“What interested you about Mary Surratt?”

I find it very interesting that history does not know with any certainty whether Mary Surratt was guilty or not. She ran a boarding house where the conspirators all met. The association is pretty clear—but how much she knew about the plot to assassinate the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State, remains a mystery. There are passionate arguments for both sides of that debate. Ultimately for me, her story is about her love for her son—her stubbornness, her feistiness, her sacrifice of herself, really has to do with protecting her son. She’s a strong, deeply committed woman and an interesting, complex character.

Robert Redford

About Robert Redford

Director Robert Redford offers his insight into the talent, themes, and making of The Conspirator, due in theaters April 15.
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20 Responses to “What interested you about Mary Surratt?”

  1. Albert Levine says:

    Mr. Redford –

    So excited to see your new movie. To what extent was it necessary for you to adjust the historical record for this to work as a theatrical movie?

  2. Jaesinn says:

    Just saw the trailer for the first time! Looks like an awesome film, I love historic films like this and its about time someone did this story! I am so excited for this movie and counting down the days till its opening in theaters! Thank You so much, and will definitely spread the word about this film. This is an awesome treat for history buffs like myself!
    Great job Mr. Redford , can’t wait!!!

  3. Richard L Thurston says:

    Saw a sneak preview last night[Thanks for the invite to the Colorado SCV].I find myself thinking today that the “war is hell” cliche’ didn’t hold water then,and doesn’t hold water now.I believe our founding father’s would have been ashamed of the Lincoln/Johnson administration’s boorish behaviour.

  4. Marc Turner says:

    In 40 years of Lincoln research, the best source I have read on Mary Surratt’s guilt is Lincoln’s Assassins by Roy Chamlee (1990). He makes a rather strong argument for her guilt based on her own actions and then statements she made when she was interviewed before her trial. I look forward to this movie, perhaps with some trepidation…how can it be considered The True Story when there is still so much doubt over Surratt’s guilt or innocence? There have been some rather awful Lincoln Assassination shows–a TV special from the early 70s *They’ve Killed the President* and a more awful TV movie from the late 70s *The Lincoln Conspiracy* come to mind. Judging from the previews, it thankfully doesn’t look like this movie is going in those directions. I’m sure Stanton and The War Department will get beaten up thoroughly in this, but I still have to agree with Chamlee: “The facts show that far from obstructing justice, the Secretary of War did more than anyone else to promote a thorough and complete investigation.”

  5. Michael Lafreniere says:

    Reading about this movie led me to read more about this history of this event, which led somewhat inevitably to a photograph of the execution of the conspirators. What I found fascinating was seeing – amongst the many people and soldiers assembled at the hanging – a small boy viewing the scene. What was he doing there? What were his memories of the day? His story intrigues me. The photo is at
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/Execution_Lincoln_assassins.jpg … see if you can spot him in the crowd.

    • David Fitzgerald says:

      Michael, Like many pictures of that time in our nations history, it was certainly not uncommon to see boys among older men. My guess would be that he was a soldiers’ son who was invited by his father to view the hanging so that one day he could tell his children and his grandchildren that he was there to witness that day in history. I’ve been fascinated with Lincoln’s assassination since I was young. My first book I purchased on it was about 43 years ago.

    • Laurie Verge says:

      The young boy was actually the brother of a soldier at the Arsenal. Contact me at Surratt House Museum, laurie.verge@pgparks.com, and I will send you the full story.

      • Gabriel says:

        The film attempts to reimxaene the circumstances, the what ifs and the history of a very bleak time in America. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent trial of the accused has been a historical conspiracy theory like that of the murder of John Kennedy. I doubt it will ever go away.

    • megan says:

      I liken it to when Abigail Adams nearly a century earlier stood outside with her son John Quincy and witnessed the Battle of Breed’s Hill. There are some moments you know as seminal moments of history and ought to be witnessed.

  6. deborah warren says:

    being a marylander i have been to all the historical locations and find it all so fascinating and thought i had read everything and visited all the spots but your film opens up a new view of the assaisination that history had just skimmed over and being she was the only woman hung at the time a fascinating story i look forward to seeing.thank you

  7. Shawn Garren says:

    I was really excited to see that a movie has been made about Mary Surratt. I grew up in Clinton, Maryland (Surrattsville) and was at the re-opening of the Mary Surratts Tavern/Post Office in Clinton in the late ’70s. Ever since I’ve been facinated in Civil War History. Looking forward to seeing the entire movie next month. Thank you for making a movie about this fascinating woman.

    • Marjore Millan (Ruley) says:

      Hi Shawn,
      I graduated in 1964 from Surrattsville High School. Also, I lived on Surratts Road. Was wondering what year did you graduate?
      Thanks,
      Marjorie Millan (Ruley)

  8. Laurie Verge says:

    As director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton (then Surrattsville), Maryland, I can indeed say that our staff and volunteers are delighted to see the story of Mary Surratt shown on the big screen. Like many other women throughout history, her role – controversial – as it is has been largely forgotten.
    For nearly 36 years, our museum has been re-awakening visitors to the Civil War era, the turmoil, and the relevance of the Lincoln assassination and the Surratts’ role in it. I have seen the film and am very impressed. They have followed our lead in leaving the question of the guilt or innocence of Mary Surratt open-ended. Historians have been trying to figure out the answer for nearly 150 years!
    At Surratt House, our mission is to tell the facts as clearly as possible and to intrigue the visitor to do some research and draw conclusions on their own. I think those who see The Conspirator will get that same nudge from the director, the production staff, and the actors.
    BTW: Save your ticket stubs and bring them to Surratt House during 2011 to receive a free tour of the historic house and the adjacent visitors’ center. We also have an excellent research center which was utilized by researchers from The American Film Company for nearly two years.

