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973.7L63 Prior, Leon 0. 
DP93^ Lewis Payne, pawn of John 

Wilkes Booth 



presented by 

Warren T,. Jnnps 


by Leon O. Prior 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 


by Leon O. Prior 

Florida's first public enemy of national and international 
stature was a boy from Live Oak, Florida — Lewis Thornton 
Powell. Historically, he is better known as Lewis Payne, lieuten- 
ant of John Wilkes Booth in the 1865 conspiracy to assassinate 
President Abraham Lincoln and the leaders of the United States 
government. If Payne were alive today, he would be the type of 
criminal who would be on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 
list of "top ten hoodlums." 

Payne's brief, meteoric criminal career started in Baltimore 
in February, 1865, and terminated with his execution at the Old 
Capital Prison, Washington, on July 7, 1865. Of all the con- 
spirators associated with John Wilkes Booth, he was the one 
Booth trusted most. Payne was labeled by the press and regarded 
by the public as the "Mystery Man" of the conspiracy. Taciturn, 
uncooperative, and uncommunicative, he never revealed very 
much information about himself or his family. His fellow con- 
spirators knew little about him or his past. After his arrest, the 
lack of information encouraged wild rumors and conjecture by 
the press and public. Some persons tried to identify him as Dan 
Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee. Others claimed that he was a 
bastard son of Jefferson Davis, born when the latter was sta- 
tioned at Fort Snelling on the western frontier, prior to the Civil 
War. While Payne was in prison waiting trial, an aged Negress 
called one day, greeting him in an endearing manner, but he 
pushed her away and denied knowing her. 1 Payne added to the 
mystery himself by his frequent use of aliases. 

During his life, Lewis Powell was known by many abases. 
He is best known historically as Lewis Payne, but other names 
used by him were Lewis Paine, 2 Reverend Wood, 3 Doctor, 4 Mos- 

1. Lloyd Lewis, Myths After Lincoln (New York, 1941), 180-181. 

2. Benn Pitman, The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial 
of the Conspirators (New York, 1865), 18. Cited hereafter as Pit- 

3. Ibid., 115. 

4. Ibid., 160. 

[ n 

2 Florida Historical Quarterly 

by, 5 Lewis Payne Powell, 6 Lieutenant, 7 and Doc. 8 

Lewis Thornton Powell was born in Alabama, April 22, 
1844. 9 He was the youngest son of nine children — six daugh- 
ters and three sons — born to George Cader Powell and Patience 
Carolyn Powell. His parents were born in Georgia, and their 
families originally came from Virginia. Patience's maiden name 
was Powell, but she was not related to George. 10 

George Cader Powell was a Baptist minister, a missionary, 
blacksmith, and plantation owner. The family was residing in 
Alabama when Lewis was born, but shortly afterwards moved 
to Georgia. They lived in Worth and Stewart counties where 
George Powell operated a plantation. Once, as a favor, he en- 
dorsed a note, but when his friend failed to meet his obligation, 
Powell was forced to sell his own plantation to pay off the debt. 
In 1859, following this financial disaster, Powell loaded his fam- 
ily and possessions into a wagon, pulled by four mules, and moved 
to Florida. 11 He settled on a farm near Live Oak, on the route 
of the Pensacola and Georgia railroad, three miles from the Live 
Oak Station. 12 George Powell also served as a Baptist preacher 
and missionary in the area. 

Carolyn Powell's children remembered her as a kind mother, 
devoting most of her time to the rearing of her large family. In 
later years, her grandchildren recalled a sweet old lady who 
smoked regularly a corncob pipe and whose sewing basket was 
always filled with things of interest to children. 13 

When Lewis was twelve, he became seriously interested in 
religion. He helped his father on the farm, and was described 
as kind and tenderhearted, yet determined in all his undertak- 

5. George Sands Bryan, The Great American Myth (New York, 1940), 

6. Jacksonville Florida Union, July 22, 1865. 

7. Pitman, 166. 

8. Judson T. Lennard and Helen Alderman, elderly nieces of Lewis 
Thornton Powell, interviewed by the writer at Geneva, Florida, Feb- 
ruary 22, 1963. Their mother was Angela Powell, sister of Lewis, 
and their information concerning Lewis is based on recollection of 
statements made to them in their youth by their mother. 

9. William E. Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War (New 
York, 1915), 272. Cited hereafter as Doster. 

10. Lennard-Alderman interview. 

11. Ibid. 

12. New York Herald, August 2, 1865. 

13. Lennard-Alderman interview. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 3 

ings. He was highly regarded by his friends and associates in 
the Live Oak area. 14 His sisters adored him, later describing 
him as "a lovable, sweet, kind young boy." They called him by 
his nickname "Doc." 15 

His father later observed that before the Civil War, Lewis 
appeared to be developing into manhood with a potential of 
great usefulness to his church and his community. 16 The war 
changed his destiny. Having been closely associated with the 
plantation slavery system all his life, he, like many other South- 
erners, viewed the war as a necessary action to safeguard his fam- 
ily, his inheritance, and his way of life. As soon as the news of 
the outbreak of hostilities reached Live Oak, Lewis and his two 
brothers volunteered for the Confederate force then being raised 
in Florida. 17 On May 30, 1861, he was accepted for volunteer 
enlistment at Jasper as a private in the Hamilton Blues, Captain 
Henry J. Stewart commanding. 18 On June 4, the company 
moved to Jacksonville, where it became Company I, Second 
Florida Infantry. The regiment was encamped near the Brick 
Church, just west of Jacksonville, when it was mustered into 
Confederate service on July 13. 19 Two days later, the regiment 
left Jacksonville by rail for Virginia, arriving in Richmond the 
following Sunday afternoon, July 21, just as the telegraph wires 
were flashing the news of the first Confederate victory at Ma- 
nassas. The Second Florida was disappointed in having missed 
the chance to participate in the fighting. 

