The first lady

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By Scotty McDaniel

The names Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth will forever be linked in the first-ever assassination of a U.S. President.

Not so well remembered are the eight co-conspirators in the assassination -- one of whom grimly became an historic first herself.

It was 144 years ago Tuesday in Washington that, alongside three of the other conspirators (George Atzerodt, David Herold and Lewis Powell), Mary Surratt became the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government.

Because he pulled the trigger, Booth remains the face of the historic murder, but witness testimonies placed Surratt in the middle of the plot that claimed the life of our nation's 16th president.

Lewis Weichmann was staying at a boarding house run by Surratt in Washington leading up to Lincoln's death. He testified that Booth had been to the house to speak privately with Surratt on numerous occasions. In fact, she had met privately with several of the conspirators in her house.

Then on April 14, the day of the assassination, Surratt hopped in a buggy and took "a package, done up in paper, about six inches in diameter" to the tavern in Surrattsville, where Weichmann spotted her inside again talking privately with Booth.

Other testimony helped identify what they may have discussed. Tavernkeeper John Lloyd said she gave him the package to store away and he opened it to find field glasses, or binoculars. He also testified that Mary's brother John, David Herold and George Atzerodt had dropped off two carbine guns, ammunition, ropeand a monkey wrench weeks earlier. He put the final knot in her rope when he said that on the night of Lincoln's murder Surratt came to him to collect the guns for her comrades.

Testimonies suggested that Mary Surratt assisted in the violent plan. Following her final visit with Booth, just before the assassination, she was visibly nervous, according to Weichmann, as if she knew what would happen later that day.

Three days after Booth shot and killed Lincoln, a group of military investigators were knocking on her door late at night. While she was being questioned,  another of the conspirators, Lewis Powell, showed up at her house carrying a pickaxe. On the same day as Lincoln's murder, Powell had attempted, and failed, to kill Secretary of State William Seward.

Powell quickly made up a story to the investigators at Surratt's house about having been hired to dig a gutter, but Surratt denied both his story and even knowing who he was at all.

Truth be told, they had shared meetings often, as he stayed at her boardinghouse many times.

Powell was arrested, and after investigators found a picture of Booth hidden behind another picture on Surratt's mantle, she was, too. But before she was taken away, she asked for a moment to kneel and pray.

Seven weeks and 371 witnesses later, seven of eight conspirators were found guilty of conspiracy, and the eighth was found guilty of aiding Booth in his escape following the assassination. Three were sentenced to hard labor for life, one got a 6-year term, but Surratt, Atzerodt, Herold, and Powell received much worse.

The hangings took place on July 7, 1865, three months after Lincoln's murder.

Five of the nine military commission members recommended to then-President Andrew Johnson that Surratt be spared the death sentence for a lighter punishment of life in prison because of her gender and age.

But it wasn't to be. Johnson said it was Surratt who "kept the nest that hatched the egg."

She would hang with the boys one last time at the Old Penitentiary in Washington.