President Lincoln Str - History

President Lincoln Str - History

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President Lincoln

A former name retained.

(Str: dp. 32,500; 1. 619'; b. 68'2", dr. 34'; s. 14.5 k.; cpl. 430;

President Lincoln, formerly the German steamer President Lincoln of the Hamburg-American Line, was built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Ireland, in 1907; seized in New York harbor in 1917, turned over to the Shipping Board, and transferred to the Navy for operation as a troop transport.

Having been damaged severely by her German crew, President Lincoln underwent extensive repairs and conversion at Robin's Dry Dock and Repair Co., Brooklyn, N.Y. The ship commissioned as a Navy troop transport 25 July 1917 at Brooklyn, Comdr. Yates Sterling, Jr., in command.

President Lincoln made five voyages from New York to France, transporting approxi~nately 23,000 American troops which she disembarked at Brest and St. Nazaire. Four cycles were completed without incident: October to November 1917 December 1917 to January 1918, February to March, anl March to May. She sailed from New York on her fifth and final trip to Europe 10 May 1918. Arriving at Brest on the 23rd, she disembarked troops, and got underway 29 Mav with troopships Rijadam, Susquehanna and Antigone, escorted by destroyers, for the return voyage to the United States. At sundown 30 May 1918, having passed through the so-called danger zone of submarine activity, the destroyers left the convoy to proceed alone. About 9 a.m., 31 May 1918, President Lincoln was struck by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-90, and sank about 20 minutes later. Of the 715 persons on board, 26 men were lost with the ship, and a Lt. Isaacs was taken aboard the U-90 as prisoner. Survivors were rescued from lifeboats late that night by U.S. Destroyers

Warrington and Smith. They were taken to France, arriving at Brest 2 June.

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is a US national memorial built to honor the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. It is on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., across from the Washington Monument, and is in the form of a neoclassical temple. The memorial's architect was Henry Bacon. The designer of the memorial interior's large central statue, Abraham Lincoln (1920), was Daniel Chester French the Lincoln statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers. [3] The painter of the interior murals was Jules Guerin, and the epithet above the statue was written by Royal Cortissoz. Dedicated in May 1922, it is one of several memorials built to honor an American president. It has always been a major tourist attraction and since the 1930s has sometimes been a symbolic center focused on race relations.

The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, during the rally at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Like other monuments on the National Mall – including the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and World War II Memorial – the national memorial is administered by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since October 15, 1966, and was ranked seventh on the American Institute of Architects' 2007 list of America's Favorite Architecture. The memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day, and more than seven million people visit it annually. [4]

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act

On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which opens government-owned land to small family farmers (“homesteaders”). The act gave 𠇊ny person” who was the head of a family 160 acres to try his hand at farming for five years. The individual had to be at least 21 years old and was required to build a house on the property. 

Farmers were also offered an alternative to the five-year homesteading plan. They could opt to buy the 160 acres after only 6 months at the reasonable rate of $1.25 an acre. Many homesteaders could not handle the hardships of frontier life and gave up before completing five years of farming. If a homesteader quit or failed to make a go of farming, his or her land reverted back to the government and was offered to the public again. Ultimately, these lands often ended up as government property or in the hands of land speculators. If, after five years, the farmer could prove his (or her) homestead successful, then he paid an $18 filing fee for a “proved” certificate and received a deed to the land.

Before the Civil War, similar acts had been proposed in 1852, 1854 and 1859, but were defeated by a powerful southern lobby that feared new territories populated by homesteaders would be allowed into the Union as 𠇏ree states,” thereby giving more power to the abolitionist movement. In addition, many in the northern manufacturing industries feared the Homestead Act would draw large numbers of their labor force away and into farming. In 1860, President James Buchanan vetoed an earlier homestead bill, succumbing to pressure from southern slave-holding interests. With the Civil War raging and southern slave-owning states out of the legislative picture in Washington D.C., Lincoln and pro-western expansion Republicans saw an opportunity to pass a law that opened the West to settlement.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, 15,000 people had homestead claims in territories that now make up the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. Though some of these people were genuinely looking to begin a new life as a western farmer, others abused the program. Much of the land offered by the government was purchased by individuals acting as a 𠇏ront” for land speculators who sought access to the vast untapped mining, timber and water resources of the West. The speculator would offer to pay individuals cash or a share of profits in return for submitting a Homestead Act claim. By 1900, settlers, legitimate or otherwise, had gobbled up 80 million acres of land through the Homestead Act. To make way for the homesteaders, the federal government forced Native American tribes off of their ancestral lands and onto reservations.

The first Homestead Act claim was filed by a civil war veteran and doctor named Daniel Freeman on January 1, 1863. Although the act was officially repealed by Congress in 1976, one last title for 80 acres in Alaska was given to Kenneth Deardorff in 1979.

President Lincoln Str - History

L incoln awoke the morning of April 14 in a pleasant mood. Robert E. Lee had surrendered several days before to Ulysses Grant, and now Lincoln was awaiting word from North Carolina on the surrender of Joseph E. Johnston. The morning papers carried the announcement that the president and his wife would be attending the comedy, Our American Cousin, at Ford's Theater that evening with General Grant and his wife.