For the next two months, the regiment was in Camp of In- 
struction near Richmond, training and guarding Federal pris- 
oners captured at Manassas. 20 It was during this period that 
Lewis T. Powell is believed to have first met John Wilkes Booth. 
He secured a pass one night to go into Richmond where he at- 
tended his first stage play. Powell was spellbound by the presen- 
tation and was particularly impressed by the voice and manner 

14. Doster, 272. 

15. Lennard-Alderman interview. 

16. Doster, 272. 

17. Pitman, 308. 

18. General Services Administration, National Archives Relating to Con- 
federate Soldiers, Second Regiment, Florida Infantry, Company Mus- 
ter Roll (Washington, 1927). Cited hereafter as GSA. 

19. J. J. Dickison, Military History of Florida (Louisville, 1890), 142- 

20. Ibid. 

4 Florida Historical Quarterly 

of one of the actors, John Wilkes Booth. Booth, at this time, was a 
young man, about twenty-five years old, and was described as 
having large, lustrous eyes, a graceful form, regular, classical 
features, and a rich voice that lingered in the ears of those who 
heard him. At the conclusion of the play, the stage-struck Pow- 
ell sought and gained an introduction to Booth. These two in- 
congruous natures and personalities were immediately attracted to 
each other. Powell was tall, awkward, rough, frank, generous, 
and illiterate. Booth was of delicate mold, polished, graceful, 
imaginative, and educated. Booth was attracted by Powell's phy- 
sical strength and Powell, in turn, was irresistibly attracted to 
the fascinating intellectual actor. After this first meeting, they 
saw each other on several other occasions in Richmond. 21 

On September 17, the Second Florida moved to Yorktown 
where it became part of the Army of the Peninsula. When Mc- 
Clellan started his Federal offensive the following spring, 
Powell saw action for the first time at the seige of Yorktown. 
His regiment, together with the Second Mississippi, performed 
well in dislodging Union forces from Pulmentary's peach orchard. 
Following the Confederate evacuation of Yorktown, May 3, 1862, 
the Second Florida joined Early's Brigade and participated in the 
fighting at Williamsburg on May 5. Private Powell saw action 
at Seven Pines, May 31; Gaines Mill, June 27; Frayser's Farm, 
June 30; and Second Manassas on August 30. In the meantime, 
his first year enlistment had expired, but he re-enlisted in the 
Second Florida for S. R. Chisman, receiving the fifty dollar 
bounty for taking Chisman's place. 22 Early in September, the 
Second Florida crossed the Potomac near Leesburg and Powell 
participated in the capture of Harper's Ferry on September 15. 
From here the Florida troops moved on to Sharpsburg, Antietam, 
and Fredericksburg. 23 

Sometime shortly after the first of the year Powell learned 
that his two brothers had been wounded in the Battle of Mur- 
freesboro, December 31, 24 and that one was probably dead. 
Perhaps this information was contained in a letter from his fam- 
ily. Early in May, Powell received a furlough. Company muster 

21. Pitman, 313-314. 

22. GSA. 

23. Dickison, Military History of Florida, 148-149. 

24. Pitman, 310. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 5 

rolls do not show the exact time or destination of the furlough, 
but they reveal that as of May 13, he had returned and was en- 
titled to commutation for transportation. 25 Apparently he did 
not go home on this furlough, as his father said that he never 
saw him again after his enlistment in 1861. 26 

In June, the Second Florida, now part of the Army of North- 
ern Virginia, moved into Pennsylvania, and on July 1, they were 
fighting at Gettysburg as part of Perry's Brigade. 27 As the Flor- 
ida troops were attacking the Union center line, in the fierce 
fighting on July 3, Powell was shot in the right wrist and was 
taken prisoner. The following day, he was admitted for treat- 
ment to the Twelfth Army Corps Field Hospital. On July 6, he 
was transferred as a prisoner nurse to Letterman General Hos- 
pital at Gettysburg, remaining there until September 2. He was 
then transferred to the United States Army Hospital in Baltimore, 

Until Powell's capture, Company I's muster rolls show that 
he was present and accounted for during the entire period from 
July 12, 1861, to July 4, 1863. On two occasions he was con- 
fined to the hospital for illness, once in August, 1861, and a 
second time on November 5, 1862. The nature of his illness on 
these occcasions is not known. His second confinement was in 
the Florida Hospital at Richmond. 28 

While in the hospital at Gettysburg, Powell met Margaret 
Branson, a volunteer nurse from Baltimore who was serving in 
his ward. He was called both Powell and "Doctor," and Miss 
Branson claimed that she did not know whether he was a soldier 
or a nurse. Apparently Powell's wrist wound was superficial, 
since Miss Branson seemed unaware of his injury. He assisted 
with the care of other patients, and reportedly was kind to the 
sick and wounded. Miss Branson left Gettysburg to return to her 
home early in September, about the time that Powell was being 
transferred to Baltimore. 29 On September 7, Powell escaped 
from his quarters and visited Miss Branson at her residence for 

25. GSA. 

26. Doster, 272. 

27. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War 
of the Rebellion (Washington, 1889), Ser. I, Vol. XXVII, Pt. II, 
Rept. No 545. 

