that Booth’s true purpose was to scout the escape route for his abduction plan and to recruit conspirators in Southern Maryland. Perhaps if Dr. Mudd had turned John Wilkes Booth down, the actor might have confided his plans to Dr. Boarman instead. All of this is to say that Dr. Boarman probably had no qualms about treating James Mudd while the latter’s brother was in prison. Considering the trouble Boarman might have been in had Dr. Mudd not welcomed John Wilkes Booth into his home, setting Mudd’s leg was a far favorable alternative. Or, to say it another way:

Mudd and Boarman

Categories: History, Levity | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

On April 7, 1866, the following article was published in the New York Herald. It provides an interesting  look at the condition and day to day existence of three of the Lincoln assassination conspirators imprisoned at Fort Jefferson: Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Edman Spangler.

The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

Health and Varied Employments of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators and Colonel Maramaduke, the Rebel Emissary to Burn Chicago – How They Look, Talk, Feel, and Behave, &c

Our Fortress Monroe Correspondence

Fortress Monroe, April 5, 1866.

The government transport steamer Eliza Hancox, Captain Shuter arrived here this morning from Galveston, Texas. She left Galveston on the 22d ult., and on the route, meeting with some rough but mainly favorable weather, stopped at Key West, Charleston and Morehead City. From here she expects to go to New York to be discharged from the government employ, though there is some talk of her being detained as quarantine steamer. She brings several discharged prisoners from the Dry Tortugas. By conversing with these prisoners I have obtained full particulars touching the present condition, health, and varied employments of the assassination conspirators against President Lincoln, now undergoing imprisonment there.

Dr. Mudd.

Dr. Mudd 4

Dr. Mudd, since his attempt to escape by concealing himself in the coal bunker of a steamer, has not been able to revive the confidence reposed in him previous to that time. He is still kept under close guard, and compelled to clean out bastions in the casemates of the fort, and do some of the most menial and degrading work required to be done. Instead of becoming reconciled to his lot, he grows more discontented and querulous. Never very robust, he is now but little better than a skeleton, and his growing emaciation shows how bitterly his spirit chafes under his imprisonment, and how deeply the iron pierces his soul. His constant prayer is for death, which alone can set him free. It is natural he should suffer more than his colleagues in crime. The most intelligent of them all, and in the associations and habits of his former life greatly lifted above them, he is so much the more the keenest sufferer now. But there is none to pity him. All keep aloof from him.


Sam Arnold's Mug Shot

Sam Arnold’s Mug Shot

Arnold is employed as clerk of Captain Van Reade, Post Adjutant. An uncommonly fine penman and accurate accountant – his profession will be remembered as that of a bookkeeper – and well behaved and modest and yielding in his demeanor, he grows in usefulness and popularity each day. A guard attends him to his meals, which are the same as the other prisoners, and at night he is in close custody. His behavior shows that he appreciates his position and that he does not, like Dr. Mudd, and intend to abuse the confidence placed in his and lose it. His health is good.


Spangler 1

Spangler is at work in the Quartermaster’s carpenter shop. Already he begins to count the years, months, and days remaining to complete his term of imprisonment. He is robust and jolly – a physical condition he attributes, however, – solely to his being innocent of any participancy in the dreadful crime charged against him.

Colonel Marmaduke

In striking contrast to the persons I have referred to is Colonel Marmaduke, found guilty of the noted conspiracy to free the prisoners at Camp Douglas and burn Chicago. He has charge of the post garden. In respect to manual labor, no royal gardener has an easier time. Like the lilies of the field, he toils not. His only business is to see that those under him work. He has the privilege of going outside the fort at any time between reveille and sunset. He does not evidently allow his prison life to interfere seriously with his health or spirits, for both are excellent. In the extent of freedom allowed him, he is very much given to putting on the airs of a fine gentleman and walks and struts about like one on the very best terms with himself and the world.

Number of Prisoners

When the Eliza Hancox left Key West there were at Fort Jefferson, or the Dry Tortugas, sixty-five white and ninety-five colored prisoners. Most are undergoing sentences of courts martial, and every day the number is being diminished through expiration of terms of imprisonment. Under the admirable and humane managements of Companies C, D, L and M, Fifth United States artillery, Brevet Brigadier General Hill commanding, doing garrison duty, there is nothing of which to complain, either on the part of prisoners or soldiers. The rations are of the best and abundant, and the prisoners’ quarters and barracks are kept clean and healthy. Officers, soldiers and prisoners enjoy unwonted good health.

