Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What If Your Name Is Mud?

by Gray

Part I: So the story goes...

This is an old story about a troubled family name and the assassination of the President.  This surname is in the family of Abraham Lincoln as well as the family of my wife. 

Image by D. Van Nostrand, 1865. Courtesy of The General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The year was 1865. 
The Civil War ended only months before.  President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated by a stage actor named John Wilkes Booth. The killer and cohorts were captured after a massive search. 

In their grief, the American public learned of Dr. Samuel Mudd. Although he denied any bad intentions towards the President, he could not deny that he had met with Booth months earlier. Nor could he deny that, hours after the assassination, they had met again in his Maryland home, not far from Washington, D.C.  Dr. Mudd had treated and set the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin, allowed him and his accomplice, David Herold, to spend the night, and then sent them on their way.  

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd.  source: Wikimedia commons. Library of Congress Photograph

Dr. Mudd was tried and convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of the President. He received a life sentence at hard labor, and was transported by ship to a federal prison called Fort Jefferson.  This prison is located within a group of remote islands known as the Dry Tortugas, located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida.  The islands and the prison facilites remain today, as part of the Dry Tortugas National Park.

 Fort Jefferson Federal Prison.

Imprisoned for life on a small island miles from nowhere, with no hope of escape, Dr. Samuel Mudd was gone.

He was certainly not forgotten. Mudd’s name continued in conversations among the American people in a special way. A despised, discredited or unpopular person could be described with these words: 

“His name is Mud.” 

That expression continues to this day, or so the story goes. 

But there is much more to this story.

Part II. Mud and Mudd before and after 1865

English cows in English mud. 
Kine at the fodder by Waulkmill, Torphins 2007 source: geograph.org.uk

1)       It was already an old expression. “His name is mud” was already an expression before Samuel Mudd was born.  In an 1823 English publication, it carried the meaning of “he is a stupid, twaddling fellow.”   The events of 1865 had injected new meaning and intensity into the phrase, from “stupid” to “despicable.” Source: (from John Badcock's (aka 'J. Bee’) Slang - A dictionary of the turf etc., 1823)  http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/your-name-is-mud.html

2)   Mudd’s guilt is disputed. As my wife's family can tell you, the debate continues to this day on Mudd’s personal guilt in Lincoln’s death. Some of his neighbors thought of him as Unionist, but there was no doubt of his slave ownership. 

3)   Mudd received a Presidential pardon. In 1867, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in the prison colony on Fort Jefferson. Dr. Mudd was credited for saving lives of prisoners and staff, at great risk to his own. In 1869, during his last days in office, President Andrew Johnson issued a pardon for Mudd, and he was released. 

Lincoln's own close connection to the Mudd family. 
There is a sad irony in the linking of the surname Mudd to the murder of Abraham Lincoln.  If Samuel Mudd and Lincoln could have met under the right circumstances, Abe might have happily brought up his close friendship in Illinois with Henry Luke Mudd, a distant cousin to Dr. Mudd.  

Lincoln’s uncle was married to Henry’s aunt.  Abe Lincoln and Henry Mudd were thus cousins by marriage. President Lincoln had offered his friend Henry Mudd a job in Washington DC, but he declined, preferring to remain in Illinois.   source: http://www.abrahamlincolnlongninemuseum.com/map.php   

My wife's connection to the Mudd family. 
I know the Mudd family as gentle, hard-working, sweet-natured, deeply religious, salt-of-the-earth type people.  My wife, Marie, is a Mudd. Her grandmother was born Rose Mudd of Kansas. Her son had moved to Dayton, Ohio to work for the Mudd furniture store. The locally owned Dayton business has been gone for years; some Mudd Furniture Showrooms are found now in Kentucky. 

Post Scripts:

1. Historic Fort Jefferson is the largest masonary structure in the Western Hemisphere, and the second largest in the world (after the Great Wall of China). It is composed of over 16 million bricks and contains over two-thousand masonary arches.  Because of their remote location, Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas rank among the least-visited of the U.S. National Parks.

2. The 1993 music video “My name is mud” was released by alternative rock band Primus from their album Pork Soda.  Like the soda, this music is not everyone’s taste; the imagery is disturbing, but it starts with some pretty good licks on bass. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=953PkxFNiko&feature=related In 2010, Primus re-cut this song in Spanish.

3. A Witness to the Assassination participated in a gameshow in the 1950s.  This link takes you to the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jgGX1v4YFo


  1. Dear Gray,

    Thank you for taking the time to create this blog and share this little known truth, that the man who, for self serving political reasons, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton railroaded as being a conspirator of the assasination of President Lincoln was in fact a cousin of President Abraham Lincoln. This is not, now was it ever, taught in any history book although it is so easy to trace. My gggg aunt Mary Mudd (1775-1859), daughter of Luke Mudd (1737-1816) and Jane Hill Mudd (1741-?) was married to Mordecai Lincoln (1771-1830), who, according to numerous sources, were referred to by Abe Lincoln as his favorite Uncle and Aunt. The first members of the Mudd family, including Thomas Mudd, emigrated from Bristol England circa 1650, and settled in Maryland. The early settlers had many children and lived in close knit communities. While several of the Mudd family remained in Maryland, including the ancestors of Dr. Samuel Mudd, several migrated west along with other community members, including members of the Higdon family and others, to settle in Grayson County, KY, which bordered Hardin County KY where Abraham Lincoln was born and raised before moving north to Illinois. Mordecai Lincoln, being born in Virginia (bordering MD),also migrated to KY to settle in Hardin Cty, The Lincolns of Hardin, KY were close with the Mudd family of Leitchfiled, KY (which was rather large) and Abe Lincoln. Uncle Mordecai Lincoln married Mary Mudd, lived in Hardin Cty, KY and had several children before moving to IL along with other Lincoln family members including Abe Lincoln,, yet they all remained close friends and kin.