After an afternoon carriage ride and dinner, Mary complained of a headache and considered not going after all. Lincoln commented that he was feeling a bit tired himself, but he needed a laugh and was intent on going with or without her. She relented. He made a quick trip to the War Department with his body guard, William Crook, but there was no news from North Carolina. While returning to pick up Mary, Crook "almost begged" Lincoln not to go to the theater. He then asked if he could go along as an extra guard. Lincoln rejected both suggestions, shrugging off Crook's fears of assassination. Lincoln knew that a guard would be posted outside their "state box" at the theater.

Arriving after the play had started, the two couples swept up the stairs and into their seats. The box door was closed, but not locked. As the play progressed, police guard John Parker, a notorious drinker, left his post in the hallway leading to the box and went across the street for a drink. During the third act, the President and Mrs. Lincoln drew closer together, holding hands while enjoying the play. Behind them, the door opened and a man stepped into the box. Pointing a derringer at the back of Lincoln's head, he pulled the trigger. Mary reached out to her slumping husband and began shrieking. Now wielding a dagger, the man yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants"), slashed Rathbone's arm open to the bone, and then leapt from the box. Catching his spur in a flag, he crashed to the stage, breaking his left shin in the fall. Rathbone and Harris both yelled for someone to stop him, but he escaped out the back stage door.

An unconscious Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen House and into the room of a War Department clerk. The bullet had entered behind the left ear and ripped a path through the left side of his brain, mortally wounding him. He died the next morning.

Gideon Welles served Lincoln as Secretary of the Navy. On the night of April 14, he was awakened with the news that Lincoln had been shot. Together with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he rushed to Ford's Theater. They found the area packed with an excited crowd and learned that Lincoln had been taken to a house across the street. Clamoring up the stairs, Welles asked a doctor he recognized about Lincoln's condition. The physician replied that the President might live another three hours. We pick up his story as he enters the room where Lincoln lay:

"The President had been carried across the street from the theater to the house of a Mr. Peterson. We entered by ascending a flight of steps above the basement and passing through a long hall to the rear, where the President lay extended on a bed, breathing heavily. Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more. Among them I was glad to observe Doctor Hall, who, however, soon left. I inquired of Doctor Hall, as I entered, the true condition of the President. He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer.

The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there. After that his right eye began to swell and that part of his face became discolored.

Senator Sumner was there, I think, when I entered. If not he came in soon after, as did Speaker Colfax, Mr. Secretary McCulloch, and the other members of the cabinet, with the exception of Mr. Seward. A double guard was stationed at the door and on the sidewalk to repress the crowd, which was of course highly excited and anxious. The room was small and overcrowded. The surgeons and members of the cabinet were as many as should have been in the room, but there were many more, and the hall and other rooms in the front or main house were full. One of these rooms was occupied by Mrs. Lincoln and her attendants, with Miss Harris. Mrs. Dixon and Mrs. Kinney came to her about twelve o'clock. About once an hour Mrs. Lincoln would repair to the bedside of her dying husband and with lamentation and tears remain until overcome by emotion.

An illustration of President Lincoln's death
scene published by Harper's Weekly
May 6, 1865
A door which opened upon a porch or gallery, and also the windows, were kept open for fresh air. The night was dark, cloudy, and damp, and about six it began to rain. I remained in the room until then without sitting or leaving it, when, there being a vacant chair which some one left at the foot of the bed, I occupied it for nearly two hours, listening to the heavy groans and witnessing the wasting life of the good and great man who was expiring before me.

About 6 A.M. I experienced a feeling of faintness, and for the first time after entering the room a little past eleven I left it and the house and took a short walk in the open air. It was a dark and gloomy morning, and rain set in before I returned to the house some fifteen minutes later. Large groups of people were gathered every few rods, all anxious and solicitous. Some one or more from each group stepped forward as I passed to inquire into the condition of the President and to ask if there was no hope. Intense grief was on every countenance when I replied that the President could survive but a short time. The colored people especially-and there were at this time more of them, perhaps, than of whites - were overwhelmed with grief.

A little before seven I went into the room where the dying President was rapidly drawing near the closing moments. His wife soon after made her last visit to him. The death struggle had begun. Robert, his son, stood with several others at the head of the bed. He, bore himself well but on two occasions gave way to overpowering grief and sobbed aloud, turning his head and leaning on the shoulder of Senator Sumner. The respiration of the President became suspended at intervals and at last entirely ceased at twenty-two minutes past seven"

Morse, John T. (editor), The Diary of Gideon Welles (1911) Panati, Charles. Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody (1988) Stephen B. With Malice toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1977).

34f. The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On April 11, 1865, two days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln delivered a speech outlining his plans for peace and reconstruction. In the audience was John Wilkes Booth , a successful actor, born and raised in Maryland. Booth was a fervent believer in slavery and white supremacy. Upon hearing Lincoln's words, he said to a companion, "Now, by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make."

After failing in two attempts earlier in the year to kidnap the President, Booth decided Lincoln must be killed. His conspiracy was grand in design. Booth and his collaborators decided to assassinate the President, Vice President Andrew Johnson , and Secretary of State William Seward all in the same evening. Lincoln decided to attend a British comedy, Our American Cousin , at Ford's Theater, starring the famous actress Laura Keene . Ulysses S. Grant had planned to accompany the President and his wife, but during the day he decided to see his son in New Jersey. Attending the play that night with the Lincolns were Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris , the daughter of a prominent Senator.