There are two main things of note in this article. First, even though Dr. Mudd had enacted his failed escape attempt in September of 1865, the former prisoners interviewed in this piece recount Mudd still paying the price for it. The sorrowful description of Dr. Mudd’s condition was no doubt distressing to Mrs. Mudd as this column was published nationwide. Dr. Mudd also did not spare his wife the details of his degenerating condition in his letters home to her.

Second, this article has a great deal of unintended, and slightly ironic, foreshadowing. Clearly someone neglected to “knock on wood” after writing the final lines that Fort Jefferson was “clean and healthy” and that the “prisoners enjoy unwonted good health”. Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold, in their letters and later recollections would definitely disagree with those assertions. However, even if the Fort was clean and healthy at that time, by August of 1867, the exact opposite had become true with the Yellow Fever epidemic that infected 270 of the 400 people at Fort Jefferson and claimed 38 lives. One of the lost souls was conspirator Michael O’Laughlen, who is ironically absent from this article as well.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

Poor O’Laughlen. He’s the conspirator we know the least about and he was already being overlooked a year before his early demise at that “healthy” prison with, “nothing of which to complain,” about.


“The Dry Tortugas Prisoners” New York Herald, April 7, 1866

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Treasures of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum

Dr Mudd House 2015-11

Located off of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Road in Waldorf, Maryland is, appropriately, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. Situated on 197 acres of farmland, the museum tells the story of Dr. Mudd and his involvement with the tragedy of 1865.

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd

There are so many fascinating objects to see at the Mudd House. In fact, one could return time and time again and still find new items of captivating interest.  The following are just a few of the countless treasures to be found at the Dr. Mudd House Museum.

A Doctor’s Life (Prior to 1865)

Dr. Mudd’s Medical Book

Mudd medical book

Dr Mudd's name on medical book

Mudd medical book interior

This volume of Beck’s Materia Medica (the text of which can be read online here) was owned by Dr. Mudd and was conceivably used by him while he was studying for his degree in medicine. Perhaps he also consulted this book from time to time during his practice. In addition to his name being written on the cover of the book, there is also an interior inscription of “Saml. A Mudd MD, Bryantown Char. Co., M.D.” While Dr. Mudd’s handwriting changed over time, the interior inscription does appear to match the handwriting on Dr. Mudd’s doctoral thesis, making it likely that he wrote the inscription himself. This book is sometimes seen laying out on the secretary in the doctor’s office or is otherwise shelved with some other medical books.

Dr. Mudd’s Mortar and Pestle

Mudd's mortar and pestle

In his occupation as a physician, Dr. Mudd owned and used this mortar and pestle to create medicines for his patients. It is on display in the doctor’s office.

Clay Jars made by Dr. Mudd’s slaves

Jars made by Dr Mudd's slaves

The practice of medicine was largely secondary to Dr. Mudd, who was first and foremost a plantation owner with a large farm. Dr. Mudd own several slaves who worked in his fields tending to his crops and in his home doing domestic chores. These clay jars, on display in the kitchen of the Mudd house, were made by some of the Mudd family slaves. Dr. Mudd could be a very harsh master at times and at the trial of the conspirators several of his former slaves testified against him. One of his former slaves, Elzee Eglen, recounted how Dr. Mudd had shot him for being “obstreperous” and then threatened to send him south to Richmond to build defenses for the Confederacy. Elzee escaped from slavery by running away from Dr. Mudd’s farm in 1863. On the other hand, a few of Dr. Mudd’s slaves testified in his favor and stated that he was a kind master. After Emancipation, three of Dr. Mudd’s slaves stayed with the family and continued to work for him for several years. We do know that Dr. Mudd participated in “slave catching posses” to recapture escaped slaves. At the very least, Dr. Mudd’s strong ties to slavery and the cause of the Confederacy dispels the concept that he was “a Union man,” as he tried to paint himself after being arrested. To learn more about those held in slavery by Dr. Mudd, I recommend the book, The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers.

