On April 17, 1865, three days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Lewis Powell (also known as Lewis Payne) was arrested by military investigators at the home of John and Mary Surratt in Washington, DC. The investigators, who were questioning Mary Surratt, did not believe Powell’s story that he had been hired to dig a gutter; after all, it was approximately 11 pm. When Surratt declined to corroborate his story, the authorities arrested Powell on suspicion of involvement in the plot to assassinate the President. At his trial, Powell’s attorney did not argue that his client was innocent; instead he argued that Powell was fanatically delusional, and “lives in that land of imagination where it seems to him legions of southern soldiers wait to crown him as their chief commander.” The defense did not work, and Powell was executed with his fellow conspirators on July 7, 1865.
Born in 1844 in Alabama, Powell was one of eight children. He served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, eventually settling in the Baltimore area. A friend introduced Powell to John Surratt, who subsequently introduced him to John Wilkes Booth. Powell was involved with both Booth’s failed plot to kidnap President Lincoln and his later successful plot to assassinate the President. Powell’s role in the conspiracy was to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward. On the night of April 14th, Powell arrived at Seward’s home, claiming to have medicine for him. When he was denied entry, Powell assaulted Seward’s servant, son, and bodyguard before stabbing the Secretary of State several times. Seward’s life was most likely saved by the jaw splint he was wearing. It deflected the blade away from its intended target—Seward’s jugular vein.