DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HATTIE LAWTON, MYSTERY UNION SPY?
Written by: Leo Lawton
We are seeking information about the background of Mrs. Hattie H. Lawton, one of Allen Pinkerton’s crack detectives and spies during the Civil War period. This is what we know about her so far.
The CEO of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Rail Road retained the famous Chicago detective, Allan Pinkerton, to bring a crew to Baltimore in early February 1861. The purpose was to investigate reports that pro-Confederates planned to sabotage his railroad, and to find ways to prevent this.
There were two women detectives on Pinkerton’s Baltimore crew, Mrs. Kate Warne, and a woman he called Mrs. Hattie H. Lawton, possibly her real name. Pinkerton teamed Mrs. Lawton with his ace detective, Timothy Webster. They soon turned up a plot in Baltimore to assassinate Lincoln when he came through that city en route to Washington to be inaugurated. As a result Lincoln was persuaded to come through Baltimore secretly on the night of February 22-23, 1861.
As part of an intelligence operation for General George McClellan, Pinkerton sent a crew of spies to Richmond in February 1862. They were Timothy Webster, Pryce Lewis, John Scully, and Mrs. Hattie H. Lawton—if that be her real name. In Richmond Mrs. Lawton posed as a southern woman from Corinth, Mississippi. She was again teamed with Timothy Webster.
The Richmond operation was “blown” when a young woman recognized Pryce Lewis and John Scully on the street as the Union detectives who had earlier searched her baggage in Baltimore. The two were arrested at the Monument Hotel on February28, 1862. Charged as spies, they were convicted and sentenced to death.
Under intense pressure, Scully “broke” and fingered Timothy Webster and Mrs. Lawton. Pleading English citizenship, Scully and Lewis were reprieved and finally exchanged in September 1863. Mrs. Lawton had been released earlier. She reported back to Pinkerton and then simply disappeared.
The Confederate government decided to make an example of Timothy Webster, a man they had trusted. He was publicly hanged in Richmond on April 29, 1862.
A lengthy and determined search for the background of Mrs. Hattie H. Lawton has failed to turn up a definite clue. The problem is compounded by the fact that Pinkerton’s records were destroyed in the great Chicago fire. There are some bits and pieces. Pinkerton once employed Mrs. Lawton’s husband as an agent/spy. He did not give his first name. In 1931 a rather sloppy book listed Mrs. Lawton’s given name as “Carrie,” not Hattie. And her husband’s given name as “Hugh.” Where the author got this information he did not say. As a side note, “Hattie” is a nickname for Harriet.”
Assume that this woman was really Mrs. Hattie H. Lawton, which seems likely. There must be some oral history in the Lawton family about an ancestor or relative who was a famous Pinkerton spy/agent during the Civil War. Or there may be some researcher who has tripped over a vital piece of information that can unravel the mystery of Mrs. Hattie H. Lawton. What finally happened to Hattie H. Lawton? Where and when did she die? Where is she buried? If you have information about Mrs. Lawton, please e-mail us at email@example.com or contact the Surratt House Museum, PO Box 427, Clinton MD 20735, phone 301- 868-1121.
James 0. Hall, The Ashby, Apt. 1202, 1350 Beverly Road, McLean, VA 22101, and I have corresponded for sometime about Hattie Lawton. James writes to the membership of Lawton Ledger;
In his 1931 book, published by Little, Brown, & Co. New York, THE PINKERTONS, Richard Wilmer Rowan identified Mrs. Lawton as Mrs. Carrie Lawton and her husband as Hugh Lawton. I had been unable to find his source. At several points Mr. Rowan’s wording seemed to come directly from Allan Pinkerton’s 1883 book, SPY OF THE REBELLION. So I went back to Pinkerton’s book to see if I had somehow missed anything when I read it years back and made notes.
First I found the almost movie-star description of Mrs. Lawton on page 367; “It was a beautiful morning in the early part of the month of April, 1862, when a lady, mounted upon a handsome and spirited black horse, and accompanied by a young and intelligent looking Negro, also excellently mounted, rode out of the city of Richmond, apparently for the purpose of enjoying a morning ride. Provided with the necessary passports, they experienced no Lawton Ledger Page 41 difficulty in passing the guards, and after a short ride found themselves in the open county beyond he city.”