In the middle of the play that night, Booth slipped into the entryway to the President's box, holding a dagger in his left hand and a Derringer pistol in his right. He fired the pistol six inches from Lincoln and slashed Rathbone's arm with his knife. Booth then vaulted over the front of the President's box, caught his right leg in a flag and landed on the stage, breaking his leg. He waved his dagger and shouted what is reported to be Sic semper tyrannis &mdash Latin for "thus be it ever to tyrants." Some reported that he said, "The South is avenged." He then ran limpingly out of the theater, jumped on his horse, and rode off towards Virginia.

The bullet entered Lincoln's head just behind his left ear, tore through his brain and lodged just behind his right eye. The injury was mortal. Lincoln was brought to a nearby boarding house, where he died the next morning. The other targets escaped death. Lewis Powell, one of Booth's accomplices, went to Seward's house, stabbed and seriously wounded the Secretary of State, but Seward survived. Another accomplice, George Atzerodt , could not bring himself to attempt to assassinate Vice President Johnson.

Two weeks later, on April 26, Union cavalry trapped Booth in a Virginia tobacco barn. The soldiers had orders not to shoot and decided to burn him out of the barn. A fire was started. Before Booth could even react, Sergeant Boston Corbett took aim and fatally shot Booth. The dying assassin was dragged to a porch where his last words uttered were, "Useless . useless!"

The conspirators in the President's assassination were tried in front of a military tribunal known as the Hunter Commission.

The wounded president would not survive.

At the time, many people felt a theatre was not a proper place for a president to die. The White House was only six blocks away&mdashbut a bumpy carriage ride on Washington&rsquos unpaved streets might kill Lincoln immediately.

Soldiers carried Lincoln down the stairs of the theatre and out onto Tenth Street.

Standing on the Petersen boarding house stoop across the street, Henry Safford had heard the commotion. He knew that Willie Clark, a fellow boarder, was out for the night&mdashand his room was vacant. He yelled to the soldiers, "Bring him in here!"

In the front parlor, First Lady Mary Lincoln awaited word of her husband, occasionally venturing in to visit him. In the back parlor, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton interrogated witnesses and directed the investigation.

Outside, thousands of people crowded onto Tenth Street and kept vigil through the night.

President Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Mary Lincoln was not in the room with him. Soldiers quickly removed his body to the White House for an autopsy and to prepare for a funeral.

At 11:00 a.m., Vice President Andrew Johnson took the oath of office as the 17th president.

Follow the events of Lincoln&rsquos last night through the eyes of the people who lived through it.

History Lesson: How America Hunted Down President Lincoln's Murderer

John Surratt somehow escaped justice after the Lincoln assassination despite being intimately acquainted with John Wilkes Booth and other conspirators.

On the evening of April 14, 1865, noted actor John Wilkes Booth entered Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., where a play entitled Our American Cousin was well underway. A number of people saw and recognized Booth as he entered the theater, but they paid him little mind. After all, Booth had performed often at the theater and he even got his mail delivered there since he had no permanent mailing address in the city.

Shortly after 10 o’clock, Booth entered President Abraham Lincoln’s private box overlooking the stage, barring the door behind him so that no one else could enter. He waited patiently until the proper time in the play arrived when he knew there would be the loudest laughter. “You sockdologizing old mantrap!” one of the cast called another. The audience roared. Stepping forward with his small pistol, Booth fired one bullet into the president’s brain, inflicting a mortal wound behind his left ear. He then leaped down onto the stage, catching his boot spur on the bunting beneath the presidential box and breaking his leg in the fall, but quickly limping offstage and making his way out of Washington on horseback with his accomplice, David Herold, a boyhood friend.

For the next 12 days, the largest manhunt in the nation’s history took place. Booth and Herold were finally cornered by Union soldiers at the Maryland farm of Richard Garrett, and after a brief firefight Herold gave up. Booth, remaining inside a burning barn on the property, was mortally wounded in the neck by a rifle shot and died on the morning of April 26. “Useless,” was the last word his Union captors heard him utter.

Booth’s death was not the end of the manhunt for his co-conspirators. While others in the plot were quickly rounded up, one man escaped, beginning the pursuit of the last Lincoln conspirator still on the loose. His name was John Harrison Surratt, Jr., and he was the son of Mary Surratt, at whose home the assassination had been planned. Before the hunt for John Surratt was over, his pursuers would follow him to Canada and Europe before finally catching up with him in Egypt.

Surratt In the Civil War

John Surratt was born on April 13, 1844, the last child of Mary and John Surratt, Sr. The elder Surratt was a drunk, but he managed to purchase a boarding house in Washington, as well as a tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland, where he also served as the local postmaster. As a young man, Surratt attended St. Charles College in Ellicott Mills near Baltimore. One of his Catholic seminary classmates there was Louis Wiechmann, who in later years would live in Mary Surratt’s boarding house at 541 H Street in Washington and would play an important role in the events leading up to the Lincoln assassination.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, Surratt left St. Charles School and joined the Confederate cause as a dispatch rider. He delivered mail from Washington to his Confederate allies across the Potomac River. He once told a friend, “If the Yankees knew what I was doing they would stretch this old neck of mine.” After the death of his father, Surratt came home to Surrattsville to take over the reins of the hotel. The tavern at Surrattsville was a weigh station for Confederate couriers who often stopped by for food and lodging. The store also served as a mail drop for Confederate riders, and Surratt became even more deeply involved in the Confederate cause.

