|John H. Surratt, Jr.|
A massive manhunt for Booth and the other conspirators followed, and a vast literature about the plotters and their trials has been amassed over a century and a half.
Most people know that Booth died in a burning barn and that four of the conspirators were hanged, including a woman, Mary Surratt. But this isn't a US history blog, so now let's get to the Middle East connection. The last of the accused conspirators, John Harrison Surratt, Jr., son of Mary Surratt, had fled the United States and evaded arrest until November 1866, when he was arrested by US authorities in Alexandria, Egypt,
Though Egypt's connection was largely accidental, it's a tale worth telling. The Surratts were Confederate sympathizers, and Mrs. Surratt ran a boarding house on H Street in Washington and also owned a tavern at Surrattsville (now Clinton) in southern Maryland. Both buildings are still there; the much remodeled H Street house is now a Chinese restaurant and karaoke place in Washington's small Chinatown, while the old tavern is now the Surratt House Museum.
Southern Maryland was the slaveholding part of the state and had many Confederate sympathizers; it was a favored route for Confederate intelligence to pass messages into rebel Virginia just across he Potomac. John H, Surratt was one such courier, and had carried messages to Virginia and also had links to the Confederate Secret Service's spy network based in Canada. He was young; he turned 21 on April 13, 1865, the day before the assassination.
In March he had joined John Wilkes Booth in a plot to kidnap President Lincoln and trade him for Confederate POWs, but that plot failed. Surratt always claimed he had no knowledge that Booth had decided to kill rather than kidnap,
Surratt was in Elmira, New York on the day of the assassination, returning from a courier mission to Canada, and immediately on hearing the news he proceeded to return to Montreal, reaching Canada before the Federal manhunt knew where he was (they thought he was around Washington.)
|Surratt as a Papal Zouave|
An old friend recognized him and the Papal authorities arrested him. But before he could be turned over to the US authorities in Rome he escaped, allegedly by jumping from a precipice, but with many believing friendly papal guards let it happen. He crossed into the Kingdom of Italy and made his way to Naples. The US Minister to the Papal States, Rufus King, advised the US consul in Naples Frank Swan, to be on the lookout. On November 19, 1866, it was learned that Surratt had sailed from Naples the evening before, on a British ship, RMS Tripoli, bound for Alexandria with a coaling stop at Malta.
The US representatives were keeping the undersea cables busy, now entreating the British to arrest him at Malta. But the British Agent at Malta informed the American representative that he needed more evidence and that vague claims of conspiracy were insufficient to arrest an American. Besides, he had boarded the ship and found no "Walters or Watson" aboard and the only Zouave was a "John Agostini from Candia." Candia is in Crete (the Italian name for Heraklion); Surratt had been posing as a Canadian. The typo, if that's what it was, further delayed things but John Agostini was indeed Surratt's new alias. The Tripoli proceeded on to Alexandria.
|US Consul-General Hale|
The frustrations of Rome, Naples and Malta did not apply once Surratt acknowledged he was a US citizen. (Had he continued to claim to be Canadian, that might have complicated matters)
But this was the era if the Capitulations, prior to the 1875 founding of the Mixed Courts of Egypt, and the US Consul-General had absolute authority to arrest American citizens. Surratt was duly arrested. He remained in consular custody until the US Navy's USS Swatara transported him to Washington in early 1867,
After so long a manhunt, several things had changed. In 1866 the US Supreme Court had ruled, in Ex Parte Milligan, that it was unconstitutional to try civilians before a Military Tribunal if the civil courts were operating, so unlike his mother and the other conspirators, he could not be tried by a military court. And in the intervening years, many of the charges leveled at the others had seen their statute of limitations expire. The one charge that could be brought was the murder of Lincoln, and while Surratt admitted to the kidnapping plot, he denied knowing of the plan to kill, and was far from Washington on April 14, 1865.
After a two month trial, the result was a hung jury, splitting eight to four for acquittal. The government decided not to seek a new trial. You can find the trial transcript at Google Books.
He then planned a lecture tour, giving a first lecture at Rockville, Maryland in December 1870. You can read it here.
|Surratt in Old Age|