Unusual Tourist Sites: Fort Jefferson Prison Dry Tortugas Islands Florida Part 2

About the unusual tourist site Fort Jefferson, one of the most dreaded prisons, on Dry Tortugas Islands in Florida, history and information.

Dry Tortugas Islands, Florida

Fort Jefferson's most famous prisoner arrived shortly after the war ended. His name was Dr. Samuel Mudd, and in a vengeful trial that went beyond the bounds of justice, he was convicted of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to Fort Jefferson in chains.

As was proved in later years, Dr. Mudd was in no way involved with the murder of President Lincoln. But through only circumstantial evidence and the hysteria of the moment, he was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the country's most feared prison. Dr. Mudd had never seen or heard of John Wilkes Booth until about 5 hours after the assassination, when Booth and one of his coconspirators knocked on the doctor's door. Booth had broken his leg while escaping from Ford's Theater, and he desperately needed medical attention. Dr. Mudd, knowing nothing about the assassination at that time, set Booth's leg, bound it up, and convinced Booth and his friend to spend the remainder of the night recuperating at his house. Before departing the next morning, Booth paid the bill under an assumed name and fled.

When authorities learned that Booth had spent the night at Dr. Mudd's home in southern Maryland, the doctor was immediately arrested. Although the physician repeatedly asserted that he knew nothing of the plot to murder the President, the courts acted swiftly and sent him to Fort Jefferson.

When Dr. Mudd arrived at the prison in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, it was filled not only with other convicts, but with mosquitoes as well. Carrying deadly yellow-fever germs, the flying insects attacked everyone on the island with abandon--prisoners, guards, soldiers, and officials alike. There were times when the fatal fever spread so rapidly that men were dying faster than they could be buried.

In the midst of one of the most horrifying of these epidemics, Dr. Mudd volunteered to help treat the victims of the fever. This humanitarian gesture on his part surprised some prison officials, who had previously instructed guards to give "that Lincoln murderer" the harshest of treatment while incarcerated. Dr. Mudd had been chained to the floor of his cell and badly abused by guards, but he still asked to help treat those who had been attacked by the fever. Even though he contracted the ailment himself, he survived and helped others through the ordeal.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Dr. Mudd's wife was involved in a mission of her own: trying to secure her husband's release from prison. After 4 years, she finally succeeded in getting him "pardoned" for a crime he never committed.

Not long after Dr. Mudd departed, the rest of the prisoners left too, for the prison was closed down. Now Fort Jefferson is inhabited only by mosquitoes. In 1934, it became a national monument.

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