The Conspiracy Begins

By the fall of 1864, Mary Surratt was having financial difficulty with her Surrattsville tavern she decided to move her family to her boarding house in Washington. Mary leased the tavern to a man named John Lloyd for $600 a year. On December 23, 1864, Surratt and his friend Wiechmann were strolling down a street in Washington when they ran into Samuel Mudd, an old Maryland acquaintance who was Christmas shopping for his family. Accompanying Mudd was John Wilkes Booth. Mudd introduced Booth to Surratt, and they went to Booth’s room at the National Hotel. The actor took Mudd aside for a private conversation out of earshot of both Surratt and Wiechmann. He then handed Surratt a piece of paper and asked him to draw lines showing the roads leading into and out of Charles County. Shortly thereafter, the men all went their separate ways.

Over the next several weeks, Booth asked Surratt more questions about the routes from Washington to the Potomac River without telling him why he wanted such information. Exasperated, Surratt finally told Booth that he was fed up with his evasiveness and demanded to know what Booth wanted. Finally, Booth told Surratt of a plan he had been pursuing for some time—nothing less than a plot to kidnap President Lincoln. He planned to capture the president as he rode to the Soldiers’ Home and spirit him away to Richmond, where he would be exchanged for thousands of Confederate prisoners. Booth asked Surratt if he wanted to join the conspiracy. The young man said yes.

Booth became a frequent visitor to Mary Surratt’s boarding house on H Street. Booth and Surratt would sit alone for hours, poring over intricate plans to capture the president. Booth insisted that it was foolproof and that it could be carried out without a hitch. Booth’s plan called for the conspirators to take the captured president south via the Potomac River. They needed people who were familiar with the intricate routes and rivers to aid them. One such man was a German immigrant to the United States, George Atzerodt, a 29-year-old carriage builder who lived in Port Tobacco in Charles County. Surratt persuaded Atzerodt to join the conspiracy due to his vast knowledge of the Potomac and its tributaries. It was Surratt’s job to secure the boats to take Lincoln south he bought one from Richard Smoot, a farmer who lived near Port Tobacco.

On April 14, the day of the assassination, Surratt was in Elmira, New York, on orders to scout the infamous Union prison there for a possible raid to free Confederate prisoners. It is not known if Surratt was privy to Booth’s plan to kill the president, but his being away from Washington on the day of the assassination proved beneficial to him in the long run. Booth had told Herold and Atzerodt that Surratt was in Washington, even though he knew that Surratt was in Elmira, possibly to set up Surratt as a fall guy if the assassination plot went awry.

Taking Flight in Canada

At 3 am on April 15, detectives from the Metropolitan Police arrived at the home of Mary Surratt. They had received a tip that her son may have been involved in the assassination, and they quickly followed up the lead. The police told boarders at the residence of the president’s assassination and said they were looking for Booth and Surratt. The detectives searched the house but found no trace of either man. The police then asked Mary Surratt when she had last seen Booth. She replied that she had seen him at 2 pm the previous day. They asked her if she knew the whereabouts of her son. Mary said no but that she believed he was in Canada. On April 17, detectives arrived once again at Mary Surratt’s boarding house and placed her under arrest for conspiracy in the assassination of the president.

While the manhunt for Booth and Herold was underway, John Surratt was back in Canada preparing for his journey to Europe. Unknown to most people in the conspiracy, Surratt had obtained a passport the previous January from both the American and British colonial officials in Quebec under the name of John Watson.

The United States government now mounted a worldwide hunt for Surratt. Confederate Secret Service agents took Surratt to a Catholic priest named Father Charles Boucher, who hid the former seminarian for three months at his parish in St. Liboire. Surratt was then given over to a Father La Pierre and stayed at his home for the next two months. In the meantime, Mary Surratt and the other Lincoln conspirators were tried, convicted, and hanged. Surratt made no attempt to contact his mother before her death. He said later, a little unconvincingly, that he was unaware of the grave danger she was in.

Believing that it was not safe to keep him in Canada any longer, the priests arranged for Surratt to be taken on board a ship, Peruvian, that sailed from Quebec to Liverpool, England. Surratt booked passage under the name “McCarthy.” Once the ship docked in Liverpool, Peruvian’s surgeon, Dr. Lewis McMillen, told the American vice-consul that Surratt was in the city.

Surratt did not linger long in England. He soon made his way to Italy, where he enlisted in the Papal Zouaves under the name of John Watson. One of the men Surratt met in the same unit was a Canadian, Henri St. Marie, a Southern sympathizer who had joined the Confederate Army and been captured while serving on a gunboat. Surratt and St. Marie became friends, and Surratt told him that his real name was not John Watson, but John Surratt.

The wounded president would not survive.

At the time, many people felt a theatre was not a proper place for a president to die. The White House was only six blocks away&mdashbut a bumpy carriage ride on Washington&rsquos unpaved streets might kill Lincoln immediately.

Soldiers carried Lincoln down the stairs of the theatre and out onto Tenth Street.

Standing on the Petersen boarding house stoop across the street, Henry Safford had heard the commotion. He knew that Willie Clark, a fellow boarder, was out for the night&mdashand his room was vacant. He yelled to the soldiers, "Bring him in here!"

In the front parlor, First Lady Mary Lincoln awaited word of her husband, occasionally venturing in to visit him. In the back parlor, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton interrogated witnesses and directed the investigation.

Outside, thousands of people crowded onto Tenth Street and kept vigil through the night.

President Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Mary Lincoln was not in the room with him. Soldiers quickly removed his body to the White House for an autopsy and to prepare for a funeral.

At 11:00 a.m., Vice President Andrew Johnson took the oath of office as the 17th president.

Follow the events of Lincoln&rsquos last night through the eyes of the people who lived through it.

