Mrs. “Frank” Mudd - A Love that Bloomed; A Night that Doomed (Part 1)


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
(Part 1)


Their love story began when they were children. Samuel Mudd born on December 20, 1833 and Sarah Frances “Frank” Dyer born on March 15, 1835 lived within miles of each other in Charles County Maryland. The Mudd family were believers in education and at fourteen, Samuel Mudd enrolled in a boarding school in Frederick City Maryland. Within two years he continued his education to Georgetown College in Washington City. At the beginning of his second year he was expelled “for helping lead a student rebellion against school discipline”. {1} Returning to Maryland in disgrace he began employment with his cousin Dr. George Mudd where he served as a medical assistant. It was the beginning of a career that changed his life.

When Mudd was twenty-one years old he enrolled in the Medical College at the University of Maryland graduating in 1856. He returned home and married his childhood sweetheart on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1857, fulfilling a request made years earlier by Frank as she described their promise of marriage:

"There was nothing romantic in our little love affair. I was only seventeen and Sam eighteen years of age, so it was impossible to think of getting married just then. When Sam asked me, 'Frank, are you going to marry me?' I answered, 'Yes, when you have graduated in medicine, established a practice for yourself, and I have had my fun out, then I'll marry you. You need not get jealous; I vow I will never marry any one else’.” {2}


The young newlyweds received a wedding gift from Sam’s father Henry Lowe Mudd. It was a two hundred and eighteen acre plantation named “St. Catharine”. It was part of the Oak Hill plantation owned by the Mudd family. At the time of Sam and Frank’s wedding it was in dire shape and it took the couple approximately two years to restore before the family moved in. At this time they were a family of three including a young son.

Although Sam Mudd had the capability to make a career as a doctor he enjoyed the life of a farmer and was content to concentrate on that occupation almost as much as his medical practice. He was a healthy man enjoying the work a farm gave him. Between the years of 1859 and 1864 he kept eight slaves on his plantation where tobacco was the major money maker. Dr. Mudd was a sympathizer of the Confederate Cause and although he lived in Maryland he believed in slavery to labor for his farm. During the years of the Civil War some of his slaves ran away. One of his slaves Dick Washington made his way into the 19th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops in nearby Camp Stanton in Benedict Maryland. In October 1864 when the state of Maryland amended their state constitution abolishing slavery his remaining slaves fled except for two teenaged sisters too young to be on their own. They stayed with his family and worked as paid household servants.

With the loss of his laborers, Mudd experienced financial challenges, yet when he was drafted by the Union Army in July of 1864 he paid $300 for a substitute. His family had grown to six with the addition of three more children. There were times he considered selling his farm perhaps hoping for the success his brother-in-law Jeremiah Dyer had when he sold his farm and started a freight company in Baltimore Maryland. His life would have taken a different turn had he left his farm but as fate would have it he was living there on the morning of April 15, 1865 when John Wilkes Booth and David Herold came knocking on the front door. ​


Dr. Samuel Mudd’s House
Wikipedia CC {*}

After the assassination of President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth had sustained a severe injury when he jumped from the balcony to the stage. It was at Mudd’s house he and fellow fugitive David Herold visited to take care of Booth’s broken leg. Was this the first time Mrs. Mudd met the actor? According to her own words as recorded in her July 6, 1865 Affidavit - the answer is “No”.

“That I saw John Wilkes Booth when he was in Charles County last fall. He came Sunday evening after supper, staid all night, and next day my husband went with him to Gardiner’s where Booth bought the horse - Booth did not return from Gardiner’s with my husband - and was never at my husband’s house, or so far as I know in the neighborhood before or after until the 15th of April - nor did I ever hear of my husband having met him elsewhere, or being in any way directly or indirectly in communication with him.” {2}

Dr. Mudd was caught in several lies during questioning by authorities (i.e. when military authorities reached his home on April 18, Mudd reported when Booth and his companion left his home - they headed south when they actually went east). When the authorities returned three days later to search the Mudd home, it was Frank that presented John Wilkes Booth’s boot (which had been left behind when her husband had fixed his broken leg). {4}

Dr. Samuel Mudd was arrested on April 26, 1865 and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Dr. Mudd wrote his wife of his experiences beginning with the first three days after his arrest while he was being held in Carroll Prison:

"My dearest Frank:

I am very well. Hope you and the children are enjoying a like blessing. Try and get some one to plant our crop. It is very uncertain what time I shall be released from here. Hire hands at the prices they demand. Urge them on all you can and make them work.

I am truly in hopes my stay here will be short, when I can return again to your fond embrace and our little children.” {2}

Dr. Mudd, a civilian, was tried for his crimes using a military commission. There was a great deal of discussion between the two military secretaries in the cabinet; Edwin Stanton and Gideon Wells. According to the Secretary of the Navy (favoring a civilian trial) he claimed Stanton said: "it was intention that the criminals should be tried and executed before President Lincoln was buried.” (4}

Dr. Mudd’s attorney was the brother-in-law of General William Sherman; Union General Thomas Ewing Jr. (1829-1896). Dr. Samuel Mudd and his family had ties to the famous and influential Ewing family. In addition to General Ewing serving as his counsel, General Sherman’s wife Eleanor “Ellen” Ewing had been a classmate of Mary Mudd a cousin of Dr. Samuel Mudd. Letters indicate a deep friendship not only between Mary Mudd but also a 2nd cousin of the doctor, Ellen Mudd. The ladies were also connected through their deep Roman Catholic faith. With these strong bonds it’s not surprising that the Ewings especially those mentioned continued to console the family during the trial and in the aftermath.

