Surratt House Museum9118 Brandywine Road
Clinton, MD 20735
301-868-1121; TTY 301-699-2544; Fax 301-868-8177 James O. Hall Research Center: 301-868-6185
Originally built as a middle-class farm house for John and Mary Surratt in 1852, the Surratt House is infamously connected to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. During the crucial decade before the Civil War, the house served as a tavern and hostelry, a post office, and a polling place. During the War, it was a safe house in the Confederate underground system which flourished in Southern Maryland.
Today, the museum presents a variety of programs and events, recapturing the history of the mid-19th century life and focusing on the fascinating web of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy and the involvement of the Surratt family.
Spotlight: One History Project Leads to Another
Born into slavery near Petersburg, Virginia, Elizabeth Keckly used her talents as a seamstress and designer to buy her freedom and that of her son. In July of 1860, Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C. and became the seamstress for many of the city’s social elites.
On Inauguration Day 1861, Mrs. Keckly was introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln at the Willard Hotel and was asked to come to the White House the next day for an interview. That interview would lead to her becoming the modiste to the First Lady. A strong friendship developed between the two women.
Her position as confidante to the Lincoln family is profiled in her 1868 book, Behind the Scenes, which has given historians an intimate look into the Lincoln White House.
Elizabeth Keckly died in 1907, and was buried in Washington’s Columbian Harmony Cemetery. The cemetery was bought by developers in the 1950s, and her remains were moved to an unmarked grave in National Harmony Memorial Park in Largo, Maryland. In 2010, the Surratt House Museum and its volunteer affiliate, the Surratt Society, sponsored a $6000 project to place a marker on Elizabeth’s grave.
After news of the event was printed in The Washington Post, museum staff received a call from the National Park Service project manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom initiative. Mrs. Keckly had played a significant role before and after the Civil War in securing shelter, food, clothing, and jobs for newly emancipated freedmen who poured into Washington, D.C. The museum’s research librarian, Sandra Walia, was asked to prepare a nomination application to have Mrs. Keckly entered into the Network to Freedom project. On March 9, 2012, word was received that the application has been approved.
Through the Surratt Museum’s efforts to mark the grave of a remarkable lady, the nation can now learn of the historic work of Elizabeth Keckly.