04-16-1883: George Alfred Townsend's Interview of Dr. George Mudd.
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer, April 16, 1883.
Journalist George Alfred Townsend interviewed Dr. Samuel Mudd's cousin, Dr. George Dyer Mudd, shortly after Samuel Mudd died in 1883. His article said:
New York, April 15. - Now I will note the talk that I had nearly on the eighteenth anniversary of Mr. Booth's visit for the last time to this region. At the plain old hotel at Bryantown - where we were eating shad fried in bread grease, cold fried chicken and some beef cut in little flat pieces and covered with a kind of pepper gravy - we ventured after a while to mention the name of Booth. A smart boy, who was celebrated all the time we were there for volunteering information loudly and possessing none whatever, said he knew there were a great many persons in the region who remembered Mr. Booth, but he could not name any of them. He thought the fact was enough, however, that there were some, and relapsed into a kind of ponderous silence.
Another person, probably from Baltimore, who was selling whisky by sample through this country, gave his entire conversation to the evils of the local option law, which, he said, was creating havoc and misery in the entire society, and driving all enterprise out of it. He said no vigorous community could exist without whisky, particularly of his brand. We endeavored to awaken him on the subject of Booth, and seeing that he had nothing to do with the local option law he merely grunted and looked at us to know whether we were quite right in our minds. We struck him on the question of jowl and greens, however, and then he awakened like a true Marylander, who is never so much at home as when he is either just going to eat something or has approved of something he has just eaten.
The landlord, hearing us mention the name of Mudd, however, suddenly burst in the door and said that the late Dr. Mudd's brother was on the porch. So we were taken out, on all fours as it were, to be introduced to him. There stood a man of the middle size, with a genteel, yet hardly cheerful countenance, and polite but somewhat reserved address. He had rather pale blue eyes, and prominent, rather Roman nose, and was dressed like a farmer. I fancied that the expression on his face, if any, was that of a man to whom times were somewhat hard, who did not see the future very bright before him, who paid no attention whatever to the past, and, perhaps regarded himself as drifting on to the decline of life with doubtful impressions of whether he could improve the condition of his family. I do not know that any of these things were in his mind, but that was my reading of him, considering the short conversation we had.
He was the older brother of Booth's surgeon, who, I understand, was the youngest brother in the family. My acquaintance had gone across the Potomac into the Confederate Army, and served, like many young men hereabout of slave-holding families, during a portion of the war. I told him I had seen his brother when he was being tried in Washington, and made such inquiries as would not provoke the suspicion of a people always a little doubtful about strangers. I found that this brother really did not grasp any facts about Dr. Mudd's work. He went on to tell me a strange, disconnected story about Booth and his brother being in an operation together to buy large tracts of land in Charles County. I asked what the land was to be bought for, and he said that the Capital of the United States was to be extended across the eastern branch of the Potomac, and that would result in making a large city down towards Charles County, and Booth and Dr. Mudd and others were to control all the adjacent land and put it up in price. That, or something like it, was the short burden of this gentleman's remarks. He did not speak with much fluency or confidence, but rather like one to whom something had been told that he had not half grasped, and rather lost the little he knew in re-telling it.
I asked him if there was any trouble in that region with the negroes. “None, whatever,” he said; and he was entirely right, for I observed next morning when I got up, about six o'clock, that the negroes had possession of Bryantown. They chattered and sauced each other, and exercised the immemorial rights of freedom as if they were a set of magpies up in the trees. Most of them were at work at something or other, but such work would break a Northern heart. One girl would come out to the front gate of the house and conduct a sort of horn-pipe courtship with a black boy in the street, who had been swearing for about fifteen minutes with such fiendish intensity that I thought he was going to disembowel the two other boys he was talking with, but discovered on close observation that he was merely practicing profanity, like something new that he had but recently picked up. In fact, the negroes in that region are left alone, and consequently they do nearly all the work, yet do it in pure negro fashion. They were the best-looking people I saw in Charles County. The malaria does not seem to affect them like the whites, and the corn and bacon agree with them. Some of the young men had a soldierly look, but the black women were not all fired up to the occasion.
