John Surratt was born on April 13, 1844 in the Washington, D. C. district of Congress Heights. Surratt was the youngest child of John and Mary Surratt.
Surratt, who intended to become a priest, enrolled at St. Charles College in Maryland, where he met Louis Weichmann who would become first a good friend, and later his chief nemesis.
Soon after John's father died in August, 1862, Surratt became postmaster of the small Maryland town of Surrattsville, first settled by his family. By 1863, Surratt was working as a Confederate secret agent, carrying messages to Confederate boats on the Potomac River and sending messages about Union troop movements in the Washington area south to Richmond.
Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced John Surratt to John Wilkes Booth on December 23, 1864 in Washington. Surratt joined the Confederate conspiracy to abduct President Lincoln and participated in the March 15 meeting with other conspirators at Gautier's Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, where plans were laid for a March 17 kidnapping.
On the night of April 14, 1865, Surratt--by his own account--was in Elmira, New York on a spying mission for General Edwin Lee. He fled to Canada upon learning of the President's assassination. He remained in Canada until after his mother's execution on July 7, 1865.
In September, 1865, Surratt crossed the Atlantic, settling first in England, then later in Rome, where he joined the Papal Zouaves. While visiting Alexandria, Egypt in late 1866, Surratt was identified as the wanted Lincoln assassination conspirator and arrested.
Surratt was brought back to the United States for trial in a civilian--not a military--court. The trial began on June 10, 1867. After listening to testimony from 170 witnesses, the trial ended on August 10 with a hung jury. The federal government eventually dropped all charges against Surratt and he was released from custody in the summer of 1868.
In 1870, Surratt began a much-heralded public lecture tour to discuss the Lincoln conspiracy. In a December 6, 1870 speech at a courthouse in Rockville, Maryland, Surratt admitted his involvement in the scheme to kidnap Lincoln, but denied any knowledge of the assassination plot. Surratt's next announced speech on the tour, scheduled for Washington, was cancelled under pressure from citizens outraged by his attempt to profit from the President's death.
In 1872, Surratt married and took a job at the Baltimore Steam Packett Company. Surratt was the last surviving person with close ties to the Lincoln Conspiracy. He died of pneumonia on April 21, 1916.