‘Manhunt’ and who was the real Mary Simms?

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, April 24, 2024

By Gene Hays
Msgt. USMS (Ret)

Although Apple TV+’s Manhunt centers on the search for President Abraham Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, the series is full of integral side characters who played a big role in Booth’s capture and trial, including Mary Simms, a formerly enslaved woman who ran into Booth during his escape. 

Mary Simms is played by American actress Lovie Simone. Like the rest of the Manhunt cast of characters, Simms was a real figure from American history, though her role in John Wilkes Booth’s story is different in real life. Nevertheless, she was still a key player in the greater conspiracy.

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In the first and second episodes of Manhunt, Mary Simms first appears as a servant to Doctor Samuel Mudd. Despite the Civil War being over, and slavery being abolished by Abraham Lincoln before his death, Simms is still linked to Mudd, who clearly does not want to let her go. 

Simms not only faces terrible treatment from Mudd, but also from Booth, who arrives at Mudd’s house for treatment for his broken leg. Although Simms puts up with his racist behavior, the show offers flashbacks to her childhood, when she tried to avoid being forcibly taken by Mudd.

Mary Simms was a real person. Simms and her brothers were slaves of Doctor Samuel Mudd up until the Emancipation Proclamation passed on January 1, 1863, which legally freed all slaves in the United States. 

According to The New Yorker, Simms remained with Mudd as his servant until 1864. One of her brothers, who was shot by Mudd, left a year earlier. This situation is different from what Manhunt portrays. 

In episode 1 of Manhunt, Simms is working for Mudd when Booth arrives, and the two have several confrontations. In real life, Mary Simms did not come face to face with Abraham Lincoln’s killer in 1865.

Mudd’s connection to John Wilkes Booth remained unclear, and unfortunately, Simms was already long gone from the Mudd residence, meaning she could provide no information. 

The New Yorker notes that she left Mudd after he whipped her in 1864. Therefore, the conversations between Simms and Booth portrayed in Manhunt never happened, however her bigger role in Manhunt definitely adds a new level of intrigue and perspective to the story.

Although Mary Simms couldn’t speak about John Wilkes Booth, she did play a significant role in getting her former owner charged for his crimes. Simms witnessed Mudd’s criminal activity as a Confederate agent, and at Mudd’s trial, Simms noted that Mudd sent and received mail on behalf of the Confederacy. 

Mudd was sentenced to life in prison. However, in 1869, he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, and he returned home until his death in 1883. 

Manhunt ultimately rewrote Mary Simms’ role in the John Wilkes Booth case; however, Simms’ presence is a terrific addition to the already riveting story.

Courtesy of Megan Hemenway, of Screenrant. Gene Hays is a retired Marine, author and historian.