Mr. Mudd, having expressed the view that the blacks gave nobody any concern, was then asked whether the country was not improving. “No sir,” said he, “it is going back.” He reiterated this without any expression of opinion or giving any reason, and, looking at his face again with some sympathy, I thought I discovered the penalties of a lost cause, of an independence almost entirely in slaves and now gone beyond recovery, and of an old and spent region thrown upon its own resources, when those resources were long ago exhausted, and only kept up the appearance of solvency upon the negro property.
After supper, which was the only meal we got in a ride of thirty miles - there being absolutely no hotels in all that region except in two or three new towns which have been made up by the railroads - I went over to the house of Dr. George D. Mudd. He is the most intelligent person in all this region, and was a Union man from the beginning of the war, and a Republican at the close of the war, and I think is so still. He is a man of both strength and sensibility, whose life I should guess was thrown away in such an unadvancing society as this. His age I can hardly guess at. I thought he wore a wig, and if he did not, he is probably fifty-five years old. If his hair is false, he may be sixty years old. He is a straight man, of rather the raw-boned type, yet well fed, and his cheekbones are somewhat high, his glance direct and candid, his skin smooth and sunburnt, red, with a mere tuft of beard.
You have little difficulty in advancing directly upon the matter in hand with him, though I was somewhat disappointed in the extent of his information. He is a man who does not indulge in theories, yet can form an opinion slowly, and express it very moderately. I had seen him for a few minutes about two years ago, and had been invited to call on him. His house is on that road or street which leads from Bryantown to the Catholic church, and is in Bryantown proper. It is a frame house, two stories high, with an office built at one end, and behind the office the kitchen addition, both of one story. He was eating his supper, but put us in the parlor and told us to continue smoking. A plain parlor, with an ingrain carpet and a picture on the wall of some saint, painted in oil, were all that struck me. On his return the doctor adjusted his long body and limbs in a chair opposite us, looking right into our eyes, and let us begin. I told him that I had some literary intentions as to Booth's conspiracy, and wanted to ask him a few questions. I then asked him about the interior arrangement of the Late Dr. Mudd's house. This answered, I asked him if he and Doctor Mudd had been friends.
“We were friendly,” he said, “until two or three years before his death, when politics separated us. However, we met not long before his death at the house of a mutual friend, and again shook hands. The people in this community could not forgive me for a long time. I had been a Union man during the war, and seeing the situation for our people with decided convictions, I wanted to put them in accord with advancing times. A good many bitter things were said. I was a popular man here almost from my youth up, and in request at parties and gatherings for my anecdotes and sayings. It was rather hard for me to go through the experience I did.”
“Is it all over now, Doctor?” I asked.
“Yes sir. I have no further privation on account of politics.”
“What is your relationship to the late Samuel Mudd?”
“His father was my cousin, his mother was also my cousin, and he was my student, and studied medicine in my office. He attended lectures in Baltimore, and practiced in the infirmary awhile. Poor fellow, he is dead. The cause of all his troubles was an invincible, deep-set prejudice on the questions of politics and slavery. While he had nothing of the assassin in his nature - and I do not believe he would have gone into any scheme to kill Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Seward - yet there is no doubt of his having been connected with a previous intention of Booth to kidnap or abduct the president, and perhaps some other persons from the city of Washington, and bring them through this country. The nature of my cousin's mind was intense, rather narrow, and he had thought and talked himself into an obstinate condition, so that he became the prey for a strong, designing man like Booth. But his connection with that assassin never extended, I am very sure, beyond an agreement to help in the kidnapping scheme.”
“Do you recollect, Dr. Mudd, when Booth first came to this region?”
“I have a general recollection. A man like that does not come in a plain society like ours, where an actor is never seen, without it being talked about. I knew very well that Booth was connected with my cousin, Sam Mudd, a good while before the president's murder, but my cousin Sam lived five miles from here, his house retired from the road, and I never dreamed that Booth was more than a casual acquaintance of his. When the facts were brought to my conviction that Booth had ridden to Sam's house straight from the theater where he killed the president, I was thunderstruck.”
