Dr. Mudd was a famous (or in some eyes, infamous) resident of Southern Maryland. An avowed supporter of the Confederacy, he was convicted of conspiracy and aiding John Wilkes Booth in his escape after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd was born December 20, 1833, near Waldorf, Maryland, the son of Henry Lowe Mudd and Sarah Ann Reeves. He was married to Sarah Frances Dyer, and is buried with her at St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery in Bryantown, Maryland.
Dr. Mudd was raised on "Oak Hill," the family plantation, about thirty miles from Washington. He attended St. John's College for two years, spent three years at Georgetown University, and finally graduated from Baltimore Medical College (now part of the University of Maryland). Soon after graduation, he married Sarah, nicknamed "Frank". They settled on his own farm, located at the current intersection of Route 225 and Route 5 in Waldorf (and the current site of the Dr. Mudd House and Museum). Eventually they had nine children and 33 grandchildren.
Mudd's claim to fame came after John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. Booth fled Washington and turned south, arriving at Dr. Mudd's farm at about 4am on April 15, 1865. Booth had broken his leg leaping from Lincoln's balcony to the stage, and Mudd proceeded to splint, set, and bandage the broken leg. Booth paid Mudd $25 for his services, and left the next afternoon into the Zekiah Swamp.
Dr. Mudd was arrested days later, on charges of conspiracy and harboring Booth and his associates during their escape. Mudd denied having ever seen Booth before the night of the assassination, but witnesses not only testified that the two men had met more than once in Washington before that date, but also that Booth had sent liquor and other provisions to Mudd's home two weeks before the assassination -- apparently in preparation for flight. Mudd was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, having missed the death penalty by one vote.
Doin' the Time
Dr. Mudd was imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles from Key West. His wife stayed in contact with him by mail, and also wrote letters to president Andrew Johnson asking for a pardon for her husband. Meanwhile, yellow fever broke out on the island in 1867. The fort's physician died of the disease, but Dr. Mudd took up the cause; despite catching the fever himself, he recovered and saved many lives. As a result, all of the noncommissioned officers and soldiers on the island signed a petition to the US government supporting Mudd.
Free at Last
In February of 1869 Andrew Johnson sent a courier to Mrs. Mudd asking her to personally come to Washington to pick up a presidential pardon for her husband. He was released on March 8 and arrived home two weeks later, settling back down to a quiet life on the farm and his medical practice. He did serve in the Maryland state legislature, being elected in 1876.
In January of 1883 Dr. Mudd came down with a severe cold, having spent much of the winter busy visiting many sick patients. He died on January 10, likely of pneumonia, at age 49.
Many of Dr. Mudd's descendants have made many efforts to try to clear his name in the matter of conspiracy with John Wilkes Booth. One attempt by his grandson, Dr. Richard Mudd (of Saginaw, Michigan), was a request to the US District Courts to order that the US Army (which had tried and convicted Mudd) had no jurisdiction since Mudd was a civilian. Several courts have ruled instead (in court cases between 1998 and 2002) that since the assassination of a president in wartime was a military offense, that the court did have jurisdiction.
The Michigan State Legislature (in 1973), and former President Jimmy Carter have expressed their belief in Mudd's innocence. When Ronald Reagan was president in 1987, he wrote a letter stating that he believed Mudd was innocent of any wrongdoing. In 1992 the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records recommended that relief be given to Mudd and his family, but this was denied by the acting Secretary of the Army, William D. Clark.
New evidence from various sources, on the other hand, have cast doubt upon Mudd's claimed innocence. Foremost among these is a book by a noted Lincoln scholar, Dr. Edward Steers, Jr. Still, since then a number of scholars such as John Hale, have noted that even if Mudd was part of the conspiracy, that the US Government still did not prove its case against Mudd to the extent required by law.
Mudd's own statements during the trial cast doubt on the idea that he was just a simple country doctor who set a stranger's broken leg. His own writings portray him as an advocate of slavery who was a supporter, at least in word (if not in deed) of the Confederate States of America. He lied about nearly every piece of information which the authorities questioned him on regarding Booth, and even withheld facts from his own attorney, who was then taken by surprise by evidence during the trial. In the end he caused his own downfall, although he did gain some redemption by his selfless actions during the yellow fever outbreak in prison.
- The Dr. Samuel A Mudd House Museum
- Dr. Samuel A. Mudd and His Descendants
- Richard D. Mudd, MD
- Growing up 3 miles from the Samuel A Mudd House