The Booth Sofa

Booth Sofa Mudd House

The centerpiece of the Mudd House parlor is an antique settee. This small sofa is undoubtedly the most iconic item on display in the Dr. Mudd House and the most photographed piece in the museum. After the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and his accomplice arrived at the Mudd farm during the early morning hours of April 15, 1865, the injured assassin was brought inside and laid upon this couch. It was while here that Dr. Mudd first examined the leg of John Wilkes Booth.  To subsequent generations of the Mudd family, this couch perfectly personified the desired mythology for Dr. Mudd. This settee was an innocent bystander, a piece that unknowingly gave comfort to an assassin. One can not place blame a sofa for being laid upon just as one cannot blame a doctor for fulfilling his Hippocratic Oath. However, while the sofa is free from any wrong doing, history has proven that Dr. Mudd had known Booth long before the assassination and likely provided assistance in Booth’s plot to abduct Abraham Lincoln.

Mrs. Mudd’s Painting

Mrs Mudd's Painting

On the wall of the bedroom where John Wilkes Booth slept during most of the daytime hours of April 15, 1865, hangs a beautiful painting called, “The Sleeping Beauty.” This painting was painted by Sarah Frances Dyer, Dr. Mudd’s wife. She painted this portrait when she was in school and it demonstrates Mrs. Mudd’s creative talents.

Wood Working to Pass the Hard Time (1865 – 1869)

A. Fort Jefferson

Many of the unique treasures contained in the Mudd house consist of objects Dr. Mudd created while carrying out his prison sentence at Fort Jefferson. During his imprisonment, Dr. Mudd (and the other prisoners) tried their hands at various crafts and trades to help pass the time. The imprisoned conspirators often sent boxes of crafts and carpentry projects back home to their loved ones. Here is a newspaper article which mentions the Lincoln conspirators’ handiwork:

Gifts from Fort Jefferson article

The following artifacts, on display at the Mudd house, are all items created by Dr. Mudd while he was in prison.

Shark Cartilage Cane

Dr Mudd Cane

Fort Jefferson is located approximately 67 miles west of Key West, Florida. This island prison was so isolated and the threat of survivable escape from it was so low that prisoners were allowed almost complete access to the entire island. As such, there were many chances for Dr. Mudd and the others to collect specimens from the tropical waters. Dr. Mudd made several canes and walking sticks while at Fort Jefferson but this one has the unique feature of being decorated with shark cartilage likely scavenged from the remains of a shark that had washed up on the Dry Tortugas. This cane is displayed on the bed in Dr. Mudd’s bedroom.

Book of Pressed Flowers

Dr Mudd's pressed flowers

Though a limited amount of flora grew on Fort Jefferson due to the lack of fresh water, Dr. Mudd still took the time to collect samples of flowers and leaves from the island’s vegetation. He put his specimens into this album, which appears to have been originally created to hold CDVs, common photographs of the day. This book is on display in a case in the second floor hallway.

Letter Opener

Mudd letter opener

Dr. Mudd created this plain yet practical letter opener while at Fort Jefferson. It is displayed in the second floor case.

Frame of Shells

Dr Mudd Frame of Shells

Though fresh water was scarce, what was not lacking on the shores of Fort Jefferson’s beaches were shells. As such, Dr. Mudd took to collecting shells and affixing them to many different objects. This frame decorated by shells is in the second floor display case.

Jewelry Boxes

Mudd jewelry box 1

Mudd jewelry box 2

The Dr. Mudd House displays two jewelry boxes built by Dr. Mudd which he ornately encrusted with a plethora of seashells. Another jewelry box created by Dr. Mudd appeared on Antiques Roadshow several years back.

Cribbage Board

Dr Mudd's cribbage board

Jewelry boxes and cribbage boards appear to have been the most popular items to construct when spending time at Fort Jefferson. In 1867, Dr. Mudd’s fellow conspirator Edman Spangler sent a package of gifts to his former employer John T. Ford. The package contained several items to be distributed among the friends and families of Spangler, Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen. The items were four decorated boxes and six cribbage boards.  So it appears that the conspirators had a veritable cribbage board factory at Fort Jefferson and honed their skills making them. This board, said to have been created by Dr. Mudd, is in the second floor display case.

Checkerboard Tabletop

Dr Mudd's checkerboard top

This checkerboard tabletop, created by Dr. Mudd, is affixed to a small table just inside the front door of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. It demonstrates Dr. Mudd’s increasing skill at inlay and marquetry. It is worth noting that lumber was fairly scarce on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. These pieces would have been made with either driftwood that washed up on the shore, or with surplus wood from the Fort’s carpentry shop where Dr. Mudd was sent to work alongside Edman Spangler.