28. GSA. 

29. Pitman, 160. 

6 Florida Historical Quarterly 

a few hours one afternoon. He was wearing a Federal uniform, 
but said that he was planning to cross over the lines into the 
Confederacy. She did not see him again until January, 1865. 30 

Upon leaving Baltimore, Powell's activities are rather ob- 
scure. Apparently, he passed through the Union lines into Vir- 
ginia where he planned to rejoin his old Florida regiment. Search- 
ing for his company, he walked through Winchester and into 
Fauquier County, where he met some of the men from Colonel 
Mosby's Virginia cavalry and he decided to join this group. 31 
This enlistment probably occurred some time during the period 
in October-December, 1863. The records for Company B, Mos- 
by's regiment carry the name of S. T. Powell on the receipt roll 
for clothing issued in the fourth quarter of 1864. This is the 
only reference to the name Powell, and since it coincides with 
Lewis Thornton Powell's period of service with Mosby, it is be- 
lieved that the initial "S" was possibly a clerical recording error 
and should have been "L." 32 

On August 17, 1864, General Philip Sheridan detailed a 
special group of one hundred Union cavalrymen, under com- 
mand of Richard Blazer, to wipe out Mosby's Rangers. Blazer's 
mission ended abruptly in November, 1864, when he walked in- 
to an ambush near Myerstown, Virginia. Blazer managed to flee 
with a few of his men. Four of Mosby's force, including Lewis 
Powell, tried to overtake the group, but were not successful. 33 

Powell deserted Mosby's cavalry about January 1, 1865. 
Shortly afterwards he rode into the Union lines at Alexandria 
and took the oath of allegiance, receiving his parole on January 
13, under the name of Payne. 34 Later, he explained that he 
used an alias to escape retaliation from Mosby's men because of 
his desertion. Since this was the name he continued to use, he 
will be referred to hereafter as Lewis Payne. 

After taking the oath, Payne sold his horse, acquired civilian 
clothes, and proceeded to Baltimore, where he stayed for a few 

30. Brevet Major H. B. Smith, Between the Lines: Secret Service Stories 
Told Fifty Years After (New York, 1911), 304-305. 

31. Pitman, 312. 

32. General Services Administration, National Archives Relating to Con- 
federate Soldiers, Mosby's Regiment Virginia Cavalry, Company Prop- 
erty Roll (Washington, 1962). 

33. Virgil Carrington Jones, Ranger Mosby (Chapel Hill, 1944), 200- 
201, 230-231. 

34. Bryan, Great American Myth, 115. 




$30,000 REWARD 


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Who Assassinated the PRESIDENT on the Evening 
of April 14th, 1865. 

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Description of the Person who Attempted to Assassi- 
nate Hon. W. H. Seward, Secretary of State. 

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Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 7 

days at Miller's Hotel. He renewed his friendship with Margaret 
Branson, and moved into a room in her mother's boarding house. 
It would appear that his interest in Miss Branson was possibly a 
romantic one, as he is not known to have had any other reason to 
return to Baltimore after his parole. Under other circumstances 
he might have tried to work his way south to his Florida home. 

Unable to secure employment, Payne spent his time reading 
books, particularly medical books, from the Branson library. He 
had little contact with the other boarders but often went walking 
with Margaret to visit her relatives and friends. 35 One day dur- 
ing February, as he was passing Barnum's Hotel in Baltimore, a 
familiar voice hailed him. Looking up the hotel steps, he saw 
his old friend, John Wilkes Booth, the Richmond actor with 
whom he had briefly associated in 1861. 36 

Prior to this meeting with Payne, perhaps as early as August 
or September, 1864, Booth had conceived the idea of abducting 
President Lincoln. In planning this action, Booth would need 
the assistance of about six other men and he had started recruit- 
ing individuals to carry out the various phases of the kidnap- 
ping. 37 

Booth immediately recognized that Payne would be invalu- 
able to him. Here was a strong, battle-hardened, destitute, and 
desperate man, well-qualified in every way to carry out Booth's 
nefarious crime. Renewing their friendship, they met often at 
the Barnum Hotel and the Branson house. During their meet- 
ings, Booth revealed his plan to kidnap President Lincoln. 38 By 
February, 1865, Booth had expanded his original plan and in- 
tended to kidnap not only Lincoln but also members of the cabi- 
net. The time set was Inauguration Day, March 4, when the city 
would be crowded with people. After the abduction, Booth in- 
tended to take Lincoln and the others over the Potomac into the 
South, thus forcing the North to compromise or pay a large ran- 
som for their safe return. 

The United States government was alerted to this kidnap 
plot in February,J865, by Louis J. Weichmann, a War Depart- 

35. Theodore Roscoe, The Web of Conspiracy (Englewood, 1959), 67; 
New York Times, June 3, 1865. 

36. Clara E. Laughlin, The Death of Lincoln: The Story of Booth's Plot, 
His Deed, and the Penalty (New York, 1909), 38. 

37. Bryan, Great American Myth, 117. 

38. Pitman, 310. 

8 Florida Historical Quarterly 

ment clerk and a boarder at the home of Mrs. Mary E. Surratt. 
Weichmann was a close friend of Mrs. Surratt's son John, and 
a great admirer of her daughter, Annie. John Surratt was one 
of the men recruited by Booth to assist in kidnapping Lincoln. 
In this close relationship with the Surratts, Weichmann learned 
of Booth's plans and participated in some of the conspiratorial 
conversation. However, the seriousness of this plot paralyzed 
Weichmann with fear and he reported it to his superiors. They, 
in turn, reported the plot through channels, but apparently it 
was not taken very seriously as no action was taken against the 
conspirators. At the same time, unrevealed circumstances caused 
Booth to postpone the date of his planned abduction on March 4, 
to a later date. 39 

Meanwhile, Booth had learned from theatrical gossip that 
sometime during the week of March 1 1 -March 18, Lincoln 
planned to attend an afternoon theatrical performance of Tom 
Taylor's "Still Waters Run Deep," at the Soldier's Home in the 
District of Columbia. Booth apparently had knowledge of the 
exact afternoon when Lincoln would attend. 40 With Payne 
added to his group, Booth now had a large enough force. In 
preparation for carrying out the plot, he sent Payne to Washing- 
ton during the last week of February to contact John H. Surratt. 