On May 10, 1865 under the direction of Union General Lew Wallace the commission began its work. General Ewing reiterated against:

“a trial by a military commission because his client was a civilian resident of a free state, over whom a military tribunal could not exercise jurisdiction without violating the Constitution”. {4}

Another point Ewing argued:

“Mudd’s only prior encounter with Booth had been the one in November and that all the later alleged meetings were fabrications of prosecution witnesses”. [He went on to state]: “it was no crime to fix a broken leg, even if it were the leg of a presidential assassin and even if the doctor knew it was the leg of a presidential assassin”. {4}
* * *

On June 29, 1865 Mudd was found guilty. He escaped the death penalty by one vote and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Dr. Mudd was sent to Fort Jefferson located on the island known as Dry Totugas located about seventy miles west of Key West Florida. He journeyed with fellow conspirators Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin, and Edmund or Edward Spangler.

Frank Mudd claims that she only saw her husband once after he was arrested and that was after his trial on July 6, 1865 (the day before the executions of the Lincoln Conspirators). She saw the workmen building the gallows as she waited for her husband. She observed that her husband was “in his shirt sleeves and wore a pair of carpet slippers without socks”. {2}

* * *

For Sarah “Frank” Mudd a new phase of her life began. She never stopped fighting to gain her husband’s freedom from his life sentence. The thirty-five year old mother of four young children dedicated her time to seeking a pardon for her husband and will rely on close and influential friends.

The wife of Orville H. Browning (President Lincoln’s Secretary of Interior) Eliza (1807-1885) and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, told Frank Mudd that she had a conversation with General Wallace (who served on the Military Commission that was presiding over the trial of the Lincoln Conspirators) at a breakfast during the trial and Wallace told her:​

“If Booth had not broken his leg, we would never have heard the name of Dr. Mudd."

when pressed further by Mrs. Browning why not send him home to his wife and family, he replied:

"The deed is done; somebody must suffer for it, and he may as well suffer as anybody else."

This conversation was denied by General Wallace when he wrote in 1905:

"Mrs. Wallace says she has no remembrance of hearing General Wallace say anything about Dr. Mudd
that was like the sentence you quote.”

Her friendship with Dr. Mudd’s attorney was vital to her cause as demonstrated in this letter she received on July 31, 1865:

“I regret very greatly on your account, as well as his, that my hopes of his speedy release are frustrated, or likely to be, by the removal of your husband beyond the jurisdiction of an established State Court, and that the President will not give to your evidence the weight it deserves. You should seek comfort, however, in the reflection that the vindictive and energetic effort to take his life failed, and that he will be returned to you before many months in spite of all that can be done by the Administration to keep him imprisoned.

With very best wishes for you and your family I am,
Very truly your friend,

Thomas Ewing, Jr. {2}


Illustration of Lincoln Assassination Trial with Dr. Mudd

* * *

Frank’s Battle Continues in Part 2 with thanks to friends and mosquitos.

1. Dr. Samuel A. Mudd at Fort Jefferson 1865-1869. by Robert K. Summer
2, The Life of Samuel A. Mudd, by Nettie Mudd
All Photos Public Domain unless otherwise noted


1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Nov 27, 2018
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Did he know he had shot Lincoln? Can anyone honestly expect a doctor not to do what he is supposed to do?
As far as I can remember, the court was able to prove that Dr. Mudd knew of Booth previously, in fact had shared some times with him. I think the problem arose when Mudd denied having known him, nor recognize him that night. The implication alone would have been a death penalty.


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
he claim not to have recognized Booth the night that he treated him?
He did. During the military tribunal there were several that testified Dr. Mudd was "well acquainted" with Booth. On November 13, 1864 several testified seeing Dr. Mudd and John Wilkes Booth in Maryland where Mudd was helping Booth buy a horse. Louis Weichmann, a friend of John Surratt and at one time thought to have been part of the conspiracy, testified that on December 23 as he was walking with John Surratt the two came upon Mudd and Booth where the three withdrew into a private conversation. They told Weichmann they were discussing some real estate that Booth was interested in acquiring. An attorney Marcus Norton testified that one night in March a man (he now said was Mudd) had entered his room at the National Hotel believing that he was in a room looking for Booth. He was one floor directly above - Mudd was on the wrong floor. William Evans, a minister, testified he saw Mudd visit the home of Mary Surratt in early March of 1865.​

Can anyone honestly expect a doctor not to do what he is supposed to do?
Exactly what Thomas Ewing argued during his trial (from above)

“Mudd’s only prior encounter with Booth had been the one in November and that all the later alleged meetings were fabrications of prosecution witnesses”. [He went on to state]: “it was no crime to fix a broken leg, even if it were the leg of a presidential assassin and even if the doctor knew it was the leg of a presidential assassin”.

I didn’t spend much time documenting the actual trial as I wanted to focus on Frank Mudd and in part 2 we see how important she was to Dr. Mudd. ​
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connecticut yankee

First Sergeant
Jun 2, 2017
IMHO the government's case against Dr. Mudd was solid. But he did earn a get-out-of-jail free card for his life saving services while in prison in the Dry Tortugas. He helped stem the spread of a yellow fever disease at Fort Jefferson. Family members to this day are still trying to overturn his conviction. He probably should have felt the rope along with John Surratt who escaped any punishment at all.

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