Circular Game Table

Dr Mudd's inlaid table

As Dr. Mudd’s time on Fort Jefferson increased, it appears he became more and more adept at woodworking and general carpentry. This game table shows great skill and is likely due to the teachings of his fellow inmate, Edman Spangler, who had been a carpenter by trade. Spangler helped construct the Booth family home of Tudor Hall many years before he was employed by John T. Ford to work as a carpenter and scene shifter in his theaters. It is likely that Spangler gave lessons in carpentry to his fellow prisoners and assisted Dr. Mudd in the creation of this table. It is on display next to the Booth sofa in the front parlor of the Mudd house.

A Familiar Guest (1873 – 1875)

As we know, Dr. Mudd eventually secured a pardon from President Andrew Johnson due to his conduct during a Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Fort Jefferson in 1867. That epidemic took the life of Michael O’Laughlen, one of the other Lincoln conspirators. President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd shortly before the end of his term. He also pardoned the two remaining conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Edman Spangler. The men had bonded quite a bit due to their shared ordeal and circumstances. Though they parted ways, there was a reunion of sorts between Dr. Mudd and his teacher of carpentry, Edman Spangler.

Spangler Icon

Spangler originally went back to work for John T. Ford in his theaters. John T. Ford always believed in his employee’s innocence and worked hard to get Spangler released. However, when Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore burned down in 1873, Spangler found himself out of a job. Spangler made his way to Dr. Mudd’s farm where he was welcomed in with open arms. Spangler lived with the Mudds for about 18 months doing carpentry, gardening, and other farm chores. Some of the artifacts on display at the Mudd house were owned or built by Edman Spangler.

Doll Chairs

Spangler doll chairs

These doll chairs, on display in the second floor case, were made by Edman Spangler for Dr. Mudd’s young children. Nettie Mudd, the doctor’s youngest child, recalled that Spangler’s, “greatest pleasure seemed to be found in extending kindnesses to others, and particularly children, of whom he was very fond.”

Spangler’s Wood Plane

Spangler's wood plane 1 Mudd house

This wood plane, used in carpentry work to flatten and smooth a piece of wood, belonged to Edman Spangler and he likely used it while doing carpentry projects around the Mudd farm. It is usually regulated to a shelf in the doctor’s office but if you ask about it, and your docent is willing, he or she may take it out so that you can see the stamped ends that bear Spangler’s name.

Spangler's wood plane 2 Mudd house

Spangler’s Dresser

Spangler's dresser Mudd house

This dresser was made by Edman Spangler while he lived at the Mudd farm. Today, this piece furnishes the children’s bedroom, a fitting place due to Spangler’s affinity for children.

Spangler’s New Testament

Spangler's New Testament from Ewing

In the second floor display case of the Mudd house is a 1861 copy of the New Testament which belonged to Edman Spangler. It was inscribed to him by Mrs. Ewing. At the trial of the conspirators, Edman Spangler was one of the last to find legal representation and it was essentially appointed to him by the court. His lawyer was General Thomas Ewing, Jr. Ewing had already been hired to defend Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold and was then asked to defend Spangler as well when the latter could not find any other representation. When Mrs. Ewing, the wife of Spangler’s lawyer, gave him this New Testament is unknown. However, whether he received it in the midst of the trial or at its conclusions when his fate was known, Spangler likely read thorough it for guidance and hope during the dark days at Fort Jefferson. It was found among his things when he died in the Mudd house on February 7, 1875. Edman Spangler died at the age of 49 while being cared for by his good friend, Dr. Mudd.

Endings and Beginnings (1883 – Present)

Dr. Mudd’s Original Gravestone

Mudd Outbuilding with grave

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd died on January 10, 1883 at the age of 49. He was interred at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery where his parents were buried. Dr. Mudd’s wife, Sarah Frances, outlived her husband by 28 years before passing away in 1911. She was buried alongside her husband but for many years had no stone of her own. Around 1940, some of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd’s descendants decided to replace Dr. Mudd’s old headstone with a new one that would include both of their names. This was also deemed advantageous to do because there was a mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original tombstone that needed to be corrected. When the gravestone was replaced, Dr. Mudd’s old headstone was brought back to the farm. It was eventually placed in an old chicken coop located right behind the Mudd house. Look closely at the image below and see if you can find the mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original headstone.

