Helping Mary Lincoln with Her Finances

By Daniel Stowell, Decoding the Civil War Independent Researcher.

mssEC_32_Mary_Lincoln

One of the most exciting aspects of digital humanities projects is the ability to make connections among materials that would not have been possible earlier.  One citizen researcher, Linda Dodge, recently brought to our attention that a telegram from Decoding the Civil War connects to a receipt held at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and digitized through Chronicling Illinois.

The telegram from Mary Lincoln to Thomas Eckert reads:

640 P[M] March 1 [186]6
Chicago
Mr. Eckert
Asst Secy
Will please deliver this message
to A Williamson
March 1st
To A Williamson
Have answered
your letter of 27th Gen Spinner
has list that will suffice to
settle without bills. Have it
done at once. Send receipt
Mrs Lincoln

Alexander Williamson (1814-1903) became tutor to Willie and Tad Lincoln when Mary Lincoln hired him in September 1861. In March 1863, Abraham Lincoln obtained a clerk position for Williamson in the Second Auditor’s Office of the Treasury Department. Williamson remained a friend of the Lincoln family and assisted Mary Lincoln in her financial difficulties following the President’s death.

Francis E. Spinner (1802-1890) was Treasurer of the United States from 1861 to 1875. He also assisted Mary Lincoln in settling her husband’s estate and in obtaining a pension. On February 13, 1866, Mary Lincoln’s friend and New York businessman Norman S. Bentley sent Spinner a list of ten merchants to whom she was indebted; this document is also a part of Chronicling Illinois. It is possible that Williamson was assisting Spinner in settling the former First Lady’s accounts and that the following receipt was for his services in that effort.

The receipt reads:

17th March 1866 Received from General
Spinner, U.S. Treasurer the sum of Ten
dollars ($10.) on account of Mrs. M. Lincoln
Alexr Williamson

These two documents, held in institutions 1,600 miles apart, each tell a part of the story of Mary Lincoln’s efforts to settle the estate of her murdered husband and to obtain a pension to support herself and her youngest son. Now, thanks to digital projects like Decoding the Civil War and Chronicling Illinois, researchers can access both documents and others that are a part of this tragic story.

 


Chronicling Illinois is a digital archive project that the writer, Decoding the Civil War researcher Daniel W. Stowell, organized and implemented.

 

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