20 December

Samuel Alexander Mudd (20 December, 1833 – 10 January, 1883) was an American physician who was imprisoned for conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

While working as a doctor in Southern Maryland, Mudd also employed slaves on his tobacco farm, and declared his belief in slavery as a God-given institution. The Civil War seriously damaged his business, especially when Maryland abolished slavery in 1864. At this time, he first met Booth, who was planning to kidnap Lincoln, and Mudd was seen in company with three of the conspirators. But his part in the plot, if any, remains unclear.

After assassinating Lincoln on 14 April, 1865, Booth rode with co-conspirator David Herold to Mudd’s home in the early hours of the 15th for surgery on his fractured leg, before crossing into Virginia. Some time that day, Mudd must have learned of the assassination, but did not report Booth’s visit to the authorities for another 24 hours. This appeared to link him to the crime, as did his various changes of story under interrogation, and on 26 April, he was arrested. A military commission found him guilty of aiding and conspiring in a murder, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, escaping the death penalty by a single vote.

Mudd was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and released from prison in 1869. Despite repeated attempts by family members and others to have it expunged, his conviction has never been overturned.

Samuel Mudd is sometimes given as the origin of the phrase “your name is mud”, as in, for example, the 2007 film National Treasure: Book of Secrets. However, according to an online etymology dictionary, this phrase has its earliest known recorded instance in 1823, ten years before Mudd’s birth, and is based on an obsolete sense of the word “mud” meaning “a stupid twaddling fellow”.