Arriving at the Surratt house, Payne's knock was answered by 
Louis J. Weichmann. Payne introduced himself as Mr. Wood 
and inquired for John H. Surratt. When informed that John 
was not at home, Payne then inquired for Mrs. Surratt, and ar- 
ranged with her to spend the night. As there were no vacant 
rooms, he shared Weichmann's room. Early the following morn- 
ing, he departed on the first morning train to Baltimore. 41 

Soon after his return to Baltimore, Payne was involved in 
an altercation at the Branson rooming house with a Negro maid, 
who, he claimed, answered him in an impudent manner, de- 
clined to clean the room as he had ordered, and who called him 
names. 42 Payne struck her on the forehead, threw her on the 

39. D. H. L. Gleason, "Conspiring Against Lincoln," The Magazine of 
History (February, 1911), 59-65. 

40. Bryan, Great American Myth, 118. The date was March 16, 17, or 
20. Sources do not agree as to the exact date, but March 16 seems 
to be the most accurate one. 

41. Pitman, 114. 

42. Smith, Between the Lines, 257. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 9 

floor, and threatened to kill her. The maid reported him to the 
military authorities, charging him with assault. She said that he 
had previously been in the city, but she was unable to produce 
any witnesses to corroborate her allegations. 43 

Payne was arrested on March 10 at the Branson residence, 
and a search of his person produced a pass and a parole issued 
him at Alexandria, Virginia, January 13, 1865. He was inter- 
rogated by Lieutenant H. B. Smith, who described him as a 
sullen, dumb-looking, overgrown young man; a cross between a 
big booby and a sullen animal. To get him to answer any ques- 
tion, Lieutenant Smith had to alternately prod and cajole him. 
After considerable confused and disjointed questioning, the lieu- 
tenant managed to secure the following disconnected statement: 

Lewis Paine, refugee from Fauquier County, Virginia, 
my parents reside near Orleans in that county. I am eighteen 
and a half years old. I have not been out of Virginia since 
the war commenced, until this time. 

I was never in the Rebel army. Mosby used to stay at 
the house of Joe Blackwell, until his house was burned. 

Willie Tung of Warrenton. 

Daniel Moffit, of Fauquier County, member of Mosby's 

Miss Maggie Branson, with whom I was stopping, is re- 
lated to me by marriage. 

I bought the coat and vest of grey cloth in this city, since 
I came here; my pants of grey cloth I bought in Washing- 

I don't remember of hearing any disloyal remarks from 
any of the boarders at the house No. 16 North Eutaw Street. 
I whipped a colored woman at the house on Monday last, 
because she insulted me; her name is Annie. 

(signed) L. Paine. 

Smith suspected that Payne was possibly a Confederate spy, 
but without witnesses to testify against him, he was released 
after taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. Smith 
administered the oath, and still suspicious, he wrote an insert 
on the form, requiring Payne to proceed north of Philadelphia 
immediately and remain there during the war. Payne signed his 
name as "L. Paine." His oath of allegiance carried his name as 
Lewis Paine and the provost marshal's arrest records and corre- 

43. Pitman, 161. 

10 Florida Historical Quarterly 

spondence also show his name as Lewis Paine. This was prob- 
ably another recording or spelling error. 

Following his release, Payne departed at once for New York 
City. Arriving there, he apparently registered at the Revere 
House since he wrote Miss Branson directing her to write him 
there. Miss Branson said that she did not see Payne again and 
did not correspond with him. 44 

On March 14, he reappeared at Washington where he went 
to Mrs. Surratt's rooming house. Again, he was greeted by Louis 
Weichmann who had forgotten his name. When Weichmann 
asked his name, he said it was Payne. He was then taken into 
the parlor where he was introduced to Mrs. Surratt, her daugh- 
ter Anna, and another roomer, Miss Honora Fitzpatrick. Recall- 
ing his previous visit, one of the women called him Mr. Wood. 
It was only then that Weichmann remembered meeting Payne 

While at Mrs. Surratt's, Payne represented himself as a Bap- 
tist preacher who had just arrived from Baltimore where he had 
been in prison about a week. He said that he had been released 
after taking an oath of allegiance and was now determined to 
become a good and loyal citizen. The Surratts were Catholic, 
and it seemed unusual that a Baptist preacher would seek hos- 
pitality in their home. A female roomer observed that he was 
certainly a peculiar looking Baptist preacher, and she did not 
believe he would convert many souls. 45 Later, Anna Surratt said 
his conduct was that of a perfect fool and she did not believe he 
had his five senses. 46 

On the afternoon of March 15, Booth assembled his group 
for a special meeting at Gautier's saloon in Washington to plan 
the details for kidnapping the President the following day. Those 
present, in addition to Booth, were Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel 
Arnold, John Surratt, George Atzerodt, David Herold, and 
Payne. They planned to kidnap Lincoln as he rode in his car- 
riage to the Soldier's Home to see the play. Atzerodt was to pro- 
vide a boat for the party to cross the Potomac after the abduc- 
tion. Payne was to provide the strength and muscle to hold Lin- 

