Three Generations of an Illinois Family
Two Lincoln Letters Acquired
by James M. Cornelius, Ph.D., Curator, Lincoln Collection
When Thomas Kenney of Massachusetts accepted 160 acres in Illinois from President James Monroe in 1818 as partial thanks for his service in the War of 1812, he set the later owners of that land along a path to local notoriety and friendship with a giant—Abraham Lincoln. Now the historic treasures of John Hake of Delray Beach, Florida, the last of one line of that family, have come to the ALPLM.
“It was important to Jack Hake that his collection be publicly accessible, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is the perfect place to fulfill his wishes. The collection will play an integral role in furthering the good work that the Museum and Library does on a daily basis,” said Fred MacLean, long-time friend, attorney, and personal representative of his estate.
Abraham Lincoln to J.W. Forney
July 20, 1861
The key figure in the Hake family line was his great-great-grandfather, Alexander Sympson (1807-1867), who settled in 1844 on Kenney’s original tract. Sympson was born in Kentucky just a few miles from young Abe Lincoln and knew the tall youth from hanging around at the local mill. They met again in central Illinois as adults. By the 1850s both were known state-wide in Illinois, Lincoln as a lawyer-politician and Sympson as a leader in Hancock County—he and wife Nancy could host 300 people to meals in the home and yard for special events. A wealthy farmer and landowner, he served as a delegate to the 1860 Republican State Convention in Decatur that named Lincoln the state’s candidate for president, a week before the national convention in Chicago.
The 49 items in Mr. Hake’s gift include personal letters, cdv’s, cabinet card photos, printed items, official documents, and a scrapbook. The two highlights shine like the Florida sun: a letter by Candidate Lincoln to Sympson in 1858, writing that “if life and health continue, I shall pretty surely” see him soon during the Senate campaign against Stephen A. Douglas. In fact, Lincoln stayed with Alexander and Nancy Sympson during that speaking tour. The second highlight is a letter from President Lincoln to a Washington colleague in 1861, arranging a job for Sympson’s son, and referring to the father as “one of my best friends.”
Abraham Lincoln to Alexander Sympson
August 11, 1858
The son, Coleman C. Sympson, became enrolling and engrossing clerk in the U.S. Senate for 27 years and knew key Illinois figures. His exacting honesty and accuracy are attested in personal notes by Senator David Davis and by Senator Richard Oglesby. Another influential friend was Senator Orville Browning. And Sympson’s cousin, Crittenden Sympson, became a photographer in Carthage, Illinois, in the 1880s, creating fine re-take cabinet cards of an unusual Lincoln image from 1858.
The old man had stumped not only for Lincoln. In November 1860 he received a personal letter of thanks from newly elected governor Richard Yates.
Soon, old Sympson—almost two years senior to the President—got an official pass on June 20, 1861, to go “over the bridges and into the lines” in Virginia before Bull Run, swearing “at penalty of death” to remain loyal to the Union. First a captain and quartermaster, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and marched through Kentucky and Tennessee under General W. S. Rosecrans, with field orders from General J. L. Easton to direct him, and a Nashville cdv of himself as a souvenir.
One of two stock certificates donated by Hake, which are dated December 12, 1868. Together, the certificates total 11 shares for the Carthage & Burlington RR [this absorbed company still exists].
Perhaps the biggest surprise in such a set is an 1851 letter by Stephen A. Douglas, informing the Senate that as his residence has moved from Quincy to Chicago, he is due less in travel remuneration for his trips to Washington. Penciled and inked calculations on one page of the letter attest to someone’s careful math about the senator’s honesty. Two other letters are of family interest, about a student rebellion at Illinois College in 1857, and a sweet missive from cousin Jennie to Miss Kitty Sympson, undated but about 1855.
According to Dr. Carla Knorowski, CEO of the Presidential Library Foundation, “The Hake Collection provides a unique, extraordinary look into a family’s history and the Lincoln and Civil War era. We are very fortunate to have been given this magnificent collection by John Hake. He wanted the artifacts and documents to be publicly accessible, and there is no better place for that than the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Not only will the public be able to see pieces of the collection on display in various exhibits from time to time, they will also be available digitally so that scholars, students, and armchair historians will be able to enjoy and learn from them for generations to come. We are truly grateful for Mr. Hake’s commitment to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and his times.”
Stephen A. Douglas, March 6, 1851, to "Sirs," explaining his change of residence from Quincy to Chicago and thus his reduced travel expenses to attend Senate.
Rounding out this collection of historic keepsakes are an elegant signature by “Mrs. James K. Polk, of Polk Place” on a slip of paper; one by D R. Locke, alias Petroleum V. Nasby, the popular humorist whom Lincoln was reading aloud to friends on both the night he was re-elected and the afternoon he last went to Ford’s Theatre; a signature of U.S. Grant, clipped from a note; and then, harking back to 1812 soldier Thomas Kenney, the James Monroe signature tied to an order by Governor Bradford of Massachsetts. Another family member, Jesse B. Quinby, left Ohio in 1841 bearing a sturdy letter of recommendation in a lovely antique script by a village elder.
That young man became Rev. Quinby, who married a daughter of the Sympsons. Their granddaughter was Mary Louise Sympson Quinby Strimple Hake, mother of Jack Hake. And so the land grant by President Monroe ... the humble introduction for an Ohio boy ... the brushes and friendship with Lincoln ... civic leadership for generations in their county—all this evidence shows the care of each family. All this is part of a Lincoln-centered gift to the Presidential Library & Museum, in Springfield, Illinois.
"John Hake, donor
Michael Wirtz, friend
PDF File - Size: 2.6MB -