John H. Surratt, Sr.'s Ancestors

The Surratts were early settlers in Maryland, but where they came from and when they came is uncertain. Variants of the name appear in France today, and it is generally assumed that the family originated in the area of France which lies close to the Spanish border.

Early records indicate that Surratts were apparently living in the Mattapony Hundred of Calvert County, Maryland, when that portion was taken to form part of the new Prince George’s County when it was created in 1696. That area today lies in southern Prince George’s County near an area referred to as “Horsehead,” near Baden. Joseph Surratt, the great-great-grandfather of the man who built that which would become Surratt House Museum, died in the Mattapony Hundred about the first of February of 1715. The inventory of his effects indicates that he made a scratchy living as a farmer. Aside from the usual household items and a few farm animals, he left 517 pounds of tobacco and “13 barrells of Indean Corne.”

His son, Joseph Surratt, owned some fifty acres of land known as “Thomas Inheritance,” which straddled the county line between Prince George’s and Charles Counties, just off the old Horsehead Road leading from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church south into Charles County. He is listed in 1733 as “taxable” in Mattapony Hundred. He and his wife, Mary, subsequently deeded this land over to their son, Alphonsus Surratt, on March 10, 1767.

In late 1784 or early 1785, Alphonsus Surratt and his wife, Ann, moved their family up-country and settled on Oxon Run in what was then Oxon Hundred. It is believed that they came to work the Neale family estate, “Foxhall,” and, perhaps, to operate the grist mill on Oxon Run. The Surratts and Neales may be have been kin.

The Surratts were in Oxon Hundred when the 1790 census of Prince George's County was taken. “Francis” (i.e., Alphonsus) was listed as the head of the household with a wife, seven boys, and one girl. In fact, he was the only adult male Surratt listed in the entire state of Maryland. When the 1800 census was taken, however, Ann Surratt was listed as the head of the household, so Alphonsus must have died before 1800. Ann and her children, all listed as under 20 years of age, are listed as living next to Sarah Neil (Neale).

After Alphonsus died, the family apparently came upon hard times. The boys decided to sell off the old Surratt place below Horsehead to a neighbor, Caleb Thomas. Four of the Surratt boys, Josiah, Dickerson, Nathaniel, and John made a deed for it on March 10, 1803, and received $226. A second deed to this property was made on January 8, 1810, and signed by Henry B. and Samuel Surratt. Mr. Thomas paid them 28 pounds, 5 shillings, “Maryland money.” The mother, Ann Surratt, is not mentioned in either of these transactions, nor the seventh son, whose name we do not know.

In 1814, at least three of the Surratt boys were still in the Washington area. Nathaniel, John, and Samuel are recorded as having served in the War of 1812--Nathaniel and John with Maryland units, and Samuel in a District of Columbia unit.

An extensive search of marriage records from 1700 to 1840 and on has been made. The oddity is that only two Surratt marriages listed before 1840 have been found: a girl, Susanna Surratt, married Henry Dickinson about 1720 (per an old church record); and Sarah Surratt, daughter of Alphonsus and Ann Surratt, was married to Richard Banks in the District of Columbia on May 30, 1813. Descendants of the Banks-Surratt marriage have not been found. Keep this scanty record of marriages in mind; it is an oddity that will turn into something of a mystery a bit later.

After the War of 1812, somewhere between 1815 and 1820, the Surratts pulled up stakes and left the area. Apparently they went west by the usual route in those days--across to the Ohio River and down it. Samuel Surratt dropped off at Washington, Pennsylvania, where he ran a public house. On March 9, 1819, he married Miss Isabella Huston. Samuel died in Washington, Pennsylvania, on December 17, 1829, at the age of 51. His granddaughter, Bell Seaman, would later conduct a lively correspondence with her distant cousins, Anna and John Surratt, during the 1860s. In December of 1863, Anna visited the family of Joseph Surratt (a son of Samuel) at Steubenville, Ohio. Anna's grandfather Surratt (whose name is unknown to us) and Samuel Surratt of Washington, Pennsylvania, were brothers.

There is further evidence of later Surratts. Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Surratt once told Army investigators that one of her husband's relatives was a captain in the Confederate army. Her son, John, in writing to cousin Bell Seamon on August 1, 1864, asked, “Have you heard anything of the Rebel Captain? I have not heard from him in some time.” It is difficult to identify this “Rebel Captain” with certainty, but he could have been Capt. Malkijah Surratt, 2nd Regt., Miss. Vols., who lived in Tishomingo County, Mississippi. So far as can be found, he was the only Captain Surratt in the whole Confederate army. It is reasonably certain that one of the Surratt boys settled in Tennessee and another in Illinois. Today, the name Surratt can be found in North Carolina, Texas, California, and other states.

The point is, not one of the seven sons of Alphonsus and Ann Surratt was left in Prince George's County or the District of Columbia when the 1820 census was taken. But there was one Surratt left--a boy of about 7 years old--named John Harrison Surratt. About this little boy there is a mystery.

Most of the Neale estate, “Foxhall,” where the Surratts had worked after they moved from the Horsehead area, had come into the control of Richard Neale, who was born about 1770-1772. He was a bachelor and, belatedly, looked upon woman and found her fair! On June 10, 1813, when he was over 40, he took a bride at Christ Episocpal Church, Washington. She was the daughter of a neighbor out on Oxon Run, Sarah Talbot, aged 21. When the 1820 census of Prince George's County was taken, this couple had a little boy with them, listed as under 10. They raised this boy and ultimately gave him everything they owned. The boy was John Harrison Surratt. Based on the census returns of 1850 and 1860, John H. Surratt was born early in 1813.

All of the Surratts were gone from the area. How did it happen that they left behind a small boy? Clearly this boy's grandafther was Alphonsus Surratt and his grandmother was Ann Surratt. But who were his parents? No Surratt boy is listed as being married in the District of Columbia after the District started keeping records in 1811. The excellent records in Prince George's County, going further back, do not show such a marriage. There are several possible answers:
   • The marriage was in the District of Columbia before 1811 and no church record has been found.
   • The marriage was in some jurisdiction other than the District of Columbia or Prince George's County 
        (such as Charles County, or in nearby Virigina) and no record was found.
   • The parents were not married.

The most logical explanation is that the marriage was in the District of Columbia before 1811 and that no church record survived. It could be speculated (admittedly with no grounds for doing so) that Sarah Talbot was John H. Surratt’s REAL mother. The question remains a mystery. Who were John Harrison Surratt’s parents?

This information is derived from “The Story of Mrs. Mary Surratt: A Lecture Delivered Before the Docents of the Surratt House” by Dr. James O. Hall in August 1977.