44. Smith, Between the Lines, 255-258, 309. 

45. Pitman, 115-118. 

46. Doster, 267. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 1 1 

coin under control, assisted by Booth and others, if necessary. 
Surratt, a Confederate courier, who knew the carriage roads in 
the eastern part of Maryland, had two carbines, ammunition, 
and ropes cached at the family's former home in Surrattsville, 
Maryland. All of the men, who would be mounted, were to stop 
Lincoln's carriage outside of Washington. Surratt was to seize 
the carriage and drive it to southern Maryland via Benning's 
Bridge (at the end of Pennsylvania and Kentucky Avenues). 47 
Payne and Booth were to subdue Lincoln in the carriage, while 
Arnold and O'Laughlin acted as lookouts. They planned to 
stretch ropes across the roads to delay cavalry pursuit. Herold, 
who knew the terrain and the people, was to wait for the party 
at Surrattsville. At Port Tobacco, Maryland, Atzerodt would be 
ready with the boat to ferry the party across the Potomac to Vir- 
ginia, and then on to Richmond. 

On the afternoon of March 16, Booth, Payne, and their 
fellow conspirators took their positions on the road to the Sol- 
dier's Home, and when the Presidential carriage came into view, 
they swooped down upon it. Exactly what happened then has 
never been clearly explained. Booth and his cohorts quickly dis- 
covered that Lincoln was not in the carriage, and they rode off 
at once. If anybody was in the carriage, it was never disclosed 
by the government. Apparently no investigation or report of 
this incident was made by the authorities. 48 

The would-be kidnappers separated immediately, planning to 
rendezvous later at the Surratt house. Louis Weichmann recalled 
that when he returned to the residence that afternoon, he asked 
where John Surratt had gone, and was told that he, Payne, and 
five other men, had ridden off earlier, about two o'clock. After 
dinner, Weichmann returned to his room to read, when sud- 
denly John Surratt, upset and excited and with a small four- 
barrelled Sharpe's revolver in his hand, burst into the room. A few 
minutes later, Payne and Booth arrived. Payne was carrying a 
pistol and Booth a riding whip. Both men were agitated and 
Booth did not even seem to notice Weichmann in the room at 

The three conspirators left Weichmann's room and walked 

47. Bryan, Great American Myth, 118. 

48. Otto Eisenschiml, Why was Lincoln Murdered? (Boston, 1937), 

12 Florida Historical Quarterly 

upstairs to a back room on the third floor, where they stayed 
about thirty minutes. Afterwards, they left the house together. 
When Surratt returned, he told Weichmann that Payne had gone 
to Baltimore and that Booth had left for New York. Apparently, 
they thought that there would be a government investigation and 
to avoid identification and apprehension, Booth and Payne were 
leaving Washington. Surratt would remain, so that he could 
notify the others when it would be safe to return. 49 

During the following week, nothing appeared in the Wash- 
ington papers to indicate that the government was even cognizant 
of the aborted kidnapping. Apparently, no investigation was be- 
ing made and Booth and Payne decided it was safe to return to 
Washington the last week of March. Payne registered at the 
Herndon House and Booth at the National Hotel. 

During the period April 1 to April 14, Booth conferred often 
with his men about plans to kidnap Lincoln. According to one 
witness, Booth had now decided to abduct Lincoln from the 
midst of a theater audience. As a result, he passed up several 
easy opportunities to kidnap the President. 50 

When Booth learned that Lincoln would attend Ford's Thea- 
ter on April 14, he immediately sent word to the conspirators to 
gather that evening in Payne's room at the Herndon House. When 
Payne, Booth, Atzerodt, and Herold assembled about 8:00 p.m. 
only Booth knew the plan. 51 When Booth gave Payne a knife 
and gun, and ordered him to kill Secretary of State Seward, 52 
the latter realized, probably for the first time, that the actor was 
planning the assassination of Lincoln and members of the cabi- 
net rather than a kidnapping. 53 From available sources it seems 
that only Payne knew of the assassination plan. Just before he 
died, Booth reportedly said that Payne alone was aware of the 
plot, and that Herold and Atzerodt knew nothing of the intended 
assassination. 54 Payne was also reported to have admitted that 
only he and Booth knew of the assassination plan and that, con- 
sequently, only they deserved to die. 55 

49. Pitman, 118. 

50. Bryan, Great American Myth, 117. 

51. Frances Wilson, ]ohn Wilkes Booth (Boston, 1929), 93. 

52. Pitman, 314. 

53. Doster, 269. 

54. Eisenschimal, Why Was Lincoln Murdered?, 172. 

55. Wilson, John Wilkes Booth, 99. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 13 

About 10 p.m., April 14, Payne, mounted on a rented horse, 
and wearing a light overcoat, brown hat, black pants, and heavy 
boots, rode to the Seward residence near Lafayette Square. Dis- 
mounting, he walked to the entrance and rang the bell. In the 
meantime, Booth had entered Ford's Theater. The assaults on 
Seward and Lincoln were supposed to occur simultaneously. 56 

At the Seward residence, the Secretary was confined to his 
bedroom on the third floor. He was seriously ill, in fact delirious 
at times from injuries suffered in a carriage accident a few days 
earlier. 57 The house gas lights were low and daughter Fanny 
Seward and an invalid soldier nurse, George T. Robinson, were 
in the Secretary's dimly lighted room, when the bell sounded. 
The other members of the family were in bed resting at the 
time. 58 

When William Bell, a servant, opened the front door, Payne 
stepped inside, revealing a small package which he said was 
medicine from Dr. Verdi. He insisted that he had to show Mr. 
Seward how to take the medicine, as he pushed his way past 
Bell, down the hall, and up the stairs. 59 His heavy boots made 
considerable noise and Bell asked him to walk softly. Frederick 
William Seward, the Secretary's son and also Assistant Secretary 
of State, hearing the sound of conversation and the heavy foot- 
steps, had come to the head of the stairs to investigate the cause 
of the disturbance. Payne informed Frederick that he had a 
message to deliver personally to the Secretary from Dr. Verdi. 

