Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Was Abraham Lincoln Ever in Pelham?

A number of American Presidents have had connections, however fleeting, to the Town of Pelham.  These include George Washington, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, Warren G. Harding, and Chester A. Arthur.  In fact, like so many others, Pelhamites have proudly proclaimed for nearly two hundred years that "George Washington slept here."  According to tradition, on "several occasions" George Washington spent the night in a home owned by Colonel Philip Pell III (who was among Washington's senior leadership in the Continental Army and rode triumphantly with Washington into New York City on Evacuation Day).  Pell's home was located near today's Colonial and Cliff Avenues.  The home since was destroyed by fire.  See Barr, Lockwood, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Mannour of Pelham Also the Story of the Three Modern Villages Called the Pelhams, pp. 119, 143-44 (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).

I previously have written about connections between American Presidents and the Town of Pelham.  See, e.g.:  

Mon., Feb. 21, 2005:  Presidents Day Post: American Presidents and Their Connections To Pelham.  

Wed., Mar. 25, 2015:  Pelham Mourned the Death of FDR as His Body Passed Through the Town by Train on April 15, 1945.

Fri., Jun. 03, 2016:  More Newspaper Accounts of President Martin Van Buren's Visit to Pelham in 1839.  

Mon., Aug. 29, 2016:  President Grover Cleveland Passed Through Pelham Waters on August 22, 1894.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog explores whether one of the greatest American presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was ever in Pelham.  The only opportunity I previously have had to write about Abraham Lincoln involved the announcement of the assassination of President Lincoln that was delivered at the Rebel prisoner of war camp in Pelham on April 15, 1865.  See Fri., May 21, 2010:  The Announcement of President Abraham Lincoln's Assassination in Pelham, NY on April 15, 1865.  

With the critical transportation arteries of the New Haven line and the Boston Post Road that pass through the heart of Pelham, it truly should come as no surprise that Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, in Pelham.  Lincoln passed through the little settlement of Pelhamville on a New Haven Line night train the evening of March 10, 1860 during his campaign for the presidency.

Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln Probably
Taken in Springfield, Illinois on Sep. 23, 1858 by
Christopher S. German, From a Private Collection.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Presidential campaigns today seem to begin as soon as Inauguration Day concludes and last nearly until the last polling place closes on election night.  That was not the case in the 1850s and 1860s.  

In early March, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was in the midst of his last few public campaign speeches before the Republican Convention in May and the November election.  On February 27, 1860, Lincoln delivered his famous Cooper Union speech, then known as the Cooper Institute speech.  The speech is considered by some notable historians to have been one of his most important speeches and the one most likely responsible for his victory in the presidential election.  He used the speech to demonstrate, based on his own painstaking research, that the Founding Fathers would have agreed with Lincoln's position that slavery should not be expanded into the western territories.

After his Cooper Union triumph that was widely-hailed and trumpeted by newspapers throughout the nation, Lincoln immediately embarked on a two-week speaking tour in the northeast.  He spoke at least every business day at campaign appearances during that time and attended other campaign events and local churches (and made a few speeches)  on the weekends. 

On March 6, Lincoln took the Hartford & New Haven Railroad to New Haven where he gave a rousing speech in Union Hall.  The following day, March 7, Lincoln took his special train to Meriden, Connecticut.  As Lincoln's train made stops between New Haven and Meriden, more than six hundred Republicans hopped aboard hoping to see Lincoln and attend his speech in Meriden.  According to one account, "[b]y the time the train reached Wallington the cars were so packed that a hundred people were left behind at the depot."  Jaffe, Eric, The King's Best Highway:  The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America, p. 149 (NY, NY:  Scribner's, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2010).  

Lincoln gave another inspiring speech in Meriden before a "raucous crowd three thousand strong."  Id., p. 150.  In the next two days he spoke in Woonsocket (near Providence) and in Norwich, Connecticut on Friday, March 9.  Lincoln then traveled to Bridgeport, Connecticut where, on March 10, he gave a rousing speech in the Town's largest hall, filled to capacity.

Lincoln's Bridgeport speech on March 10 was a modified version of his triumphal Cooper Union Address.  It was his last such "public talk" until he was elected President.  Id., p. 150.

Immediately after his Bridgeport speech, the exhausted presidential candidate "boarded a New Haven night train back to New York."  Id.  Within a short time, Abraham Lincoln passed through Pelham on the New York City bound New Haven Line train.  The New-York Daily Tribune reported Lincoln's train ride two days later.  

Most certainly, even if the exhausted candidate was awake at the time, he most certainly would have taken no notice of the tiny little settlement of Pelhamville within the Town of Pelham as the train hurtled through the area of the Pelhamville station.  There were no residences in the immediate area.  There was no lighting -- lamp lighting or otherwise -- in the area.  In short, the future president likely never even realized he had passed through Historic Pelham. 

*          *          *          *          *

Immediately below is the text of two items that form the basis for today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"ABRAHAM LINCOLN spoke on Friday at Norwich, Conn., and on Saturday evening at Bridgeport, whence he came on by the Night Express to this City, attending the churches of Drs. Beecher and Chapin yesterday.  He leaves this morning for home, by way of the Erie Railroad, having spoken once in New England for each secular day since his address in our City, two weeks ago.  Mr. Lincoln has done good work and made many warm friends during this visit."

Source:  ABRAHAM LINCOLN, New-York Daily Tribune, Mar. 12, 1860, Vol. XIX, No 5891, p. 4, col. 2.  

"Lincoln was not quite a Boston Post memory yet.  He rode the Shore Line train back to Providence for a speech in the nearby town of Woonsocket, then circled back along the Sound toward Bridgeport for his final talk, on March 10.  Immediately after this speech the exhausted orator, hungry for home, boarded a New Haven night train back to New York.  From there he would leave for Illinois, but not before strolling around the city one final time with James Briggs, the man who had originally invited Lincoln east.  By then, in the words of the Providence Daily Journal, Lincoln was 'as much of a favorite in New England as in his own State.'"

Source:  Jaffe, Eric, The King's Best Highway:  The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America, p. 150 (NY, NY:  Scribner's, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2010). 

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