“I believe, Dr. Mudd, that you first brought to the notice of the military authorities the fact of Booth and Harold stopping at your cousin's?”
“Yes, I did. It happened in this way: The president being murdered on Friday night, the first information we had on the subject was a cavalry company coming into our town on Saturday afternoon. and instituting inquiries hereabouts. They did not bring intelligence that Booth was the murderer. The impression existed in our society that the president's murderer was a man by the name of Johnny Boyle, a horse-thief and desperado, who had figured in the early part of the war as a spy, blockade runner, &c., through these lower counties. He assassinated at his residence the commander of the Federal forces in these counties, Colonel Watkins. He went to Watkin's house, in Anne Arundel County, one evening when Watkins had sent for a doctor, and he opened it, and Boyle presented a pistol at his heart and shot him dead. That event was the principal thing talked about in our counties during the war, and an idea got abroad that Boyle had gone into Washington and murdered somebody, and that therefore the troops were in our vicinity hunting him. On that Saturday afternoon my cousin, Sam Mudd, rode into town from his house, went to the store and stayed about half an hour or so, and then rode back again. I little knew that he was accompanied to within sight of the town on that visit by Harold, Booth's companion, yet I afterward found it to be true.”
“What was the first communication made to you on that subject?”
“Why, on Sunday morning I went up to Reeves’ church, a mile or so from Dr. Sam Mudd's house. It was nearer Washington there, and I thought there might be more information about the murderer. After the service was over I was riding home, when my old pupil, Sam Mudd, rode sharply after me and overtook me. During the war I had been uniformly a Union man, while he had been a Southern sympathizer. It may have been for that reason he came to me, like one on the weaker side in need of a friend. He then said to the effect that this was a most annoying tragedy, because said he, it will bring suspicion on many innocent persons. He said that the country was full of go-betweens and strange, suspicious characters. Then he said that two such persons had come to his house in the gray of the morning the day before. He continued in that rather agitated way to speak of innocent parties being suspected. I asked him about those two men. He told me one of them had a broken bone in his leg, and that he had dressed it. He said the man then asked for a razor, and shaved himself so as to disguise himself, or that after shaving he was disguised. Now, you must remember I knew all this time that Booth and Sam Mudd were acquaintances. But he never said to me that Booth had been at his house. He said the men were strangers and suspicious characters. He said he did not know who they were. After he left me, going toward his own house, I rode along the road, being profoundly moved at poor Lincoln's death, and I said to myself, What is the matter with Sam Mudd? He is more agitated on this matter than on any thing I have seen. What did he mean, I continued, by a man shaving himself, and therefore disguising his face? I thought about that some time, and then said: ‘If these men were strangers to Sam Mudd, why did the man disguise himself? Sam must have seen him before, and the man looked disguised after shaving.’ In short, I could make nothing out of it except that there were two men who had come to his house that ought to be looked after. The next morning, I think it was, I told the military officer in this village that there had been two men at Dr. Samuel Mudd's house at a very early hour after the president's assassination. They wanted me to go there with them. They had two or three interviews with Sam Mudd, and he mixed himself up to that extent that he was finally arrested, and, as you know, Booth's boot with Booth's name on it was brought down, that he had kept all the time.”
“Now, Dr. Mudd, what is your explanation of your cousin's behavior at that time?”
“I think there is no question that Sam Mudd immediately knew Booth, and that Booth told him that he had murdered the president. If he had possessed the moral courage to have said at once: ‘I will have nothing to do with assassination; I will give this man up to his government,’ he would have stood very differently toward himself, his family and his fame. But you see those rebel views he had held, that obstinacy of character, his prejudices, his false sense of honor, made him secrete his information till he had actually made himself an accessory after the fact.”
“You do not think, then, that he had any knowledge of Booth going to kill the president?”