When Payne was told that Seward was sleeping and could 
not be disturbed, he replied, "Very well, sir, I will go." Turning, 
he took two or three steps down the stairs, then suddenly with- 
out warning, he turned around and sprang up the stairs. As he 
did so, he drew a Navy revolver from his coat and with a mut- 
tered oath, aimed at Frederick's head and pulled the trigger. 
When the revolver misfired, Payne proceeded to pistol-whip Fred- 
erick about the head, striking him with such force that the re- 
volver was broken and Frederick's skull was fractured. 60 Bell, 

56. Pitman, 154-156. 

57. Frederick William Seward, Reminiscences of a War Time Statesman 
and Diplomat, 1830-1915 (New York, 1916), 258. 

58. Fanny Seward, "I Have Supped Full on Horrors," Diary of Fanny 
Seward, edited by Patricia Carley Johnson, American Heritage, X 
(October, 1959), 97. Cited hereafter as Fanny Seward diary. 

59. Pitman, 154. 

60. Seward, Reminiscences, 258-259. 

14 Florida Historical Quarterly 

the servant, saw Frederick throw up his hands and fall back 
through the door into one of the bedrooms. 61 Fanny, hearing the 
sound of blows, urged Nurse Robinson to see what was going on. 
As they opened the bedroom door, Frederick staggered through, 
covered with blood. Payne, with a knife in his right hand and a 
pistol in his left, rushed toward the Secretary's bed with Fanny 
imploring him to stop. Pushing Robinson down, Payne reached 
the bed, but the noise and shouting had awakened the helpless 
Secretary. Opening his eyes, he saw Payne bending over him, 
trying to slash him. Seward was knifed in the face and neck, 
but the force of the blows rolled him out of the bed onto the 
floor, momentarily out of Payne's reach. 62 

Meanwhile, Robinson had regained his feet and was grappling 
with Payne, when another of the Secretary's sons, Major Augustus 
H. Seward, ran into the room and joined the fight. Payne floored 
Robinson with his fist, but Major Seward was able to push Payne 
to the door. The Major was cut five or six times on the forehead 
and once on the left hand. Throughout the fight, Payne kept 
repeating, "I'm mad! I'm mad!" 63 Struggling through the door 
into the hall, Payne gave a sudden twist, broke away and ran 
down the stairs. There he encountered Emerick Hansell, a mes- 
senger for the State Department assigned to the Seward residence, 
and stabbed him in the back through the ribs, barely missing his 

Outside, Payne was now alone, and along the dark and un- 
familiar roads, he did not know which way to flee. He desperately 
tried to find the Navy Yard Bridge where he was to rendezvous 
with Booth, but was unsuccessful. For some unexplained reason 
he abandoned his horse about 1 a.m., April 15, and the animal 
was found by military police in front of the Lincoln Branch Bar- 
racks, about a mile from the bridge which Payne was trying to 
locate. 64 

He hid in the woods north of the barracks for three days, 
crouched in the top of a cedar tree. Police passed beneath him 
frequently, searching for him. He was now desperately hungry, 
and the only place he knew where he could get food was at Mrs. 

61. Pitman, 154. 

62. Fanny Seward diary, 98. 

63. Pitman, 156. 

64. Fanny Seward diary, 159-160. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 1 5 

Surratt's. Not knowing who might be at the house or whether 
it was under surveillance, Payne tried to disguise himself as a 
laborer. With a pick-ax that he found in the woods on his 
shoulder, and the sleeve from his undershirt on his head like a 
tight-fitting skull-cap, he knocked at Mrs. Surratt's door about 
11:45 p.m., Monday, April 17. 65 

Just thirty minutes earlier, a party of officers from the War 
Department had arrived at Mrs. Surratt's, placing her and all the 
persons residing there under arrest. They were sitting in the par- 
lor waiting for the carriage to take them to military headquarters 
when Payne arrived. When one of the officers who opened the 
door asked Payne what he wanted, he said he wanted to see Mrs. 
Surratt, since she wanted him to dig a gutter the following morn- 
ing. He identified himself as a poor man with no home, no mon- 
ey, making his living, about a dollar a day, with a pick. When 
asked why he had called at such an unusual hour, nearly mid- 
night, he said that he had stopped by to see what time he should 
start work the following morning. Payne denied any previous ac- 
quaintance with Mrs. Surratt. 66 She only knew him, he said, as a 
poor man working in the neighborhood. He claimed that he was a 
former resident of Fauquier County, Virginia, and produced a 
copy of an oath of allegiance which he stated was issued in June, 

1864, although it was dated at Baltimore, March 10, 1965. 6 ? He 
said that he was about twenty years old, that he could write his 
name, but was unable to read. He had left Virginia in February, 

1865, in order to avoid military service, he stated, preferring to 
earn his living with a pick. When Mrs. Surratt was summoned 
from the parlor, she was asked if she knew Payne and had hired 
him to dig a gutter for her. She raised her right hand and said, 
"Before God, sir, I do not know this man, and have never seen 
him and I did not hire him to dig a gutter for me." Payne said 
nothing. The officers placed him under arrest, taking him by sep- 
arate carriage to the provost marshal's office for further interro- 