“The lady was young, handsome and apparently about twenty-five years of age. Her complexion was fresh and rosy as the morning, her hair fell in flowing tresses of gold, while her eyes, which were of a clear and deep blue, were quick and searching in their glances. She appeared careless and entirely at ease, but a close observer would have noticed a compression of the small lips and a fixedness in the sparkling eyes that told of a purpose to be accomplished, and that her present journey was not wholly one of pleasure…”
One page 370 this sentence: “Perhaps it would be well to state here, that the two persons already mentioned were Mrs. Carrie Lawton, a female operative on my force, and John Scobell, who has figured before in these pages.” This is the only time in this whole book – that I could find – where this lovely but deadly lady was given a first name never Hattie, and Carrie just this once. Strange that Pinkerton refers to her as Hattie H. Lawton in other publications, and Timothy Webster refers to her with the initials as H.H.L. in one of his Maryland reports.
The mention of a husband to Mrs. Lawton is found on page 381-2;“While these events were occurring, General McClellan was advancing up the Peninsula towards Richmond. Yorktown had surrendered, the battle of Williamsburg had been fought, and the army was advancing to the Chickahominy.
Mrs. Lawton and John Scobell had been for some weeks in Richmond, during which time they had obtained much important information, Mrs. Lawton taking the role of a Southern lady form Corinth, Mississippi, and Scobell acting as her servant. Having determined to leave Richmond, they were on their way to join forces, which, under General McClellan, had their headquarters on the Chickahominy at a point about ten miles from Wilson’s Landing. Here, according to previous arrangement, they were to meet Mr. Lawton, who was also on my operatives, and from that point were to proceed to the Union Camp.
The landlady of the Glen House was a staunch friend to the Federals, and had on more than one occasion rendered valuable service to my operatives, especially Hugh Lawton. It was therefore at his suggestion that his wife and Scobell adapted the plan they did to leave Richmond and to reach our lines. As Uncle Gallus had stated, a man had stopped at the tavern the night before and had informed Mrs. Braxton, the landlady, that these parties would take that route from Richmond— and had left a note to be delivered to Mrs. Lawton, which contained instructions of her future line of travel.
The trip from Glendale was one attended with great risk, as the country, on that side of the river, was filled with scouts of both armies, and if captured by the rebel scouts or pickets, the chances were that detection would be followed by serious consequences. Among my female operatives, however, none were clearer-headed or more resolute than Mrs. Lawton, who prior to this time had been a most efficient worker and had been remarkably successful on her trips into the lines of the enemy. In each case she had escaped with rare fortune…”
From page 390; “Scobell, seeing that three of the pursuers were with dead or badly wounded, proceeded to reload his weapon, and was preparing to remount his horse and follow Mrs. Lawton, when he heard the tramp of horses feet coming from the direction in which she had gone. From the noise they made, he was convinced that the approaching party numbered at least a score, and that they were riding at a sweeping gallop. A bend in the road, however, hid them from his view, and he was unable to determine whether they were friends or foe. In an instant later they swept into full sight, and, to his intense relief, he discovered that they were Union cavalrymen, and that Mrs. Lawton and her husband were at the head. “Hello, John!” exclaimed Lawton, as they came up, “Are you hurt?” “No,” replied Scobell. “What has become of your assailants?” “Two of them we left a mile or two back, one is lying there in the road and the other, so far as I…”
Page 393: “Mr. and Mrs. Lawton and Scobell soon afterwards returned to Washington, where they were allowed to rest themselves for a time before being again called upon.”
James has hired a student to go through the Pryce Lewis Papers, St. Lawrence University, Canton, N. Y. I expected a report in mid to late April. He also recalls the book, Spy of the Rebellion, has been reprinted by the University ofNebraska. Let’s keep digging. Something will break!
Next, this sent to James from Leo Lawton M#72; from the listed source located at the Public Library at Ogdensburg, NY. This is a large collection of copies of purportedly all correspondence of both sides in the War of the Rebellion.
This obviously imprisoned woman purports to be the wife of Tim Webster and states she lives in Maryland which of course can all be false, but the letter isn’t, and may well be a welcome addition to your information. As I am a Lawton this intrigues me as to who Hattie H. Lawton may have been, and while searching I found this.
A separate document will be included at the bottom of this letter which is taken from the listed source and is supposed to be taken from the Richmond Dispatch on April 30, 1862 which, of course, is the day before you are listing Tim Webster’s death. Hoping that this may be of use to you, I am, Leo Lawton.
