About 80 descendants of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd marked Friday's 150th anniversary of Mudd's July 24, 1865, arrival at an isolated Gulf of Mexico fort where he was imprisoned after splinting the broken leg of President Abraham Lincoln's assassin.
Wearing "Free Dr. Mudd'' T-shirts, the group toured Fort Jefferson, a former Union military prison on an island 68 miles west of Key West in remote Dry Tortugas National Park. Most visited the cell where Mudd spent four years after being convicted as a co-conspirator in Lincoln's assassination.
Great-grandson Tom Mudd, who spearheaded the pilgrimage, believes the doctor was unaware of John Wilkes Booth's crime when he treated Booth.
"You have to really believe that history is not cut in stone,'' Tom Mudd said. "That history is flexible, it's pliable, and we sincerely believe that Dr. Samuel Mudd was innocent.
"That's why we're here today, to contest those who have penned Dr. Mudd as being one of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination,'' he said.
Samuel Mudd left Fort Jefferson, nicknamed the Gibraltar of the Gulf, after being granted a pardon in 1869, primarily because of the medical work he did in stemming the spread of a yellow fever outbreak at the fort. But his conviction was never overturned.
"The real champion of the Mudd family was my father, Dr. Richard D. Mudd,'' said Tom Mudd of his dad, who waged a seven-decade fight to have his grandfather's name cleared. "My dad, just before he died (in 2002) said, 'We will never win this judicially.'
"But in the court of public opinion, we're going to win this,'' Tom Mudd said. "As long as there is a Mudd alive, we are going to stand as evidence for the innocence of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd and his historic importance.''
Nearly thirty years in the making, from 1846 to 1875, Fort Jefferson was never finished nor fully armed and never fired upon. It was abandoned by the Army in 1874 and in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the area as Fort Jefferson National Monument.
The monument was expanded in 1983 and, along with six other nearby islands, was redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992.