Abraham Lincoln in Cleveland

No other president stirred the imagination of the American public like Abraham Lincoln. From his humble beginnings to his dramatic death, Lincoln's life and times have seeped into the mythology of the country. His name, face and deeds are memorialized in hundreds of American cities, including Cleveland.

Lincoln visited Cleveland only twice: once in life and once in death. There are no extant photos of his first visit, which occurred on February 15, 1861, when Lincoln was on his way from Illinois to his inauguration in Washington D.C. Contemporary newspaper accounts captured the excitement as crowds gathered at the elegant Weddell house on the corner of Bank (West 6th) Street and Superior Avenue to hear Lincoln speak from the balcony. The staunchly Democrat Cleveland Plain Dealer briefly put aside its political bias to celebrate the historic occasion.

The Plain Dealer spent much of the next four years criticizing the president and his policies, but it once again put politics aside to mourn Lincoln’s death in April, 1865. The slain president's funeral train arrived in Cleveland on the morning of April 28. The casket was then drawn by horse and carriage to Monument Park (Public Square) followed by a procession of dignitaries and veterans. Thousands of Cleveland area residents gathered in the rain to file past the open casket.

Lincoln was in the news again in Cleveland in 1923, as plans for a local memorial were debated. Controversy arose over the choice of sculptor and the location of the statue. Max Kalish ultimately was chosen as sculptor. The originally proposed site for the memorial was the intersection of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue in Playhouse Square. After much debate, however, the statue ended up on Mall A, in front of (but now behind) the Board of Education building, which became the Drury Hotel in 2016. (The building's main entrance originally faced west until East 4th Street was removed in 1988.) Cleveland schoolchildren donated pennies and nickels to fund the statue.

The memorial was unveiled with great ceremony on Lincoln's birthday in 1932 and served as the location for Lincoln birthday celebrations for many years afterwards.

From Slavery to the White House: The Extraordinary Life of Elizabeth Keckly

In 1868, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Hobbs Keckly (also spelled Keckley) published her memoir Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. 1 This revealing narrative reflected on Elizabeth’s fascinating story, detailing her life experiences from slavery to her successful career as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker. At the time of its publication, the book was controversial. It soured her close relationship with Mrs. Lincoln and destroyed the reputation of both women. Although the American public was not prepared to read the story of a free Black woman assuming control of her own life narrative at the time of publication, her recollections have been used by many historians to reconstruct the Lincoln White House and better understand one of the nation’s most fascinating and misunderstood first ladies. Her story is integral to White House history and understanding the experiences of enslaved and free Black women. Click here to learn more about the household of President Abraham Lincoln.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly was born in February 1818 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. The circumstances surrounding her birth were complex. Sometime during the spring of 1817, while plantation owner Colonel Armistead Burwell’s wife, Mary, was pregnant with the couple’s tenth child, an enslaved woman named Agnes (Aggy) Hobbs became pregnant by Colonel Burwell. Although it is unknown how this pregnancy came to be and the nature of the relationship between Aggy and Burwell, it is likely the pregnancy was the result of rape or a non-consensual encounter. 2 Despite her parentage, Elizabeth Hobbs was born enslaved. Aggy’s husband, George Pleasant Hobbs, was an enslaved man that worked on a nearby plantation. Even though Elizabeth was not his child, George remained devoted to Agnes and Elizabeth and she considered him her father. Her mother gave her the last name of George’s family, a direct sign of autonomy and resistance. Elizabeth also did not know the truth behind her parentage until later in life. Her name and birth were recorded in a plantation commonplace book by Colonel Burwell’s mother Anne, “Lizzy--child of Aggy/Feby 1818.” 3

Elizabeth (Lizzy) Hobbs Keckly circa 1861.

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University

Elizabeth grew up with other enslaved children and assisted her mother in her work as an enslaved domestic servant. Aggy was highly valued by the Burwells. She was well liked by the Burwell children and the family even permitted her to read and write. Aggy also sewed clothing for the family, a skill she taught her daughter. 4 According to Elizabeth, her first duty as an enslaved five-year-old child was to take care of Burwell's infant daughter, also named Elizabeth. Keckly was very fond of the baby, calling her “my earliest and fondest pet.” She also recalled a severe punishment administered surrounding her care of the baby:

My old mistress encouraged me in rocking the cradle, by telling me that if I would watch over the baby well, keep the flies out of its face, and not let it cry, I should be its little maid. This was a golden promise, and I required no better inducement for the faithful performance of my task. I began to rock the cradle most industriously, when lo! out pitched little pet on the floor. I instantly cried out, "Oh! the baby is on the floor" and, not knowing what to do, I seized the fire-shovel in my perplexity, and was trying to shovel up my tender charge, when my mistress called to me to let the child alone, and then ordered that I be taken out and lashed for my carelessness. The blows were not administered with a light hand, I assure you, and doubtless the severity of the lashing has made me remember the incident so well. This was the first time I was punished in this cruel way, but not the last. 5

As Elizabeth grew up, she became increasingly aware of slavery’s cruel practices. In addition to lashings for misbehavior, she remembered Mary Burwell as a “hard task master” and Colonel Burwell for an incident regarding George Hobbs. When Elizabeth was around seven years old, Burwell decided to “reward” Aggy by arranging for George Hobbs to come live with them. According to Elizabeth, her mother was very happy about the move “The old weary look faded from her face, and she worked as if her heart was in every task.” 6