About 3 a.m., April 18, Secretary Seward's servant, William 
H. Bell, was taken to the provost marshal's office to view the line- 
up of men, and he identified Payne as the assailant who had 
struck Frederick Seward. 68 Payne was immediately man- 

65. Doster, 269. 

66. Pitman, 121-123. 

67. New York Times, April 19, 1865. 

68. Pitman, 121-123. 

16 Florida Historical Quarterly 

acled, both hands and legs, and removed to confinement on the 
ironclad Saugus. Some of the male prisoners charged with Lin- 
coln's assassination were confined on the Montauk and others on 
the Saugus, both anchored in the Potomac River at the Navy 
Yard. Canvas bags, with a small hole for breathing and eating 
but no opening for the eyes, were placed over the heads of the 
male prisoners. 69 The log of the Saugus shows that on the eve- 
ning of April 29, Payne and the other prisoners were taken ashore 
and placed in the penitentiary at the arsenal grounds to await 
trial. 70 

The War Department, upon direction of President Johnson, 
appointed a military commission consisting of ten army officers 
to try Lewis Payne, David E. Herold, George A. Atzerodt, Michael 
O'Laughlin, Edward Spangler, Samuel Arnold, Mary E. Surratt, 
and Doctor Samuel A. Mudd. On May 8, the prisoners were 
furnished for the first time with a copy of the specifications and 
charges against them, and all requested opportunity to secure 
counsel. Two days later, at the arraignment, all the defendants 
pleaded not guilty to the specifications and were charged. Ac- 
cording to newspaper accounts, Payne had made his plea without 
benefit of counsel. On May 12, the Assistant Judge Advocate 
asked Attorney William E. Doster to defend Payne. 71 

Payne was charged with conspiring to murder President Lin- 
coln and with assault and attempt to murder Secretary Seward, 
Frederick Seward, Augustus Seward, Emerick Hansell, and George 
Robinson. Doster did not assume Payne's defense until the trial 
opened and had no opportunity to prepare any defense in ad- 
vance. Doster could get nothing out of Payne, either as to his 
previous history or as to anything he wished to say in his defense, 
or if he wished to be defended at all. The attorney said that dur- 
ing this period he knew very little more about Payne than the 
public, and not nearly as much as the prosecution. The attorney 
was even in doubt as to whether to explain Payne's conduct by 
lunacy, unparalleled stupidity, or because he thought he might 
prejudice his case by talking with counsel. 72 

69. Otto Eisenschiml, In the Shadow of Lincoln's Death (New York, 
1940), 129. 

70. Charles O. Paullin, "The Navy and the Booth Conspirators," Journal 
of the Illinois State Historical Society, XXXIII (September, 1940), 

71. Pitman, 18-20. 

72. Doster, 264. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 1 7 

The press reported that for the first few days of the trial, 
Payne was more intent on trying to obtain a view of the sunny 
landscape through the barred window, than on the details of trial 
proceedings. 73 Doster recalled that in the courtroom Payne sat 
upright with the back of his head against the wal], his manacled 
hands spread out on his knees, staring straight forward at the 
crowd whose curiosity to see him was astonishing. 

About halfway through the prosecution's presentation, Payne 
seemed suddenly to become aware of the seriousness of the charges 
against him, and, to use Doster's description, "thawed out." He 
announced that he wanted to talk to his attorney privately, and 
the following day Doster was allowed to see Payne alone in the 
courtroom. At this time he gave the lawyer a disconnected his- 
tory of his life in which he seemed to have difficulty in recalling 
his age or where he had been born. There is no indication that he 
mentioned at this time the existence of his family in Florida. At 
one point in the interview, Payne inquired about the condition of 
Frederick Seward, and said that he was sorry that he had hurt him 
and that he owed him an apology. 

Doster realized that he would have to plead insanity, which 
would have to be supported by expert testimony. Doster called 
upon Dr. Charles H. Nichols, Superintendent of the Government 
Hospital for the Insane, and Dr. James C. Hall to examine Payne, 
who testified that they had serious doubts as to the prisoner's 
sanity. 74 The prosecution presented the testimony of several army 
doctors, including Surgeon General J. K. Barnes, who stated that 
after examining Payne, they had found no evidence of insanity. 75 

Upon completion of testimony, Doster made an eloquent plea 

73. New York Times, May 14, 1865. 

74. Doster, 265-266. It appears that something did happen to unbalance 
Payne's mind, following his assault on Seward. Prior to the war, his 
father had described him as a youth with promise, his war record 
was above average, his actions in Baltimore were normal and dis- 
played intelligence. Following the Seward assault he was unable 
to find his way out of Washington, yet he was able to locate the 
Surratt residence. He parried the questions of his arresting officers 
with cunning. However, his attorney regarded him as possibly a 
lunatic or very stupid and Payne was unable to furnish a coherent 
story about his background. It is quite possible that Payne suffered 
brain damage either from a blow on the head during the fight at 
Seward's home or from the canvas bag he was required to have over 
his head from April 18 to the end of his trial, except for courtroom 

75. Pitman, 113-123. 

18 Florida Historical Quarterly 

to the court. He admitted that Payne had attempted to take Sec- 
retary Seward's life and that he was probably not within the medi- 
cal definition of insanity. Payne, he said, believed that what he 
did was right and justifiable. Doster reviewed Payne's family 
background and life, and concluded by speaking of his own ob- 
servations of the good qualities that he had found in Payne. 

