A country doctor from Maryland, Samuel Mudd became the best known prisoner in Key West’s offshore military prison Fort Jefferson. Dr. Mudd was among those swept up in the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy, and received a life sentence of hard labor at Ft. Jefferson. His crime: setting the leg of the assassin John Wilkes Booth. When Dr. Mudd arrived in 1865, there were more than 800 in what was considered America’s “Devils Island.” During a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 Dr. Mudd volunteered his services after the death of the medical officer. Dr. Mudd was credited with saving many lives during the outbreak, despite contracting the disease himself. Largely due to his actions during the epidemic, Dr. Mudd was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and released from prison in March of 1869 and returned to his farm. He became active in local politics. Dr. Mudd died of pneumonia in 1883; he was 49 years old.
Samuel Mudd is sometimes given as the origin of the phrase “Your name is mud!”, as in the 2007 film National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Though its origin is not historically accurate, the movie does make it pretty convincing and fits perfectly.
You can find the infamous Dr. Samuel Mudd’s life-size prison cell likeness on display inside the new FREE Fort Jefferson Museum. Now to find the museum, go all the way to the end of the pier directly in front of the Turtle Kraals Restaurant in the area of town known as Harbor Walk.