Three siblings in the fourth generation of descent from a Wall Street banker, Benjamin B. Sherman, have donated three letters and a ledger book to the Presidential Library & Museum. The material concerns a public collection taken up in 1865-66 to support Mary, Robert, and Tad Lincoln in their time of woe. Below are the main points of the letters — 2 of them previously unknown, plus 1 by Mary Lincoln that was incompletely transcribed in the 1972 book of her correspondence. The hundreds of names in the ledger book — people all over the U.S. and a few Canadians who sent Sherman money to forward to the bereaved family — will be analyzed by ALPLM staff. All 4 items will go on display in the Museum after some light cleaning.
One revelation is that Mary Lincoln owed money to a furrier (though this does not really surprise), and that she had the ill grace to ask Mr. Sherman, who took up the collection for her, to go around and try to get her debts to other merchants reduced. The letter by Robert Lincoln puts paid to the old conspiracy theory that he wanted to get his hands on his mother’s money, because here he forswears any claim to the gifts offered him, directing Mr. Sherman to give it all to Mary. The total fund, delivered to her in May 1866, was about $10,750 — worth roughly $400,000 today.
It is a lovely bit of synonymy over time that a generous volunteer like Benjamin B. Sherman should have descendants today who selflessly donated these materials. The ALPLM and all interested in the Lincoln story are most grateful to the Thompsons.
To Benjamin B. Sherman Chicago, Dec 25th 1865
95 Wall St., N.Y.
My dear Sir: Your favor of the 21st inst. is at hand. I notice that it was addressed to my brother and myself, as well as to my mother. So far as I am concerned, I wish whatever of the fund there is in your hands, to be solely appropriated to my mother.
The income which I derive from my father’s estate, is sufficient to maintain me until I begin to earn my living. The same is of course true with regard to my brother who is only a little more than twelve years of age. … we both wish to have nothing to do with the fund, but that it should go where it is most needed.
… When you are prepared, please send by express, to Mrs. A. Lincoln, Clifton House, Chicago.
If you have not already done so, we would wish that you would not advertize. The amount … is not worth the annoyance we experience at seeing our names in the papers.
I cannot express as I would, the gratitude we feel for your earnest efforts & the great trouble you have had … Believe me, Sir, Very sincerely & truly
Yours Robert T. Lincoln
To Mr. Sherman Chicago, Dec. 26th 1865
My dear Sir: Although, my son, wrote you a letter, on yesterday, I have concluded, to write and thank you, most gratefully, for your kind interest, in our deeply afflicted family. We have indeed lost our all, the idolized husband & father is no more with us, and if possible, our adverse fate & the great injustice of a people, who owed so much to my beloved husband, does not contribute, toward lessening, our heavy trials. … We are homeless, and in return for the sacrifices, my great & noble Husband made, both, in his life & death, the paltry, first year’s salary, is offered us, under the circumstances; such injustice, has been done us, as would call the blush, to any true loyal heart! The sum is in reality, only $20,000, as the first month’s salary, was paid My husband & I presume, the tax, on it, will be deducted from it. The interest, of it, will be about $1500. I am humiliated, when I think, that we are destined, to be forever, homeless. I can write no more. I remain, very respectfully Mary Lincoln
P.S. I omitted … mentioning to you … persons apparently reliable, saying, that to their knowledge, $10,000, in money, toward the dollar fund, had been raised for us, in Boston. … you might write to Boston, to ascertain the truth of the report. Knowing, my anxiety, to have a home, where we could at least, have some privacy … I agree with R[obert], it is best, not, to advertise M.L.
if there is any thing, at even an hour, as this, it will be forthcoming.
To Mr. Sherman Chicago, Jan. 13th 1866
My dear Sir: … Gen Spinner [Treasurer of the U.S.], two days ago, sent me the sum allowed by Congress, deducting six weeks, from it – with interest – making it $22,025 – leaving me to pay the income tax, which will leave only $20,000. Presuming, as Mr Moser & Mr G[odfrey] did, that you intended settling with them immediately, by return mail … Now, what am I to do? You, have had assurances, from my son, that he or Tad, desire no part, of what you may have. Will there be any objection, on your part, to settle with Moser, when you receive this … May I ask you, as a last favor, to see Mr Moser & Godfrey, when you receive this, and have the fur bill cut down considerably. Your influence can accomplish this. … there is not an hour’s delay. If you will not accede to this proposition, will you please telegraph me, when you receive this. I earnestly request, that you see Mr Godfrey & Moser, without fail when you receive this. I have written to Mr Bentley, ten days since, with reference to this, and he does not reply. I requested him, to have the amount greatly reduced, and send me the bill, and urge upon you to settle it.
I write in great haste & much harassed, by Godfrey’s letter & this unsettled business. Will you grant my request, see Moser & Godfrey … As to Mr Godfrey’s expenses to Wash[ington] … I had no knowledge, of his intention, to present himself on the occasion, and with my limited means, could scarcely meet that expense. I remain truly & gratefully, Mary Lincoln.