Former Mudd Stone

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House

One cannot discuss the wonderful treasures in the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum without acknowledging the treasure that is the restored house museum itself. Dr. Mudd’s home continued to be owned and lived in by his descendants all the way up to the present day. As a family home, it underwent its share of upgrades and changes. In the 1970’s, the house looked quite a bit different than it did in Dr. Mudd’s day:

Dr. Mudd House circa 1970

It is very fortunate that generations of the Mudd family came together in the 1970’s and embraced the house’s historical importance. They choose to restore the house to its 1865 appearance and open it as a museum. The earliest known photographs of the Mudd house, like this one from 1895, were consulted during the restoration in order to duplicate the exterior of the home as accurately as possible.

Mudd house 1895 Victor Mason

Dr. Mudd House 1

Today, the restored Mudd house sits on almost the same amount of land it did in 1865, preserving the historic landscape that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold saw when they departed the home after receiving aid.

Mudd house landscape

Click to enlarge

Even ignoring the massive repository of items and artifacts relating to Dr. Mudd’s life and saga, the Mudd house is definitely a treasure all its own.

Plan Your Visit (The Future)

Despite the numerous artifacts highlighted in this post, there is still so much to see at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. There’s Mrs. Mudd’s original cruet set, the Mudds’ original sideboard table, a large format photograph taken of Dr. Mudd at Fort Jefferson, a secretary built by Dr. Mudd while in prison, keys said to be from Dr. Mudd’s prison cell, a chair from Ford’s Theatre, and so much more. Just to see these artifacts in person is worth the $7 admission price. The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum closes down for the winter season so you have plenty of time to plan your future visit to this very worthwhile museum. Please visit for more information.

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum
The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman

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Views of Fort Jefferson

My sincerest thanks go out to fellow blogger, Dop Troutman, who sent me the following images he took of Fort Jefferson, Florida.  Fort Jefferson was a military fortress built on an island off of the coast of Florida near Key West.  During the Civil War, the base was also used as a military prison by the Union.  After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the trial of the conspirators, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Edman Spangler were sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson.  They were imprisoned here from 1865 until their subsequent pardons in February of 1869.  Michael O’Laughlen died at Fort Jefferson in 1867 from a Yellow Fever epidemic that struck the base.

Dop, who writes about a variety of topics on his blog “View From the Jeep“, emailed me a couple weeks ago telling me he was planning on visiting the Fort and asked if I would like any photographs of anything in particular.  I happily took him up on his offer telling him I would love any pictures he might be willing to send me, especially pictures of the conspirators’ cell from different angles.  True to his word, Dop graciously sent me several photographs.  I’m happy to share them along with Dop’s very detailed descriptions.

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“Sally Port is the only entrance to the fort. The 4 conspirators were all housed together in one open-air cell. That cell is directly above the Sally Port door. The three narrow windows above the door mark the cell:”
C. Sally Port

“These are of Mudd’s Cell after he was thrown in the “dungeon” following his attempted escape. There is no proof this was the actual location, but the conditions would have been the same. The interesting thing about the fort is that there were no doors, cells, or bars. It was an open-air prison. No “cages”, just guards stationed everywhere to keep prisoners in their place. However, the lack of food & fresh water and the oppressive heat usually took the spunk out of everyone:”
D. Mudd Dungeon Cell
E. Mudd's Dungeon Cell Entrance - Looking South

I. Mudd Dungeon Cell SignFor the story of this plaque, click here.

J. Mudd Dungeon Cell - Looking East
K. Passage Leading to Dungeon

“There used to be a sign above the door that read something like “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter”, but its been removed:”
F. Mudd Dungeon Cell Entrance - Looking West

“You can see how large the space is. I’m sure Mudd shared this space with other prisoners. We estimate it to be about 1100 square feet:”
G. Mudd Dungeon Cell - Looking SW
H. Mudd Dungeon Cell - Looking NW

“This is the conspirators’ shared cell. All 4 were housed here beginning in late January 1866 until their release. O’Laughlen died here of yellow fever. Included are a few pics of the floor. You’ll see small canals cut into the floor. These were done by Mudd to divert rainwater from his bed. We measured the space as being 15′ by 40′:”
M. Conspirators' Cell Above Sally Port
N. Conspirators' 15x40 Group Cell - Looking South
O. Mudd's Trench in Cell
P. Mudd's Trench in Cell - Looking SE
Q. Conspirators' Cell Above Sally Port - Looking North

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Thanks again, Dop, for these great views of Fort Jefferson!