Unfortunately, these happy moments were short-lived. One day, Colonel Burwell went to the Hobbs’ cabin, and presented the couple with a letter stating that George must join his enslaver in the West. George was given two hours to say goodbye to his family. Elizabeth related the details of the painful separation in her memoir:

The announcement fell upon the little circle in that rude-log cabin like a thunderbolt. I can remember the scene as if it were but yesterday--how my father cried out against the cruel separation his last kiss his wild straining of my mother to his bosom the solemn prayer to Heaven the tears and sobs--the fearful anguish of broken hearts. The last kiss, the last good-by and he, my father, was gone, gone forever. 7

The separation of the Hobbs family was not unique. Very few enslaved families survived intact and family separations through sale occurred frequently. Enslaved parents lived in persistent fear that either themselves or their children could be sold away at any moment. These separations were usually permanent, as was the case with George Hobbs. Agnes and Elizabeth never saw him again, although he continued to correspond with them. This was a rarity for enslaved people because most were barred from learning to read and write, let alone send letters. One letter read:

Dear Wife: My dear beloved wife I am more than glad to meet with opportunity writee thes few lines to you by my Mistress. I hope with gods helpe that I may be abble to rejoys with you on the earth and In heaven lets meet when will I am detemnid to nuver stope praying, not in this earth and I hope to praise god In glory there weel meet to part no more forever. So my dear wife I hope to meet you In paradase to prase god forever * * * * * I want Elizabeth to be a good girl and not to thinke that becasue I am bound so fare that gods not abble to open the way. 8

Photograph of Elizabeth Keckly taken circa 1870.

When Elizabeth was fourteen years old, she was sent to North Carolina to work for Burwell’s son Robert and his new wife. Robert was a Presbyterian minister and made very little money, meaning that Elizabeth was initially their only enslaved servant. 9 She did not recall her experiences there fondly. Elizabeth was severely whipped, often with no discernible provocation. 10 She was also repeatedly raped by local white store owner Alexander McKenzie Kirkland for four years, beginning in 1838. 11 One of these rapes resulted in a pregnancy and the birth of her only son, George, named after the man she believed to be her father, George Hobbs. Her words about his birth reveal the deep pain that came from her experience: “If my poor boy ever suffered any humiliating pangs on account of birth, he could not blame his mother, for God knows that she did not wish to give him life he must blame the edicts of that society which deemed it no crime to undermine the virtue of girls in my then position.” 12

Elizabeth’s painful time in North Carolina came to an end in 1842 when she returned to Virginia. By this time Armistead Burwell had died, and Elizabeth and her son were sent to live with her former mistress, Mary, and her daughter and son-in-law Anne and Hugh A. Garland. At this point she reunited with her mother. Due to financial hardships, Hugh Garland found himself on the brink of bankruptcy in 1845, placing all of his property as collateral against his debts including his enslaved people. Searching for a new opportunity, Garland set out for St. Louis, Missouri in 1846 and the rest of the family, including Agnes and Elizabeth, followed a year later. When the family joined Garland in St. Louis, they found that his fortunes had not improved. 13 Initially, the family planned to hire out Aggy, but Elizabeth strongly objected: “My mother, my poor aged mother, go among strangers to toil for a living! No, a thousand times no!” She confronted Garland and she offered to use her skills as a seamstress in order to make the family money. Elizabeth was soon taking dress orders from “the best ladies in St. Louis.” 14

With the advantage of the Garland’s connections to white society and Elizabeth’s ability to successfully promote her business and network, she soon became a highly successful businesswoman. She worked in St. Louis for twelve years. It was there that she first caught the attention of a midwestern white woman named Mary Lincoln. 15

In 1850, a free Black man named James Keckly, who Elizabeth had met back in Virginia, traveled West and asked for her hand in marriage. At first, she refused to consider the proposal because she did not want to be married as an enslaved woman, knowing that any future children would be enslaved. She decided to pursue her freedom, asking Mr. Garland if he would allow her to purchase herself and her son. Although he initially refused, when pressed, he handed Elizabeth a silver dollar and told her: “If you really wish to leave me, take this: it will pay the passage of yourself and boy on the ferry boat.” Elizabeth was shocked by this offer and refused. The recent Compromise of 1850 had resulted in the passage of a strengthened fugitive slave act. 16 Elizabeth knew the offer was hollow and that unless she legally obtained her freedom, she would not be truly free and subject to capture. After discussion, Garland agreed to accept $1,200 for Elizabeth and George. It is likely Garland agreed because she had faithfully served the family for many years and he knew how difficult it would be for her to raise that sum of money. 17

With the advantage of the Garland’s connections to white society and Elizabeth’s ability to successfully promote her business and network, she soon became a highly successful businesswoman.