    Another fact that is known only to kin of the time, and those who have researched it, (and never published) is that members of the Mudd family who migrated from MD were Hezekiah Mudd (1755-1854) and Elizabeth Edelin Mudd (1758-1838). While living in KY, two of their children (Benjamin Edlelen Mudd and Elizabeth Lucretia Mudd), married two of the children of Morecai and Mary-Mudd Lincoln (Elizabeth Ann Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln, who were first cousins of President Abraham Lincoln). Thus the kinship of the Lincoln and the Mudd families was expanded and at the time of his assasination, Pres. Abe Lincoln was first cousin to both Benjamin Edelen Mudd and Elizabeth Lucretia Mudd of Kentucky, as well a more distant cousin to Dr. Samuel A. Mudd of Maryland.

    As the close kinship of both the Lincoln and Mudd families transcended from Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois, it it highly unlikely that a) the families did not maintain communication with each other, and b) that the members of the Mudd family across state lines were unaware that one of their kin was the President of the United States, and just as unlikely that the President was unaware that he had kin living in Maryland-and being so close to Washington, D.C., that there was no documented communication (IE letters) between President Lincoln and his friends and family of the Mudd line. Andy Powers Email a.j.powers@tax-power.com

    1. Also to add to the above..

      This leaves several questions in my mind. First, why when Dr. Samuel Mudd's wife Frances was desperately seeking support to prove her husband's innocence did no one from the Lincoln family, or the Mudd family for that matter, provide any support or testimony in defense of Dr. Mudd, and secondly, why are there no documents of this relationship in the Lincoln Archives? As there are no historical documents we can only speculate. Although we have no evidence, here are some facts to ponder.

      It is well documented that SecWar Edwin Stanton and others including Ulysses S. Grant strongly disagreed with Pres. Lincoln's commitment to restoring relations with and reconstructing the former confederate states and instead felt that the South should be punished for Confederate Secession and immediately following the assasination pushed for the impeachment of President Johnson. Had Lincon not been assasinated his policies regarding the south would have been totally contrary to those of President Grant.

      At the time of the assasination the Union was still under martial law, and Constitutional authority, although in transition, was not yet official and Stanton was in a position of supreme authoritative power.

      There existed an outcry within the national capitol area demanding revenge for the assasination of Lincoln, and were convinced that there was a consiracy and Booth did not act alone. As SecWar it was Stanton's job to identify and punish anyone suspected of conspiracy to demonstrate he was doing his job and satisfy the public outcry. It was his decision, and in his best interests, to use his war powers to try any suspected conspirators in a secret military tribunal rather than a civil court of justice. By doing so he ramained in charge of the procedings and outcome.

      The first "suspect" who was arrested under Stanton's orders, for being a doctor in the wrong place at the wrong time, was Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who was the first to be brought before the tribunal.

      Booth's detailed journal was turned over to Standton by the Union soliers when Booth was killed, yet Stanton initially withheld this from the members of the Tribunal. When Stanton was forced to show this to the Tribunal, several pages were missing from the diary, never to be found. Booth was meticulous as far as keeping his notes, yet although when Mudd's defense attorney questioned regarding the entries that Frances Mudd witnessed Booth entering in his journal the morning prior to his leaving the Mudd farm, those entries were amoung the missing pages, as were others. Could it be that Booth documented that he sought assistance from the same Dr. Mudd who he had soken with months prior regarding his purchasing Mudd's farm. and that he was able to conceal his identity from Mudd using his actor's disquise? This clearly would have provided evidence that Mudd did not know the identity of the man whose leg he had mended. If so, Stanton's charges against Mudd may have been dismissed, and that would look bad for Stanton as he continued his investigation as to other possible "consirators".

      What else was written in the missing pages? Was Stanton mentioned? As Booth was a renoun actor at the Ford theator, surely Stanton and others would have known him.

      Who had access to President Lincoln's private effects, including his letters. If there was any evidence that Lincoln corresponded with any of his freinds and family of the Mudd clan they would certainly addeded credence to the fact the Dr. Mudd would be an unlikely suspect as regards the assasination of his cousin and would not have been conicted in a civilian court. But today known terrorists have this right that was denied to Mudd ..Andy Powers

    2. Thank you Anonymous. I really appreciate your own scholarship on this topic.

      I see things this way: as I had read that Dr. Mudd was in a discussion on kidnapping (not killing) the President. Booth was in that discussion along with other conspirators. Dr. Mudd was approached as a potential recruit, but there is no evidence that Mudd was supportive of the idea. It looks like he stayed out of it. So, Booth and Mudd knew each other in the context of an no-go conspiracy...ugly it is, but that's no crime for Dr. Mudd.

      So, just a few weeks later, could an actor's disguise effectively conceal a familiar person, seeking help, in an unguarded and painful condition? I can't see it. How could Dr. Mudd not know it was Booth on that night?

      Nonetheless, there are many mitigating facts for Dr. Mudd's case. He WAS falsely imprisoned, later to be a hero, and came home a broken man.

    3. Dear Sues Geisel..Thank you for your contribution to this discussion. There are more questions than answers and Dr. Richard Mudd spent years trying unsuccessfully to get the conviction vacated. Most strange is that the Lincolns and the Mudd Family were so close for generations. My 5th generation Aunt Mary Mudd was first cousin to Luke Mudd, who was President Lincoln's cousin through marriage. Then there was Ben Lincoln, son of Mordecai and Mary (Mudd) Lincoln (first cousin 2X removed from Dr. Mudd) who married Benjamin Edelen Mudd, son of Hezekiah Mudd (first cousin to Mary Mudd Lincoln). It's all so strange.