War of the Rebellion Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series IIVolume IV (POW’s etc.) Castle Thunder, October 13, 1862
My Honorable President,
I say my, for I own no other, will no other own. I come to you, a poor weak woman whose future looks, oh, so cheerless. I come to you the relict of him who has paid the penalty of his wrongdoing, if wrong he did, of which I know nothing. I come to you begging. I wish to go home. It was hinted an exchange. Oh sir, exchange me, a Southern born, a South adoring woman. No, no; rather let me remain here in my people’s prison and die than exchange me for one of my own Countrywomen. They say I might harm someone. Does a mother harm her child, a child her mother? The South is my mother. I will not harm her. Her glory is my pride. I look to her like a bleeding bird for succor. I have suffered. Oh, you can feel for the suffering; let me go home where I may seek some spot, and unnoticed pass the remainder of my dreary, dreary days. I will pray for you; do you no harm. There is nothing so ingenuous as fear but I fear nothing. I am protected here and my Holy Mother knows my heart; but I have ties in Maryland-interests there. Please let me go home.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Mrs. T. Webster1st endorsement
Secretary of War, for inquiry and advice,
Jefferson Davis2nd endorsement, Oct 17,1862Referred to General Winder for inquiry and report.G W Randolph, Secretary of War
Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War with the report that it was decided by the Secretary some time since to release Mrs. Webster and send her home, but the Secretary having been told that Mrs. Webster would comprise many friends in Maryland, the Secretary directed she should be retained until further orders. Jon H Winder, Brigadier General of Volunteers
Rebellion Record, Volume IV, edited by Frank Moore, NY G P Putnam Co.
Richmond Dispatch April 30, 1862
Timothy Webster was executed as a spy at Richmond, Va. Webster is said to be the first spy executed by the rebel government.
James O. Hall has written several times to Lawton Ledger in hopes someone can help. Listed on the following page is additional correspondence from James. His first note is to Pinkertons Agency which apparently is still around today.
1. In relationship to Civil War days Mr. Timothy Webster was an operative for your company. You are probably well aware that he was hung by the Confederacy on April 30, 1862. I have heard that Hattie H. Lawton was in fact working with Tim at the time of his capture.
I have a copy of a letter written by Mrs. Timothy Webster to Jefferson Davis asking for repatriation from prison back to her native Maryland. Obviously she must have been arrested and convicted of something, but in the letter she states she knows nothing of her husbands activities. It would seem that she would probably have been in the South in order to have been arrested. I wonder was she with Tim?
Is it possible that Tim was married to Hattie? Is it possible that it was Hattie, in fact, who wrote the letter purporting to be Mrs. Webster? Other information states that Hattie was at Tim’s trial and pleaded for his life to no avail.
I have also heard that Hattie was the wife of a very good agent of Pinkertons, possibly Hugh Lawton. Is it impossible to determine if there ever was a Hugh Lawton working for Pinkertons in that time period? How about a Hattie Lawton?
Is there any possibility that Hugh, and Tim, might have been one and the same?This is very intriguing and I don’t know where else to turn. Thank you for reading this and any further light you might shine on it.
2. Thanks much for the several Lawton leads. This sort of thing that will one day turn up this elusive lady.
For what it’s worth, Hattie once said (in Richmond) that she had “people” in Kentucky. And in Pinkerton’s book, a newspaper (Baltimore American) once wrote that Timothy Webster came from Kentucky. But Hattie Lawton, aka Mrs. T. Webster also said she had interests in Maryland. Possibly this is just “spy talk” for cover. But interesting.
If that student at St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, turns up with anything in the Pryce Lewis Papers, I will let you know. Again, thanks for the help. It is the kind of “grunt” work that pays off in the end.3. In early 1863 Pinkerton was working out of Philadelphia on some government contract frauds. Later Lewis and Scully reported to him there – about Oct. 1st or so. Maybe Hattie did the same. She once said she was from Kentucky but that looks to me to be part of her “cover”. JOH
The William Lawton who married Harriet Waters on August 4, 1853 (Per: Baltimore Sun) is probably the William Lawton, wife Harriet, killed/died in Co. A, 1st Maryland Light Artillery, before May 21, 1863 as this is the date Harriet applied for pension, Application# . 22115, Certificate# 30887.
James looked at the pension record file in the National Archives. William Lawton was killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Shown with Co. A, 1st Maryland, Light Artillery. Harried appears to have been an uneducated woman with two living children, girls. Lived in Baltimore, died after 1900.The mystery remains.
Please write if you can shed any light on our ongoing quest to find Hattie H. Lawton.