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Washington, D.C.

The Mary Surratt Boarding House

The house where John Wilkes Booth conspired with his co-conspirators. 

In 1864, Mary Surratt moved to Washington, D.C., and into 541 H Street, the townhouse her husband had left her when she died. Not long after, her son was introduced to John Wilkes Booth; soon the actor was a regular visitor at the house.

The night Lincoln was shot, police showed up by 2 a.m., looking for Booth and his accomplices. Within a few days, they came again—to arrest Surratt for her part in the conspiracy. When they arrived, they also met a man who claimed Surratt had hired him to dig a ditch; it turned out he was a co-conspirator, who had attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward. That didn’t look good for Surratt, and neither did the rest of the evidence against her. Two months later, she had been tried and hanged—the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government.

Surratt proclaimed her innocence until the end, and for years, many believed her. But recently, historians have argued that she knew exactly what was going on. “Mary kept her home open to Booth and all the co-conspirators who came to the house,” her biographer, Kate Clifford Larson, said in a lecture. “Some of them stayed overnight, some just came for meetings. And there was no way that woman could have not known what was going on in that house. It’s not that big of a house…she is a smart woman. She knows what’s going on.”

The building has since been renumbered—604 H Street NW—and the first floor of the building is now a Chinese restaurant called Wok & Roll.

 

 

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