CHARLES TOWN – Nationally acclaimed author Bob O’Connor of Charles Town, has just published his nineteenth book. O’Connor has written a column that has appeared on the first Sunday of each month in the Journal for 13 years.
In keeping with her interest in writing about virtually unknown figures from the Civil War, her new book is about Mrs. Sarah Slater. Most have never heard of her.
The new book is titled “Veil of Secrecy – Mrs. Slater – The Missing Lincoln Conspirator”. Sarah Slater, although unknown to the more astute Civil War buffs, is frequently mentioned both in the transcript of the Lincoln plot trial and in the subsequent trial of John Surratt. Yet, as one witness admitted, “the government did its best to find out who the woman (Mr. Slater) was, but could not locate her. In fact, this information is only partially correct. Bob O’Connor found it. And government investigators too.
Mrs. Slater got into the conspiracy game very late – in the early part of 1865, in fact. But she quickly got involved with several of the key players. She spent time with John Wilkes Booth at the famous Ford’s Theater. She was a good friend and traveled with John Harrison Surratt, Jr., another of the conspirators. She had a brief meeting with George Atzerodt, another of the conspirators. She spoke to Mary Surratt. And she spent the night at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house, the virtual “thieves’ lair” in Washington City.
Sarah, who has aspired to be a French actress all her life, has retained a mysterious identity. She always wore a mourning veil to cover her face. It was said that she spoke French fluently but spoke “broken” English. She was a lady of few words.
When the conspiracy trials were held in May 1865 after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, witness after witness spoke of Mrs. Slater. But no one could identify him. In fact, the only two in the whole situation who had seen Mrs. Slater without her veil were John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. Neither was available to testify.
During this time, Mrs. Slater’s job had been to transport dispatches between senior Confederate government officials in Richmond, Virginia and Confederate Secret Service operations at the St. Lawrence Hall Hotel in Montreal.
Sarah Slater was perfect for the job. As a woman, she was not as suspicious of carrying dispatches as a man. A Union guard who checked her forged papers and let her pass said she was too pretty to be a spy.
She also spoke French. In Montreal, the main language was French. If confronted, officials in Canada would assume she was a French-Canadian citizen. She could also get help from the French Embassy if necessary. It was the perfect role for the actress Sarah as she was still in the character.
Ms. Slater has been to Montreal three times and back. After his last trip, just a week before the assassination, $ 649,000 in a Confederate bank account at the Ontario Bank went missing. Just like Mrs. Slater. Was it a coincidence?
Born and raised in Illinois, O’Connor has always been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln and the plot. “The verbatim transcripts of the conspiracy trials and the John Surratt trial were taken by stenographers and printed daily in the newspapers of the day,” O’Connor explained. “I find the conspiracy trial transcripts fascinating. I used a book published by local Berkeley Springs author Edward Steers Jr. for my research. It’s called “The Trial – The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial of the Conspirators”. In this case, Ms Slater was able to sit at home and follow along, reading the daily transcripts to see if anyone had testified the day before about anything that would implicate her. None did. Later, when the War Department found her and interrogated her for four hours, Ms. Slater still avoided being arrested. Their questions came from sources who had obtained their information second-hand. The investigation revealed absolutely nothing of interest and she was released.
When asked if this book, like his other novels, also had a local connection, the author replied, “Yes, it is. One of the pre-assassination investigators who showed up at the Mary Surratt boarding house looking for herself and John Surratt was none other than the Summit Point native and Bunker Hill resident, the US Federal Marshal Ward Hill Lamon. But Marshal Lamon could not find it at the time either.
His Montreal connection to the Confederate Secret Service was Brigadier General Edwin Gray Lee, a cousin of Robert E. Lee and a local man born in Shepherdstown.
The book is historical fiction, but according to O’Connor, mostly true. And in keeping with all of her other Civil War novels, the book is narrated by Ms. Slater herself, in first person.
O’Connor is a follower of the trail. It uses primary source research and weaves the story around that information.
The author has been nominated four times as a finalist in the national book competition. He has spoken or attended events more than 1,000 times in 26 states and the District of Columbia since the publication of his first book in 2006. O’Connor is available to speak to groups and organizations about his new. delivered. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] The book is available on the author’s website www.boboconnorbooks.com or on Amazon.com. Locally, copies are also available from Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown or Patterson’s Drug Store in Martinsburg. The book is 234 pages long and retails for $ 16.95.