With a price set for her family’s freedom, she agreed to marry James Keckly. Mr. Garland walked her down the aisle and the entire family celebrated. However, married life soon soured for Keckly. She discovered that her new husband was not a free man but likely a fugitive slave. Elizabeth mentioned him sparingly in her memoir and he quickly faded from her life story. She wrote: “With the simple explanation that I lived with him eight years, let charity draw around him a mantle of silence.” 18

She found it was quite hard to raise the $1,200 dollars for her freedom. Although she supported the family with her seamstress business, she was still forced to keep up with the household chores for the Garlands and found it difficult to accumulate any savings. Eventually, Mr. Garland died and Anne Garland’s brother, Armistead, arrived in St. Louis to settle his debts. Armistead agreed to honor her original agreement with Hugh Garland. She still needed the money, so she decided to travel to New York in an attempt to raise the funds by appealing to vigilance committees, groups that existed in the North providing assistance to those hoping to achieve their freedom. As she prepared to leave, Mrs. Garland insisted that Keckly obtain the support of six men who could vouch for her and make up the lost money if she failed to return. She obtained the support of five men but could not convince a sixth. Luckily for Elizabeth, her loyal patrons stepped forward. With the help of a Mrs. Le Bourgois, she raised the money for her freedom and on November 13, 1855, Anne Garland signed her emancipation papers: “Know all men that I, Anne P. Garland, of the County and City of St. Louis, State of Missouri, for and in consideration of the sum of $1200, to me in hand paid this day in cash, hereby emancipate my negro woman Lizzie, and her son George…” 19

After obtaining her freedom, Elizabeth decided to separate from her husband. She continued working in St. Louis as a seamstress for several years, raising money to pay back the loans used to purchase her freedom. During this time, her mother died. Aggy had moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi to live with other Burwell relatives. 20 After paying her debts, Elizabeth left St. Louis in the spring of 1860 and moved to Washington, D.C. where District laws made it difficult for her to establish herself. She was required to obtain a work permit and also had to find a white person to vouch that she was indeed a free woman. With a limited network in Washington, Elizabeth reached out to a client who started connecting her with many prominent southerners, including Varina Davis, wife of Mississippi Senator and future Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In her memoir, she recounts a conversation with Varina where she asked Elizabeth to accompany her back to the South, telling Elizabeth that there would be a war between the North and the South. Elizabeth agreed to think over the proposal. In the end she chose not to accompany Varina Davis to the South, preferring the North’s chances in the impending conflict: “I preferred to cast my lost [sic] among the people of the North.” 21

North view of the White House taken by photographer Matthew Brady in the 1860s.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

As Varina Davis departed for the South, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington. In the weeks leading up to Lincoln’s inauguration, Keckly was approached by one of her patrons, Margaret McClean. McClean wanted Elizabeth to make a dress for the following Sunday when she would be joining the Lincolns at the Willard Hotel. After Elizabeth refused the offer because of the short notice, Mrs. McClean told her: “I have often heard you say that you would like to work for the ladies of the White House. Well, I have it in my power to obtain you this privilege. I know Mrs. Lincoln well, and you shall make a dress for her provided you finish mine in time to wear at dinner on Sunday.” 22

Spurred by the potential opportunities of sewing for the White House, Elizabeth worked furiously to finish the dress on time. Mrs. McClean was very pleased with the result and recommended Elizabeth to Mrs. Lincoln. She was already familiar with Elizabeth after hearing about her years earlier from friends in St. Louis. They met before the inauguration at the Willard Hotel and Mrs. Lincoln instructed Elizabeth to go to the White House the day after the inauguration at 8:00 am. When Elizabeth arrived, she discovered three other dress makers. One-by-one the others were dismissed and finally Mrs. Lincoln greeted Elizabeth. The women discussed Keckly’s employment and then she took Mrs. Lincoln’s measurements for a new dress. 23

Elizabeth returned to the White House ahead of the event for which Mrs. Lincoln wanted the dress. When she arrived, Mrs. Lincoln was enraged, claiming that Elizabeth was late and that she could not go down to the event because she had nothing to wear. After some reasoning, Mrs. Lincoln agreed to wear the dress. President Lincoln entered the room with their sons and declared: “You look charming in that dress. Mrs. Keckley has met with great success.” 24

Pleased with her work, Mrs. Lincoln continued to employ Elizabeth. Over the course of that spring, Elizabeth sewed fifteen or sixteen dresses for the first lady. When Mary returned to Washington in the fall, she continued to employ Keckly, establishing a strong business relationship. Over time, the women became confidants and Keckly noted that Mrs. Lincoln began calling her “Lizabeth” after she “learned to drop the E.” 25 In her role as Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress, Elizabeth had a unique view of the White House as the Civil War progressed. She interacted with the Lincolns closely, divulging details of their wartime life in her memoir. When Willie Lincoln passed away on February 20, 1862, Keckly was present. She wrote:

I assisted in washing him and dressing him, and then laid him on the bed, when Mr. Lincoln came in. I never saw a man so bowed down with grief. He came to the bed, lifted the cover from the face of his child, gazed at it long and earnestly, murmuring, "My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!" 26

Willie’s death bonded the two women as they both mourned the loss of their sons. Elizabeth’s son, George, had joined Union forces and was killed in a bloody skirmish at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri six months earlier. It was his first battle. 27 In the aftermath of Willie’s death, Mrs. Lincoln collapsed, grieving the loss of her son. Her sister stayed with her for a time, but after she left, Mrs. Lincoln wanted a companion and invited Elizabeth to join her on an extended trip to New York and Boston. Mrs. Lincoln wrote to her husband of the trip, “A day of two since, I had one of my severe attacks, if it had not been for Lizzie Keckley, I do not know what I should have done.” 28 Keckly wrote about Mrs. Lincoln’s grief in her memoir, believing the grief changed Mrs. Lincoln while providing detailed accounts. These descriptions later shaped historical analyses of Mary Lincoln and her reaction to the tragic death. In one memorable passage, Keckly recalled a moment where President Lincoln led his wife to the window and pointed towards an asylum saying, “Mother, do you see that large white building on the hill yonder? Try and control your grief, or it will drive you mad, and we may have to send you there.” 29

African-American refugees at Camp Brightwood in Washington, D.C. As the Civil War progressed, Elizabeth Keckly found time to help found a relief society called the Contraband Relief Association to aid contraband camps in the summer of 1862. President Lincoln donated money to the cause.

