973.7L63 Prior, Leon 0.
DP93^ Lewis Payne, pawn of John
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
Warren T,. Jnnps
LEWIS PAYNE, PAWN OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH
by Leon O. Prior
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2012 with funding from
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
LEWIS PAYNE, PAWN OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH
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.
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.
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-
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.
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
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.
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-
34. Bryan, Great American Myth, 115.
JOHN WILKES BOOTH!
Who Assassinated the PRESIDENT on the Evening
of April 14th, 1865.
Height .!,,•- indion; » Pltf |, t 16(1 pound, ,,.„.,„, t i.„.j t . „ lllr ^ . — . ,, : , llr ,.
» curl medium length, [aytri behind ryea black, »>••! hcavj .L.rk ryt bi ■ »«. »rar» . Ury* -■
ring mi httlr linger »hm ulking nrttnci hi- h.n.1 forwaid look* down
Description of the Person who Attempted to Assassi-
nate Hon. W. H. Seward, Secretary of State.
Height 6 fori 1 inch; hair black, thiri, full and »inught a. beard, oo< appearann I
1» unl . ehevk* red on thejftwa; fiu* unalmtrly full . W or it yean "f age. ryei
known — hirge c« f*, not prominent ; •mum not hmti, Imt dark . iarr not later, ' t rather
r i I ■ ii|il.'\ .. i health} . mw »traigrit anil «rrii formed, nirili.iiB *.'■
(Uii uppi r lip protruded when he talkrti; rhin pointed and ptoouMDt I ■ ■ i
nol'. <hnrt. and ■■<" medium length, hand* •oft andvuall; rirurat* Uperng.
lutrd l.Jmr: limad -.honkler" . taprr »aj»« . Mrwght bgure . nrvue Lokur.g < i
t;. ntliiM.mW, mil tnlg.iT; <.hrm>al douMr-brrantrd. nr-ior nmed nf pi V an ! fc "> t tputa, «irt»;i
- -«k» it aw k <>»t rojat, porkru in **Sr and 0M mi the Nrea»t, w.th lappi •
I inirk, common Unlf. new heavj t»«iU. ruirv «mall and dun. it-.' lined to •.
The Cvnmieu < imncil of \\ ^lunirK'n, 1> ( ' . !«»• ofrrtd .. •
r -t .ri.l mu rk l ia "t [hit Amwm, ia additii i (a »'neh I »ill j««> plO.tmu
L. C BAKER.
FACSIMILE (REDUCED) OF THE I'OSTKK OKDERED BY O)
Mil. BAKER OF Till. SECRET SEM !•
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-
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS-URBANA
973 7L630P93L mm
LEWIS PAYNE, PAWN OF JOHN WILKES SOOTH
3 0112 031808105