Check Ancestors' Historic Connections


Lincoln-1865-Dr. PorterWith this marking the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D. C., it is an excellent time to reflect on if you had an ancestor somewhere – somehow that has any connection to a major historical event.

If you had an ancestor living in or around Washington, D. C. in 1865, right there is a major connection. Did an ancestor live somewhere along the route that John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators fled south of Washington? Was an ancestor part of the military troops in search of Booth? Maybe an ancestor was along the route and actually saw the Lincoln funeral train on its way to Illinois for Lincoln’s burial. An ancestor might have attended the trial of the conspirators and even their execution in July 1865. The possibilities are endless. You just never know when such a tie-in might be found.

When I did some checking, I did not find any of my ancestors but rather a person with a very direct connection to the assassination of Lincoln who had lived in my hometown. The eight conspirators captured and held for trial were: Lewis Payne, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Mary Surratt, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen Jr., Edmund Spangler and Samuel Arnold. While housed in a federal jail (the Washington Arsenal) in Washington, their medical care was handled by Dr. George Porter, a surgeon doctor in the U.S. Army. He certified the Payne, Atzerodt, Herold and Mary Surratt were officially died with their hanging on July 7, 1865 and he transported the remaining four; O’Laughlen, Spangler, Arnold and the famous Dr. Samuel Mudd on a ship to Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys for them to serve their prison terms.

In doing some research I found that it was the same Dr. George Porter, direct doctor to the Lincoln conspirators, who retired to my hometown in Florida in the early 20th century. He was known to offer to the citizens of Stuart a first-hand account of those spellbinding historical events of 1865. He died in Stuart on February 24, 1919, having spoken and completed his written accounts of the Lincoln assassination and aftermath.

Start asking some older relatives, review diaries and journals, there might be a hint of a historical event. Check not only your direct, but indirect relatives (cousins, aunts, uncles) along with people in the ancestral community who may have been a part of history.

Photo: Dr. Charles Porter in 1865.

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