A Simple Act of Common Humanity

bl BOONE Emily in frame

I was brimming with excitement when I picked up this early portrait of Emily Theresa Boone of Bryantown, Maryland at a local antique mall.  I believe it’s considered a chalk or pastel piece.  The artist likely completed it based on an earlier daguerreotype or ambrotype photograph.  Emily appears to be around thirteen years old which would date the likeness to 1855.

Little did I know that the elation I felt when I found this portrait would only grow!  You see, Emily’s life as a twice-married mother of five children was quite interesting but it’s her connection to a Lincoln conspirator that I’m most eager to share.  

Dr. George Dyer Mudd (1850s)

In the Fall of 1853, Emily Boone and her family were celebrating the marriage of her sister Rosalie to Dr. George Dyer Mudd.  And there lies the connection.  It was in 1865 that George’s testimony aided in the prosecution of his cousin, Dr. Samuel Mudd, charged with conspiracy and aiding John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Booth and Herold
Booth (Encyclopedia Brittania) and Herold (Eastern Illinois University)

In the early morning of April 15, 1865, after assassinating the President, John Wilkes Booth and an accomplice, David Herold, rode to Dr. Samuel Mudd’s farm where the doctor set Booth’s broken leg and gave the men shelter.  It was Emily’s brother-in-law, George Mudd, who alerted the military to these events.

Mr. Ewing for the defense – Will you state whether or not you saw Dr. Mudd on the Sunday after the assassination of the President?

George Mudd – Yes, sir: I saw him at church. He overtook me after that on my way to Bryantown, and I rode with him as far as the house.” […] “I stated to [Lieutenant Dana, commander of U.S. Army authorities investigating the Lincoln assassination near Bryantown, Maryland] that Dr. Samuel Mudd had informed me that two suspicious parties were at his house,—came there a little before daybreak on Saturday morning; and that one of them had, as he said, a broken leg, which he bandaged; that they were laboring under some degree of excitement,—more so, he thought, than should arise from a broken leg; that these parties stated that they came from Bryantown, and were inquiring the way to the Rev. Dr. Wilmer’s; that whilst there one of them called for a razor, and shaved himself, thereby altering his appearance; that he improvised a crutch, or some crutches, for the broken-legged man, and that they went in the direction of Parson Wilmer’s. I think that is about the whole of what I told the lieutenant.”

Dr Sam Mudd
Dr. Samuel Mudd

Dr. Samuel Mudd, an enslaver and supporter of the confederacy during the Civil War, claimed he wasn’t part of the murder plot and was guilty only of “exercising a simple act of common humanity.”  But Mudd’s fate was sealed by witness reports that he met with Booth and other conspirators on several occasions before the murder.  He was sentenced to life in prison of which he served approximately four years before being pardoned by President Johnson in 1869.  The doctor had gained the President’s favor by saving dozens of his fellow prisoners’ lives during a malaria outbreak at the Fort Jefferson penitentiary.

If you were thinking this is where the phrase “your name is mud” comes from, you’re mistaken.  That term can be traced back as far as 1823.  Although I’m sure the saying gained popularity due to the case of Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Emily’s sister Rosalie died in 1858, long before the trial took place, but since George was raising the Boone’s grandson and nephew, Frances, the families were still very much intertwined. I have to imagine that Emily and her family were the subjects of much community gossip because of their ties to the case.

1871 Mar 21 MUDD George SUICIDE ATTEMPT The Baltimore Sun
Mar. 22, 1871 ~ The Baltimore Sun (MD)

In 1871, when the whispers about town regarding the Lincoln conspirators had quieted, Emily’s brother-in-law made the news once again. Less than two months after Dr. George Mudd said “I do” for a second time, he attempted suicide by slashing his throat.  As sensational a story as this was for Bryantown, it was made all the worse when newspapers initially reported that he succeeded when the doctor actually survived.

Emily’s first husband, Raphael Middleton, who drowned in 1864 while serving in the military, was an enslaver, and so was her father, Edward Boone. How did Emily and her family feel about the assassination of the President and about Dr. Samuel Mudd’s involvement? I may have the answer to that question…

B_BURCH Claudine MUDD Sam II
Samuel Mudd II and Claudine Burch

Emily married John Marine Burch in 1874 and had four more children; Claudine, Edward Ashby, Edith, and Maria Carmalita.  In 1898, Emily’s daughter Claudine wed Dr. Samuel Mudd II, the son of the Lincoln conspirator himself!  I’m not a believer that the sins of the father should reflect on the son. Was that how Emily’s family felt as well? Or was there a general lack of regard when it came to Mudd’s involvement with President Lincoln’s assassin because the Boone and Burch families were enslavers and therefore not fans of Lincoln?

It’s possible Emily’s family believed in Dr. Samuel Mudd’s innocence.  To this very day, there are descendants of the doctor who fight to clear his name.  And we must take into account that Claudine hadn’t even been born when the assassination took place so those events might have been of little importance to her when she chose Samuel Mudd II as her groom.

Tragically Emily lived through the deaths of three of her five children before meeting her own demise in 1916 at the age of 74.   An invalid since infancy, Edith died in 1899 at the age of twenty.  In 1908 Emily lost her son, Vivian Middleton, whose cause of death has eluded me.

b1902 Mar 25 BURCH Edward Ashby SUICIDE The Baltimore Sun MD
Mar. 24, 1902 ~ The Baltimore Sun (MD)

The most disturbing of Emily’s children’s’ deaths was that of her 25-year-old son Edward Ashby Burch in 1902.  It was reported that he took his own life but the true crime fan in me can’t help but wonder if there may have been foul play involved.  There was no inquest, just a doctor’s ruling of suicide which seems to be based more on conjecture than evidence.  Edward had been living with his paternal cousin, Patrolman Francis Oscar Boarman (erroneously reported as Boardman by the Baltimore Sun), for less than a week.  It was thought Edward, a conductor, was distraught over his job.

As many heartbreaking losses as Emily endured throughout her life, I can only hope that she was the recipient of many “simple acts of common humanity.”

Census records
Find a Grave
The Case Against Dr. Mudd
How Dr. Samuel Mudd went from Lincoln Conspirator to Medical Saviour
Trial of the Conspirators


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