Lewis Payne: Assassin Hanged

June 12, 2008

Lewis Payne, after his arrest: 1865. Payne was one of the four men hanged for the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy.

The four-man assassination conspiracy was orchestrated by John Wilkes Booth. In April of 1865 it was decided the roles that each would play in the grand scheme: Payne was to go to the home of Secretary of State William Seward and kill him, accompanied by Herold. Atzerodt would assassinate Vice President Johnson, and Booth was to kill Abraham Lincoln.

After being escorted to the Seward residence by David Herold, Payne attempted to kill William Seward on April 14, 1865 by breaking into his bedroom and stabbing him repeatedly. This is the same night that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

However, earlier in the month, on April 5, 1865, Secretary of State Seward had been injured in a carriage accident, and suffered a concussion, a broken jaw, a broken right arm, and many serious bruises. A jaw splint worn by Seward helped to save his life by deflecting the knife away from his jugular vein. Four other people were injured in the attack. Another member of the conspiracy, George Atzerodt, failed to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson, because he lost his nerve and got drunk.

(John Wilkes Booth was tracked down and killed by Union soldiers twelve days later at a farm in rural northern Virginia)

Payne was executed with three other conspirators on July 7, 1865. He went to the gallows calmly and quietly, though at some point he was believed to have pleaded for the life of Mary Surratt shortly before he was hanged.

While hangman Christian Rath was placing the noose over young Payne’s head he remarked, “I hope you die quick.” He had been impressed by Payne’s courage and determination in the face of death. To this Payne replied, “You know best, captain.” However Payne did not die quickly as hoped by Rath. After the drop he struggled for life more than five minutes. His body swinging wildly, twice he “Moved his legs up into the sitting position” and was the last to die. (Wikipedia)

The execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt on July 7, 1865.


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