“No, that design was entertained by Booth but a very little while before he did the deed. That Sam Mudd was privy to his scheme to kidnap the president I am confident; but when this man rode to his house he must have told Sam Mudd how he broke his leg and all the particulars. Their acquaintance had been considerable, far more than I had any suspicion of. Indeed, sir,” Dr. Mudd remarked, “if all the evidence had got before that Commission, Sam Mudd would have been hanged on the same gallows with the others - not for being privy to any assassination scheme, but he was in the abduction scheme.”
“Now,” said I, “Dr. Mudd, what about the setting of Booth's leg?”
The doctor then demonstrated on my own leg, much better than I can memorize, the extent of Booth's wound. He said:
“There was no wound in Booth's leg sufficient to have diverted him far enough out of his course to go to Sam Mudd's house except from his knowledge that he had a friend there. The ride that Booth wanted to take to the Potomac River does not go by Sam Mudd's, and he had to make a detour of several miles, both to go to Sam Mudd's house, and to get away from it and go to the Potomac River. But those men had been in conference on the abduction scheme since the previous fall or winter. Booth could have gone through to the Potomac with such a wound as he had without experiencing any great inconvenience. There are two bones in your leg, the tibia and the fibula; it is very seldom that the fibula is broken alone. The larger bone receives the shock or fracture, and while it often breaks the other bone with it, the smaller bone is generally broken by a very peculiar kind of twist. The strange kind of leap that Booth made from that box probably threw his weight toward his heel somehow, so that the rear bone broke. Now, that wound required no setting. You do not put the leg in splints for a fracture of the fibula. That bone is held in its place by very powerful muscles, and it would soon set of itself, with rest; but you see that man had been riding hard for three or four hours after his crime, and, of course, he felt uncomfortable, the ends of the bone perhaps prodding the tendons and muscles. All that Sam Mudd did with the leg, I suppose, was to wrap it around with something, and tell the man to rest it, and then he had him a crutch made by some one on the premises. Booth went to my cousin's house, turning out of his road, because of his acquaintance with him, and that we all knew through this district of country. Any body could have told you that Sam Mudd and Booth had been very thick.”
“Then you attribute his misfortune to a want of good moral sense?”
“Yes, it was a want of the moral courage to resent being the confidant of an assassin; the want of the moral courage to defend his own fame and his family. He let that man impose such a bloody secret upon him, and make use of him, and he suffered the consequences - poor fellow!”
“What have you to say on Sam Mudd coming into Bryantown that Saturday afternoon?”
“Why, you see, he did not even give me his full confidence. The trouble with Sam's conduct at that juncture was that he put his life in danger by his constant evasions. We got to work here to save his life. We saw that he was in great danger from having harbored Booth and then concealed the fact. After he was arrested there was a unified effort on the part of his family to protect him, and General Thomas Ewing was employed as his counsel. Thirteen hundred dollars were raised for Mr. Ewing, but he had no idea when he commenced that defense that it was going to give him the amount of work it did. He made a first-rate defense of a most difficult case. Now, I will show you how difficult it was to defend Sam Mudd. The servants around the house saw these two men, Booth and Harold, there, and two of them testified that the unwounded man, during the afternoon, mounted his horse, and with Dr. Mudd rode towards Bryantown; that, when coming to the bridge within sight of Bryantown, they observed the soldiery, and that the stranger then rode into the swamp or brush, while Dr. Mudd came on, went to the store, asked some questions and returned. When he met Harold again, and they had consulted, the two men separated; Sam Mudd rode back to his house by a circuitous route, while Harold took the road and went to Booth as fast as possible to convey the news that the soldiers were after them. Now, these poor negroes who gave that testimony told the truth; but it became necessary for us to raise witnesses down here who would take the edge off these facts. We sent up to Washington two men Hardy and Farrall. Mr. Ewing gave them a private examination before they came on the platform, and he came out to us and said: ‘Send these men home. I don't want them in town here.’ He said what they knew was still more fatal to Sam Mudd than anything that had come out. Instead of telling the men to go right home and keep out of the way, the person entrusted with it merely said Mr. Ewing didn't want them. So when somebody asked Hardy and Farrall what they came there for, they replied: ‘We don't know. All we know is that Dr. Sam Mudd told us on Saturday afternoon that Booth had killed the President of the United States.’ That leaked out, and before those men could get far on the road the government had messengers out for them and brought them back and put them on the stand, and they testified that Sam Mudd had told them on Saturday that Booth had killed the president. Now, you must remember that nobody in our region knew on Saturday that Booth was the murderer. He therefore learned that fact from Booth himself, and through his doubts and fears let it out in gossip, and those men remembered it. Now, although more labor was spent on my cousin's case than on that of any of the prisoners, more witnesses summoned in his behalf, because he was the most intelligent person to be tried, yet it was very fortunate for him that the evidence was somewhat muddled, because if that Court had seen as clearly as I did how badly Sam had been engaged, they would not have spared his life. That is why I thought it was unkind of him, only two years before he died, to engage in a newspaper battle with me on political matters. I would have put him in the honorable course of making a clean breast from the beginning, and although he did not do so, I assisted in saving his life. The unqualified Union character I had during the whole conflict gave me a status as a witness before that Commission, and as a cousin of that man, and they imprisoned him instead of hanging him.”
