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Dr. Samuel Mudd was convicted of conspiracy in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and imprisoned at Fort Jefferson, a remote Gulf of Mexico fortress 68 miles west of Key West, and scores of his descendants are still trying to prove his innocence.
That’s why 80 of them descended on the fort last Friday, the 150th anniversary of Mudd’s July 24, 1865, arrival at the isolated outpost.
Wearing colourful Key-lime-green “Free Dr. Mudd” T-shirts, they toured Fort Jefferson, a former Union military prison in remote Dry Tortugas National Park, and even viewed a cell where Samuel Mudd spent four years.
Mudd was convicted and imprisoned after treating the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. But great-grandson Tom Mudd, who spearheaded the family journey to Fort Jefferson, believes the doctor was unaware of Booth’s crime when he splinted his leg.
“History is not cut in stone,” said Tom Mudd during the fort visit. “History is flexible, it’s pliable — and we sincerely believe that Dr. Samuel Mudd was innocent. That’s why we’re here today.”
Samuel Mudd left Fort Jefferson — called the Gibraltar of the Gulf and believed to be one of the largest masonry structures in the Western Hemisphere — after being granted a pardon in 1869, primarily because of the medical work he did in stemming the spread of a yellow fever outbreak at the fort. But his conviction was never overturned.
Tom Mudd, his father Richard Mudd and other family members have spent nearly 100 years trying to clear their ancestor’s name without success.
“Dad was 102 years old when he said, ‘Tom, we’re never going to win this judicially, but again, in the court of public opinion, we can keep trying — and as long as there is a Mudd alive, we’re going to continue,’” quoted Tom Mudd.
The seven tiny islands that make up the Dry Tortugas, including Garden Key where the fort stands, were designated Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992.
For further information on the Dry Tortugas, visit www.nps.gov/drto
For further information on the Florida Keys & Key West, visit www.fla-keys.co.uk