The Surratt House Museum
About the Museum
Surratt House Museum is a historic property of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and its Department of Parks and Recreation for Prince George’s County (history.pgparks.com). It opened as the first public, historic house museum in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on May 1, 1976. Administered through the Natural and Historical Resources Division of the county’s Department of Parks & Recreation, the museum boasts over 40 volunteers who conduct public tours and serve in the adjoining visitors’ center and gift shop. This group forms the base for the Surratt Society, 1500+ associate members worldwide who support the organization and serve as a fundraising branch of the museum.
Built in 1852 as a middle-class farm house for the family of John and Mary Surratt, the historic Surratt House has national significance due to its role in dramatic events surrounding the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. More than a family home, the Surratt House also served as a tavern, public dining room, and hotel for traveling gentlemen. Outside, the house was the focal point of a 300-acre plantation. A livery stable and nearby blacksmith shop serviced travelers; and in 1854, a post office was added to the tavern, serving the new area of “Surrattsville.” With the advent of the Civil War, the tavern became a clandestine Confederate safe house.
In the fall of 1864, faced with financial difficulties, the widowed Mary Surratt rented her country home and moved to 541 H Street in Washington, where she opened a boarding house. This marked the last time that a Surratt family member lived in the Surrattsville tavern. It was at the boarding house on H Street where the Surratt family became entangled in the plot by John Wilkes Booth to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln.
Booth's kidnapping plan culminated in assassination on April 14, 1865. During Booth's flight out of Washington, the assassin stopped at the Surratt tavern to retrieve weapons and supplies which had been hidden there. As a result, Mary Surratt was tried and convicted of conspiracy to assassinate the President. On July 7, 1865, she became the first woman to be executed by the United States government.
After the dramatic events of the Lincoln assassination, the Surratt family, unable to keep up with their astronomical debt, were forced to auction off their home in 1868.
Five separate families lived in the former Surratt tavern from 1868-1965, when the property was acquired by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. After years of campaigning, fundraising, and restoration, the Surratt tavern opened as the first operating museum in Prince George’s County Maryland on May 1, 1976.
The mission of the Surratt House Museum is to foster an appreciation for the history and culture of 19th-century Maryland and Prince George’s County. The museum provides resources for research into the impact of a tumultuous period of our national history, from 1840 to 1865, with special emphasis on the study of the people and events surrounding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.