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Gifts from Fort Jefferson

A few weeks ago, I posted a thank you note that Edman Spangler wrote while incarcerated at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas.  In it, he mentioned several items he was sending along to John T. Ford as tokens of his appreciation.  Spangler also included other carpentry items created by the conspirators and asked for them to be passed along to their respective families.  Though undated, I deduced that the note must have been written in mid 1867, during the John Surratt trial but before Michael O’Laughlen’s death.  Today, I stumbled across a related newspaper article that seems to agree with that conclusion:

Gifts from Fort Jefferson articleWhile it is unknown if any of the items contained in this package exist today, there are several items on display at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum made by Dr. Mudd (with assumed guidance from Edman Spangler) while he was imprisoned at Fort Jefferson:

Jewelry box 2

Cribbage board

Decorative table

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Arriving at Fort Jefferson

The Richmond Whig newspaper carried this article on August 4, 1865 covering the arrival of the Lincoln assassination conspirators to their prison of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas:

What surprised me the most about this article is the claim that, upon reaching the island, the prisoners were relieved at finding it, “not so bad a place as they had supposed,” as it had a “fine sea breeze” and was a “very healthy” place.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Early in his memoirs, Sam Arnold accurately describes the Fort thusly:

“Without exception, it was the most horrible place the eye of man ever rested upon, where day after day, the miserable existence was being dragged out, intermixed with sickness, bodily suffering, want and pinching hunger…”

It would have been a fallacy to think that Fort Jefferson was “healthy”  in any sense of the word.  Scurvy, malnutrition, diarrhea, and diseases like yellow fever ran rampant.  The sick were oftentimes quarantined and only aided by a handful of doctors and nurses.  No one enjoyed life on Fort Jefferson.  Especially not Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, or Michael O’Laughlen.

Soldiers in quarantine on Fort Jefferson 1899

Richmond Whig, 8/4/1865
Memoirs of the Lincoln Conspirators by Michael Kauffman
Fort Jefferson Historical Structures Report

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Conspirator Canes

Prison life at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas was a miserable affair.  From the food, to the weather, to the living conditions, it’s hard to imagine that anyone stationed there, guard or prisoner, found the now tropical paradise hospitable.  All those that sailed to the island fort became prisoners.  It appears that when the lives of the inhabitants were not in danger from disease or malnutrition, extreme boredom prevailed. The Lincoln assassination conspirators Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen fought against this boredom.  The assigned duties given to the men helped in some ways.  Dr. Mudd, while a trained surgeon who would be a nurse in the hospital and an emergency replacement during the Yellow Fever epidemic, spent a considerable amount of time with Edman Spangler in the carpentry shop on the island.  Through three and a half years, he honed his carpentry skills and created several beautiful items that are currently on display at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum in Waldorf, MD.  One set of items that Dr. Mudd became effective at creating were canes.

In addition to these two canes on display at the Mudd house, the good Dr. also created a cane for his cousin Henry A. Clarke.  When Dr. Mudd was struggling to find an attorney willing to take his case during the conspiracy trial, he reached out to his cousin Henry Clarke who owned a Washington coal company.  On May 10th, Col. Henry Burnett sent a letter to Clarke asking if he would be Mudd’s counsel.  Clarke responded back truthfully that he was not an attorney but would be happy to help Dr. Mudd in securing counsel.  By the time Clarke had responded, Dr. Mudd had already secured Thomas Ewing and Frederick Stone for his defense.

The cane Dr. Mudd made for Henry Clarke made its way to Antiques Roadshow a few years ago, and the appraisal for it can be watched here.

Dr. Mudd was not the only conspirator to make canes for family and friends.  His own mentor in the carpentry world, Edman Spangler, also created canes from the wood at Fort Jefferson:

The canes, cribbage boards, shell decorated boxes, and other feats of craftsmanship were all therapeutic ways for Dr. Mudd to feel productive.  Had it not been for these minor, but important, outlets of purposefulness, the Lincoln assassination conspirators could easily have  succumbed to insanity.

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Research site by Robert Summers
The Evidence by Steers and Edwards

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A Plaque for Dr. Mudd

In the former cell of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd and the other Lincoln assassination conspirators in Fort Jefferson, there is a memorial plaque in honor of its most famous inmate:

The memorial was erected in March of 1961, and many newspapers of the day contained an Associated Press article regarding its dedication and the history of Dr. Mudd.

