"Formerly Enslaved Voices in the Lincoln Assassination Trial"

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
I'd like to put in a word for the current entry in the LincolnConspiritors.com blog, concerning the testimony of former slaves in the trial of the eight individuals accused as Lincoln assassination conspiritors.

"In total, out of the 347 people who testified at the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, 29 of them were witnesses of color with several of them having been formerly enslaved by two of the conspirators, Dr. Mudd and Mary Surratt. By looking at the legal precedent of Black men and women testifying against white defendants and by analyzing the testimonies brought out by the formerly enslaved at the Lincoln assassination trial we can see the ways in which the prosecution and the defense sought to use Black voices to further their cases. In addition, we will evaluate some of the testimonies in detail to understand the risks these Black witnesses took in allowing their voices to be heard at the trial of the century."​

The blog post begins with an enlightening survey of the question of allowing black (enslaved or free) witnesses to testify against white defendants particularly as pertains to District of Columbia courts. It then discusses the testimony of several formerly enslaved witnesses, and how their testimony was received. It also includes links to transcripts of the testimony of all 29 African-American witnesses.

It represents a unique and valuable piece of scholarship.

Note: if this post would better fit any other forum, any moderator is welcomed to move it.
I had not realized until reading the Lincoln Conspiritors blog that an addendum to the April 16, 1862 District of Columbia Emancipation Act had been passed stating "that in all judicial proceedings in the District of Columbia there shall be no exclusion of any witness on account of color." The July 12, 1862 addendum also allowed a former slave to apply in person for the compensation if his former owner had not done so.

Supplemental Act of July 12, 1862