“Dr. Mudd, was your cousin a large land-holder?”
“I don't think he paid taxes on much, if any, property. His father had both land and slaves, and let him be a free tenant of his. In the early part of the war our society was thrown into a convulsion on the question of slavery, and Sam Mudd and several of his family took the Southern side strongly, and some of them went into the Confederate service. That made him ripe for Booth's wild scheme. Booth visited our country unquestionably to get ready for abducting Mr. Lincoln, and the different men he picked up were all adjuncts to that plan. The parties in the operation expected not only to do a service to the Southern cause, but to be rewarded.”
“Why was it that your cousin, after he came back from the Dry Tortugas, never left on record any statement about his connection with Booth? As an intelligent and educated man, he should have done so.”
“The reason Sam Mudd never spoke on that question,” said Dr. Mudd, “was that he had prevaricated to his own neighbors, friends, and kin to such an extent that he was ashamed of himself. The people around here who had intelligently followed the matter knew that he was acquainted with Booth; that he had come to Bryantown with Harold, and that he gave Booth's name as the murderer the day following the crime, and yet all three things he had denied. Of course when he came back to this vicinity he saw that his best policy was silence, and he hardly ever talked on the question at all. I think the extent of his conversation was to describe professional and other occurrences while in his captivity. He made one effort to escape, if you remember, and, being missed, the vessel on which he had secreted himself was examined and he was brought back. But I understand he was treated with consideration and acquitted himself very well.”
“Were you acquainted with John Surratt?”
“Yes, I knew him very well. He made my house, where you are, his stopping-place whenever he visited his sister, who was at the neighboring seminary. The seminary is now burned down. John has stopped with me many times. In those days, before the war, he was as modest and nice a young fellow as one could meet, but after the war began his tavern was made the stopping-place of spies and go-betweens, and he finally mustered up courage to cross the Potomac River. After that he was a changed man. He had become self-important. He wanted to distinguish himself, to have money, to be talked about. Therefore Booth made an easy prey of him; and he ran away from the danger, and let his mother be the sacrifice.”
“What kind of woman was Mrs. Surratt?”
“Mrs. Surratt was a respectable, plain wife and widow, whose course of life would have been happy enough but for her intemperate thought and speech on questions of politics and the war. She worked herself up into a passion, hardened her nature, and so she too was ripe for Booth to come along and make prey of her, as he did of the others.”
“Did you know Harold?”
“Yes, a little. Dave Harold was a kind of little dandy, who used to come down here from the city with a gun. He had some female relatives not far from here, who were known by some of our folks, and I used to see Dave there. He was a very poor sprig of a boy. Booth picked out all his instruments from rather low material, so they could look up to him. Of course, he could not get men of the first class into any such foolish scheme as his.”
The conversation took a variety of turns, but the above are the principal points that were covered. Dr. Mudd always spoke of his cousin as “Poor Sam!” but evidently entertained the idea that what he had done wrong - had begun wrong, and had finally got so wrong that his life was saved almost by accident.