On July 6, the trial commission found Payne guilty of 
all charges and specifications, and he was sentenced to be 
hanged. 76 Payne's execution was set by presidential order for 
1 p.m., July 7, together with Atzerodt, Herold, and Mrs. Surratt. 
Doster visited Payne in his cell just before the execution and 
saw that his fortitude was shaken. Although he was the only one 
of the condemned prisoners to eat a hearty breakfast on the morn- 
ing of the execution, he was visibly upset when Doster arrived. He 
thanked the attorney for his defense. No friends or relatives 
were present, although many came to visit the other condemned 
prisoners. 77 

Thousands of people thronged the streets of Washington and 
the hotels were filled with guests, many who had traveled long 
distances hoping to see the execution. Admission to the south 
yard of the penitentiary was limited, however, to members of the 
press and a few others granted military admission passes. 

Shortly before he was to walk to the scaffold, Payne was 
moved to a cell on the first floor where he talked with two Bap- 
tist ministers, the Reverend Gillette of the First Baptist Church 
of Washington and the Reverend Striker of Baltimore. Payne 
was now calm and he joined Mr. Gillette in prayer. At 1:15 
p.m. the prisoners were marched to the scaffold. 78 Payne walked 
between a guard of two soldiers, following Mrs. Surratt, who was 
being half carried and half supported by the soldiers. Her slow 
movement obliged Payne to stop occasionally, and, as he did so, 
he looked around at the throng of spectators. After he was seated 
on the scaffold, the sailor hat which some unidentified person had 
placed on his head was blown off by a sudden gust of wind. He 
instantly turned to recover it. 79 

Dr. Gillette made a short statement to the throng on behalf 

76. Ibid., 308-317. 

77. Doster, 269-271. 

78. New York Times, July 8, 1865. 

79. Doster, 271-272. 

Lewis Payne, Pawn of John Wilkes Booth 19 

of Payne and repeated a prayer. Lt. Colonel Christian Rath, the 
executioner, checked the noose on Payne's neck, and as he did so, 
he said with compassion, "Payne, I want you to die quick." Payne 
replied in a soft voice without a single tremor, "You know best, 
Captain." Those were the last words he ever spoke. At 1:25 
p.m. the trap was sprung and the four bodies dropped. 80 After a 
lapse of ten minutes, Army medical officers examined the bodies 
and pronounced them dead. 81 Payne's body was buried in the 
penitentiary yard, probably the same day as the execution. It was 
moved several times during the period 1865 to 1884, but the 
records are not complete, and no one knows where his body rests 

During the trial, Attorney Doster wrote repeatedly to Payne's 
father, George Powell, in Live Oak, but received no reply until 
long after Payne's trial and execution. In a letter to Doster dated 
September 30, 1865, Payne's father explained that he had been 
confined to his bed when he first heard from him, and he did 
not answer the letter as he had intended to journey to Washing- 
ton as soon as possible. When he was well enough to travel, he 
started for Washington. Upon arriving at Jacksonville, he learned 
of his son's execution and returned home. The father thanked 
Doster on behalf of the Powell family for the services rendered 
to the unfortunate Lewis. 82 

A Jacksonville newspaper, The Florida Union, reported that 
in the last weeks of July, 1865, George Powell was in the city 
and had called at the newspaper office. He told the editor 
that he had lost one son, Oliver, in the war, and another, George, 
had returned maimed for life. Lewis had been his only hope in 
his old age. The paper described the father as grief-stricken and 
observed that, although Lewis' terrible punishment was just, it 
could not withhold its deepest sympathy for the afflicted father, 
or esteem him less as a worthy man and citizen. 8 ' 3 

After Lewis' execution, the Powell family moved from Live 
Oak to Orange County. They were motivated partly by grief and 
humiliation resulting from Lewis' tragic end and partly by the 

80. John A. Gray, "The Fate of the Lincoln Conspirators: The Account 
of the Hanging Given by Lt. Col. Christian Rath, The Executioner," 
McClure's Magazine, XXXVII (October 1911), 636. 

81. New York Times, July 8, 1865. 

82. Doster, 272-273. 

83. New York Herald, August 2, 1865. 

20 Florida Historical Quarterly 

missionary zeal of George Powell. The family settled on the 
southeast shore of Lake Jessup at a point six miles southeast of 
Sanford and about seven miles from Geneva. 84 George Powell 
supported his family by working as a blacksmith, serving also as 
a Baptist missionary. Through his efforts, several Baptist churches 
were established in this area. 

Lewis' six sisters all married into well-known and well-estab- 
lished families in Florida. Their present-day descendents, though 
scattered, still reside in Florida, living in Jacksonville, West Palm 
Beach, Geneva, Ft. Myers, and Tampa. His oldest brother George, 
although permanently disabled, returned to the Orange County 
area to work and raise a family. The 1870 United States census 
records for Orange County list George W. Powell, age 30, born 
in Georgia, as a farmer with real property valued at $200 and 
personal property at $300. His wife Susan was also born in 
Georgia in 1842. Their six children were Benjamin, 12; Lewis, 
10; Caroline, 9; Oliver H., 7; Susan, 5; and, Mathew, 3. 

The same census record also lists "George C. Powell, age 
sixty years, born in Georgia, a white, male blacksmith." His real 
property was valued at $4,500 and his personal property at $300. 
His wife, Patience, age 58, was listed as a housewife. Also listed 
is his daughter Anna, age 17, born in Georgia, and three Negro 
servants, Sarah, Martin, and Melinda Powell. Powell is buried 
near Longwood, Florida, and his wife is buried near Geneva. 

84. Tampa Tribune, December 30, 1956; letter from L. M. Rehbinder, 
acquaintance of nieces and nephews of Lewis Thornton Powell, to 
author, September 14, 1962. 

973 7L630P93L mm 


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