  9. Terri Beck says:

    This movie is much anticipated and timely. Having just finished reading Louis Weichmann’s book about his personal experiences being in Mrs. Surratt’s household, and the events that happened there, it seems evident to me that Mary Surratt was an active participant in the events leading to President Lincoln’s assassination. In my mind there are three questions. First, did Mrs. Surratt realize it was a murder instead of kidnapping? I think she did. Secondly, even if she did not, the author Edward Steers points out, “…that under the legal rules involving conspiracy and joint venture, a person involved in a plot to kidnap is still liable to be charged with murder, if the plan changes to murder and he has not alerted the authorities”. Lastly, I question more the military tribunal. The reason is this, the war was over on April 10th, 4 days before this offense. Habeas Corpus was suspended only durning the war. All the defendants were civilians, and to me, not military combatants. It’s like when the secret service took off with JFK’s body from Parkland hospital, the murder happened in the state of Texas, and therefore was a civil crime, the evidence being JFK’s body. Even then, there were no laws covering the murder of a President. The government steps in and contrives the situation to fit their agenda. Did this happen in the Lincoln murder? Is it still happening?

  10. Laurie Verge says:

    Actually, only Lee’s forces were surrendered at the time of the assassination. Gen. Joseph Johnston had a larger Confederate force still in the fight, and we know now that Jefferson Davis had hoped to carry the fight on via guerrilla warfare. The last fighting of the Civil War occurred over a month later, and I believe that I am correct that the last Confederate forces did not surrender until September of 1865.
    Therefore, the rules of law were still in effect, the crime was committed in a city that had been under siege during the war, and the target was the Commander-in-Chief of Union forces, who had taken an active role in the planning and execution of military tactics. Civilians throughout the war had served as “enemy belligerents,” which put them in the position of participating in black flag warfare. In addition, it was Lincoln himself who decided to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and approve military trials of civilians early in the war. I believe that Lincoln would have sanctioned a military tribunal for the conspirators also.

  11. Gregory Wright says:

    I just finished reading Kate Clifford Larson’s “The Assassin’s Accomplice.” It offered fascinating insight into Mary Surratt’s background and character. After reading the chapters on the military tribunal, I wonder if Mrs. Surratt’s life ultimately might have been spared if her attorneys would have had more time to review evidence, corroborate/thoroughly interview witnesses, etc. Once the indictments were handed down, there virtually no time for the defense to prepare. Or, as the author noted, the controversy over Mrs. Surratt’s clemency plea endorsed by five members of the tribunal commission.

    I was also intrigued by Louis Weichmann — he walked a very fine line between being an innocent and credible witness for the prosecution or himself facing indictment as a co-conspirator.

  12. Laurie Verge says:

    For those of you who are intrigued by the story of Mary Surratt and the Lincoln assassination, I would encourage you to visit the Surratt House Museum’s website to read more history and also learn what we are doing to keep history alive.

    http://www.surratt.org

    I might add that we had the pleasure of working with the researchers involved in this film, and they were very intense about getting things right. Of course, all of the facts will never be known as to her guilt or innocence – and covering the entire story of the Lincoln kidnap plot that turned into murder would require many hours of good film, for it is truly an American epic.

  13. Gregory Wright says:

    I look forward to seeing “The Conspirator”, and hope one day to get off the Beltway and make the brief drive to the Surratt House & Museum. Mrs. Surratt’s story is one of the most interesting aspects in a conspiracy full of intriguing characters.

  14. Jillian D'Alessio says:

    Mr. Redford,
    I am actually a relative of Mary Suratt. Honestly, I dont know if i should be proud or ashamed. For the past couple years my family and i have known about this movie and are so excited to see it. My mother past away last year, and loved history in our family, especially in the case of Mary Surratt. We are all so excited to see this movie, how you and the writers interpreted this historical event. Thank you.

  15. Kris says:

    I am very interested in seeing this movie as my family is related to Mary Surratt. We have traced her back as an aunt on my mother’s side of the family. There are several seemingly odd connections with Mary Surratt, this conspiracy and my family. Some of those connections include the fact that John Lloyd shared information about Mary which helped convict her. My dad’s last name was Lloyd! We have not yet confirmed whether John is related somehow to my father’s family but would like to investigate a possible connection.
    Mary Surratt’s mother was known as Bessie. My grandmother’s name on my father’s side was named Bessie! Finally, the film is planned to open April 15 which is my mother’s birthday! Just a lot of odd coincidences I think! Looking forward to seeing the film. Thank you Mr. Redford for making it.

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