Louis Paine (image above), the fall guy who took the rap for a different person, his cousin Lewis Powell, was, as he said, a Baptist preacher. Digging through census reports and other data, author Vaughan Shelton (Mask For Treason) managed to unearth the facts about Louis Paine, executed by hanging on July 7, 1865.
In March 1865, the Reverend Louis Paine had briefly resided at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse in Washington City. He told his fellow residents he was a clergyman. And as it turns out, there is truth in what Louis Paine said.
The 1860 Hamilton County (just across the Georgia state line) Florida census lists a Louis Paine, age 18, living in the household of a Jeremiah Smith and his wife Catherine.
The 1850 census for Belleville, Georgia records a Hugh Louis, age 8, living in the household of the same Jeremiah and Catherine Smith.
Catherine Smith had been married to John W. Paine of Gwinnett County, Georgia. John W. Paine was the biological father of Louis Paine. Catherine Smith, his mother, was the granddaughter of William G. Cox.
The brother of William G. Cox was one Ichabod Cox. Ichabod Cox was the grandfather of a Rev. George C. Powell. Powell married a woman named Caroline. Caroline gave birth to Lewis Powell, the actual knife-wielding assassin who tried to murder William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, on April 14, 1865. “This connection would have made the mothers of Louis Paine and Lewis Powell second cousins – and the two young men third cousins,” observes Vaughan Shelton (op. cit.)
Circa 1845, Catherine had separated from John W. Paine. He may have died or it may have been a divorce. Soon thereafter she married Jeremiah Smith. But by 1860, Hugh Louis had chosen to go by the name of his blood father, John W. Paine. This had to do with a Woody Allen-type situation: Sarah “Smith” had been the biological daughter of John Paine and Catherine. She had moved into the household of Jeremiah Smith when Catherine remarried. In Jeremiah Smith’s last will, probated in 1879, he left his possessions to “my beloved wife Sarrah C. Smith.” Jeremiah Smith had fallen for his step-daughter! No wonder Hugh Louis decided to disremember the name “Smith” and become known as Louis Paine!
Catherine, wife of Jeremiah and mother of Sarah, of course did a Mia Farrow when her husband became romantically involved with her daughter and Jeremiah’s step-daughter. She left the old scoundrel and moved to Warrenton, Virginia, a town in Fauquier County, Virginia.
But meanwhile, Louis Paine had been converted by a popular preacher of the time, the Rev. George C. Powell. His conversion was to a sect of the Baptist Church, known as the Primitive movement. In that sect, one could become a properly certified preacher before one chose to become ordained. Louis Paine became a certified preacher and thereby was entitled to call himself a Baptist preacher. He was not lying when he told persons residing at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse that he was a Baptist preacher.
There is a subsequent episode to his conversion circa 1860 where Louis Paine enlisted as a Confederate soldier and eventually served under General John Bell Hood. But that may be covered later, here at Ersjdamoo’s Blog. Of note is, after Hood’s defeat Louis Paine traveled to see his mother Catherine, in Fauquier County, Virginia. She had saved his preacher’s uniform of black frock coat. In Fauquier County also, Louis Paine renewed his acquaintance with cousin Lewis Powell. (As documented in the Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of March 11, 2013, cousin Lewis Powell, the actual criminal involved in the attack on William Seward, managed to get a look at Louis Paine as he was led to the gallows on July 7, 1865.)
And how did Louis Paine behave as he walked to the gallows? Lt. Col. Christian Rath, provost of the prison which held Louis Paine, described Paine as he walked the “green mile” to his hanging: “On the death-march to the gallows, Payne [sic], who was bare-headed, took [Lt. Col.] McCall’s straw hat off his head and put it on his own. His head was large and the hat was too small, and he wore it until it was time to adjust the noose on his neck. It was not because of his lack of reverence, but because of his great sense of humor. He was a good fellow. We used to pitch quoits in the yard together; he was always good natured…”
(Acknowledgement to: Mask For Treason, by Vaughan Shelton. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965)