In addition to her dress-making business, Elizabeth found the time to help found a relief society called the Contraband Relief Association to aid contraband camps in the summer of 1862. The camps were home to enslaved refugees that flooded into the nation’s capital. Their legal status was unclear. Although they were considered “contrabands of war,” it was not determined whether they were enslaved, free, or something else. 30 After establishing the Association, Keckly approached Mrs. Lincoln about donating to the organization. She wrote to her husband on November 3, 1962:

Elizabeth Keckley, who is with me and is working for the Contraband Association, at Wash[ington]--is authorized. to collect anything for them here that she can….Out of the $1000 fund deposited with you by Gen Corcoran, I have given her the privilege of investing $200 her, in bed covering….Please send check for $200. she will bring you on the bill. 31

Keckly remained a keen observer of White House life up until President Lincoln’s violent death on April 15, 1865, less than a week after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. The morning of April 15, a messenger arrived at Keckly’s door and took her by carriage immediately to the White House to console Mrs. Lincoln. Later Elizabeth learned that when the first lady was asked who she would want to have by her side in her grief she responded, “Yes, send for Elizabeth Keckley. I want her just as soon as she can be brought here.” Mrs. Lincoln remained in the White House for several weeks before finally departing. She convinced Keckly to accompany her to Chicago for a short time before Elizabeth returned to Washington with Mrs. Lincoln’s “best wishes for my success in business.”

In 1866, Mary Lincoln, drowning in debt, reached out to Elizabeth Keckly, asking her to meet in New York in September “to assist in disposing of a portion of my wardrobe.” In New York, Elizabeth attempted to find buyers for Mrs. Lincoln’s wardrobe, but the trip was disastrous. In the end, Mrs. Lincoln gave permission to a man named William Brady to stage a public exposition to sell her wardrobe, a decision much discussed and derided in the media. After the trip, Mrs. Lincoln corresponded frequently with Elizabeth who did her best to support and publicly defend the former first lady. She wrote letters to prominent friends in the Black community, asking them to take up offerings for Mrs. Lincoln in churches. She even asked Frederick Douglass to take part in a lecture to raise money, although the lecture ultimately did not come to fruition. 32

However, Elizabeth also made decisions regarding Mary’s possessions that strained their relationship. She donated Lincoln relics without Mary’s knowledge and granted Brady permission to display the clothing in a traveling exhibition. Mary Lincoln was not pleased as she had been attempting to have the dresses returned. Their relationship frayed and faltered. Elizabeth could not keep up with Mrs. Lincoln’s letters and demands and started to back away from the relationship. 33

Photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln taken in 1861 by photographer Matthew Brady

At the same time, Elizabeth was working on her memoir. She published Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House in 1868, detailing her life story, but also including details of the disastrous dress selling saga. Keckly believed that writing this story would redeem her own character as well as Mrs. Lincoln’s. Unfortunately, the book was not well received for several reasons. By writing down the story of her enslavement, her intimate conversations with Washington’s elite women, and her relationship with Mary Lincoln, Keckly violated social norms of privacy, race, class, and gender. Although other formerly enslaved people like Frederick Douglass wrote generally well received memoirs during the same time period, Keckly’s was more divisive. Her choice to publish correspondence between herself and Mary Lincoln was seen as an infringement on the former first lady’s privacy. Keckly attempted to address this critique in the preface to her memoir:

If I have betrayed confidence in anything I have published, it has been to place Mrs. Lincoln in a better light before the world. A breach of trust--if breach it can be called--of this kind is always excusable. My own character, as well as the character of Mrs. Lincoln, is at stake, since I have been intimately associated with that lady in the most eventful periods of her life. I have been her confidante, and if evil charges are laid at her door, they also must be laid at mine, since I have been a party to all her movements. To defend myself I must defend the lady that I have served. The world have judged Mrs. Lincoln by the facts which float upon the surface, and through her have partially judged me, and the only way to convince them that wrong was not meditated is to explain the motives that actuated us. 34

The media began attacking her directly, with some groups arguing that the book was an example of why Black women should not be educated. Her position in society as a free Black woman writing a memoir that disclosed personal information about Washington’s white elite was simply unacceptable at the time. Keckly fought back against these attacks arguing that nothing she wrote about Mrs. Lincoln compared to the consistent abuse she suffered at the hands of the newspapers in the wake of the dress selling scandal. Although the book caused quite a stir upon its publication, it soon faded to the background. The book did not sell many copies and Elizabeth believed that Mary Lincoln’s son, Robert, may have been successful in suppressing its publication. 35

Cover page of Elizabeth Keckly's controversial memoir, Behind the Scenes, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

Documenting the American South

Mary Lincoln read the memoir a few weeks after its release. She felt betrayed by the intimate details and conversations described and refused to mention Keckly’s name again. Elizabeth Keckly continued sewing after the book’s publication, but some of her customers disappeared. She later began training Black seamstresses and passed on her knowledge. In 1892, she accepted a position as the head of Wilberforce University’s Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts and moved to Ohio before returning to Washington after suffering a possible stroke. She died in 1907 at the age of eighty-nine, after living an extraordinary and remarkable life.

Watch the video: America the Story of Us: Lincoln. History