“In ceremonies yesterday at Key West – because Dry Tortugas was too inaccessible – the U.S. government dedicated a plaque to the memory of Dr. Mudd. The plaque itself is out on the Tortugas at Ft. Jefferson, a poorly preserved crumble of 40 million bricks which in Mudd’s day was a formidable federal penitentiary.”

Of those referenced in the newspaper article was a Saginaw, Michigan resident named Dr. Richard Dyer Mudd.  Dr. Richard Mudd was Dr. Samuel Mudd’s grandson and lifelong proponent of his innocence.  Dr. Richard Mudd stated that the plaque was:

“A tacit admission, at last, that my grandfather was convicted unjustly, that he did not conspire to kill the 16th President nor knowingly aid the man who did.”

The fact is though, while the government was willing to place a memorial to a doctor who bravely administered to many sick soldiers and inmates at the assumed risk of his own life, they were not comfortable declaring that Dr. Mudd was wrongfully imprisoned.  In fact, it took several years to get Dr. Mudd this memorial, and even then it was not what Dr. Richard Mudd truly hoped for.

The first attempt that I’ve been able to find regarding a public memorial for Dr. Mudd was in February of 1936, during the second session of the 74th Congress.   A West Virginian Representative named Jennings Randolph introduced House Joint Resolution 496 on February 24th.  It can be assumed that the catalyst for Rep. Randolph’s bill was the new movie, “The Prisoner of Shark Island”.  The film had its debut in New York on February 12th, 1936 and was released nationwide on February 28th.  Publicity about the movie was in many newspapers and each reiterated the popular view of Dr. Mudd’s complete innocence.

H. J. Res. 496 called for the “erection of a memorial to Dr. Samuel A. Mudd”.  It was first sent to the House’s Committee on Public Lands.  The Committee, in turn, contacted the Department of the Interior to gain their perspective on the idea.  On April 16th, the Department of the Interior sent back a letter in favor of the memorial stating, “The proposal to place a tablet to the memory of Dr. Mudd on the ruins of Fort Jefferson appears to have merit in view of the outstanding services performed at Fort Jefferson by this member of the medical profession.”  In addition, the Secretary of the Interior hoped that this tablet would, “increase the historical interest of old Fort Jefferson.”  With the blessing of the Department of the Interior (given the understanding that the House would set aside the funds to complete the memorial and not the DoI) the Committee on Public Lands reported back on the bill favorably on May 28th, 1936.

While it appeared that many in Congress were in favor of this memorial to Dr. Mudd, one outside group, “The Society for Correct Civil War Information” was not.  In one of their bulletins they wrote:

“This Resolution was so obviously a farcical gesture that we were remise in not listing it as one of the disloyal bills.  We erred in thinking that no member of the United States Congress would for one moment tolerate the idea of erecting a memorial to one of the conspirators against the life of Abraham Lincoln… If such a resolution passes the Congress, giving approval to assassination, the next logical step is a monument to John Wilkes Booth!”

While alarmist and hyperbolic in this edition, the Society for Correct Civil War Information did devote articles in a few other bulletins fighting against the popular belief that Dr. Mudd was a completely innocent country doctor.

When the bill was finally called to question on June 15th, 1936, Representative Thomas Jenkins of Ohio asked the resolution to be passed over without prejudice:

Five days later was the last day of the 74th Congress.  H. J. Res. 496 died.

The next year, during the 75th Congress, Representative Randolph of West Virginia was at it again.  He introduced H. J. Res. 87 again calling for the “erection of a memorial to Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd”.  The bill was, once again, sent to the Committee on Public Lands.  As before, The Society for Correct Civil War Information was on the offensive over this measure:

“H. J. R. 87 provides for the erection of a memorial to Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, and is similar to H. J. R. 496 in the last Congress. H. J. R. 87, introduced by Jennings Randolph (Congressional Record, p. 105), contains the same misstatement that “in recognition of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd’s innocence of the charges which resulted in his life imprisonment he was given a complete and unconditional pardon by President Andrew Johnson.” In the September (1936) bulletin we cite the text of President Johnson’s pardon of Dr. Mudd which concludes: “And whereas, upon consideration and examination of the record of said trial and conviction an of the evidence given at said trial I am satisfied that the guilt found by the said Judgment against Samuel A. Mudd was of the receiving, entertaining, harboring and concealing John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold with the intent to aid, abet, and assist them in escaping from justice after the assassination of the late President of the United States, and not of any other or greater participation or complicity in said abominable crime,” and President Johnson further states “And whereas, in other respects the evidence imputing such guilty sympathy or purpose of aid in defeat of Justice, leaves room for uncertainty as to the true measure and nature of the complicity of the said Samuel A. Mudd in the attempted escape of said assassins.” The foregoing excerpts from President Johnson’s pardon show that he knew Dr. Mudd to be an accessory after the fact in harboring Booth and Herold, and it was on this specification and charge that he was found guilty. See Volume 121, page 699. Therefore to state that President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd because he was innocent of the charges that led to his Imprisonment and to seek a memorial to Dr. Mudd on that account is a conclusion and a purpose not justified by facts, and H. J. R. 496 was therefore properly stopped in Congress, for Dr. Mudd was not innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.”

This time, Representative Randolph’s bill never made it out of the Committee of Public Lands.  Again, the measure died.

Let’s fast forward now to 1959 and the 86th Congress.  Though The Prisoner of Shark Island is no longer on the minds of the American public, Dr. Richard D. Mudd has been working tirelessly to clear his grandfather’s name.  He entices his congressman, Representative Alvin Bentley of Michigan’s 8th district, to propose House Joint Resolution 80 entitled, “Providing for the erection of a memorial tablet at Garden Key, FLA., in honor of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd”.  Dr. Richard Mudd was 35 when the first few attempts to honor his grandfather failed, and this time he was determined to push it through.  In addition to Rep. Bentley of Michigan, Mudd instilled the help of Representative Dante Fascell of Florida.  Fort Jefferson was in Rep. Fascell’s district.  Fascell proposed a practically identical bill to Rep. Bentley’s, House  Joint Resolution 433.  Dr. Richard Mudd was doubling his odds at getting a memorial to his grandfather.

Rep. Bentley’s bill (H. J. R. 80) was sent to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.  They contacted the Department of the Interior and received a very similar letter to the one received by the 1936 Congressmen:

“Although the providing of memorial treatment through markers, monuments, and scripture, is often inconsistent with this Department’s practice of administering historical areas in such a way as to preserve the historic scene, we do not feel the proposed tablet would be objectionable at Fort Jefferson.  We would point out, however, that a visitor center is being planned for the Fort Jefferson National Monument and that the entire history of the fort, including Dr. Mudd’s, will be told.”

With the approval of the Department of the Interior, the Committee reported favorably on H. J. R. 80… with one amendment.

Bentley’s original bill contained a long preamble declaring the many ways in which Dr. Mudd was innocent, falsely tried, and imprisoned.  Dr. Richard Mudd hoped the passing of this bill would set the precedent he desired to have his grandfather’s record officially expunged.  However, the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs was not willing to set this precedent and therefore eliminated the entire preamble and changed the phrase in the resolution from “imprisoned for a crime which he did not commit” to just “imprisoned”.  The following shows their changes:

On August 31st, 1959 the amended bill was called to question.  There was no debate but Rep. Bentley used the time to reiterate his feelings about Dr. Mudd’s innocence, even though all declarations to the same had been removed from the bill:

From here, the bill reached the Senate where Senator Philip Hart of Michigan (another of Dr. Richard Mudd’s congressmen) also displayed his sympathies towards his constituent:

The bill, having passed the House and Senate was turned over to the President for final signature and approval.  On September 21st, 1959, President Einsenhower signed the bill into law.  Dr. Mudd got his memorial at last.

Dr. Richard Dyer Mudd had hoped that these efforts in the Congress would be his grandfather’s vindication.  In the newspaper article quoted at the beginning of this post, he called the memorial a “tacit admission” of his grandfather’s “unjust” conviction and innocence in “knowingly” aiding the man who killed the President.   This was not the case, however.  The Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs struck out the text, “covering controversial matters of history about which the committee has no expert knowledge and on which it does not wish to pass judgment.”  In the end, the committee succinctly summarized the reason for this memorial as being solely:

“A recognition of Dr. Mudd’s meritorious professional service as an imprisoned physician during the yellow fever epidemic of 1867.”

The Congressional Records of 74th and 86th Congresses available online through
Bulletins of The Society for Correct Civil War Information
1936 Report of the Committee on Public Lands
1959 Report of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs

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