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Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Tom Emery - 10-04-2015 02:05 PM

Here's an article I wrote last month on the Lincoln grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I included quotes from an interview I did with Dr. Wayne Temple, whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for.

To Gene Cook -- sorry I couldn't make it to meet you and the others in Springfield this weekend.


Tom Emery


Did Not Always Embrace Lincoln’s Legacy; No Direct Descendants Surviving Today

By Tom Emery

Abraham Lincoln never met his grandchildren, since he was assassinated before any of them were born. Given the opportunity, they may not have been especially interested in meeting him, either.

Taken as a group, the Lincoln grandchildren and great-grandchildren were few in number and a rather mixed lot. Many were unlike their famous ancestor, often shunning the Lincoln legacy in favor of their own interests and cushy lifestyles.

“I don’t think they were much like Lincoln,” said Dr. Wayne Temple, a nationally recognized Lincoln authority from Springfield, Ill. “I don’t think that all of them were that interested in being connected to Lincoln. Some of them didn’t seem to care much about it.”

Lincoln had three grandchildren, all the product of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of the President’s four sons to live to full maturity. First was Mary, born in 1869 and named for her grandmother, Presidential widow Mary Todd Lincoln. The girl was more commonly known by her nickname, “Mamie.” Next was Abraham Lincoln II, born in 1873 and better known as “Jack,” followed by daughter Jessie in 1875.

The Lincoln grandchildren grew up with plenty of advantages. A captain of industry, Robert Lincoln was an influential Chicago lawyer who later spent fourteen years as president of the Pullman Palace Car Company. Robert Lincoln also served as Secretary of War from 1881-85 and minister to England from 1889-93. He was frequently mentioned as a Presidential candidate, but showed no inclination to run.

The family also spent extended periods in Washington as well as Mount Pleasant, Iowa, the home of Robert’s father-in-law, former U.S. Senator and Cabinet member James Harlan.

His eldest daughter, Mary, was the third of the name in the line, following her grandmother and mother, also named Mary. She married Robert’s personal secretary, Charles Isham, in 1891 and was a trusted confidant to her father, handling some of the family’s personal papers before her death in 1938.

While some descendants distanced themselves from the Lincoln legacy, Jack embraced it. A bright boy with a keen interest in military history, Jack even tried to sign his name like his famous grandfather.

“He’d practice until he could sign his name just like Lincoln, and sign into hotel registries with the name ‘Abraham Lincoln,’” laughed Temple. “Of course, it was perfectly legal, since that was also his name. But it would really shock the hotel registrars when they saw that name.”

Loved by all, Jack was once playing baseball in Chicago when he broke a neighbor’s window. Angry, the neighbor demanded his name. When Jack replied “Abraham Lincoln,” the neighbor reportedly said, “Don’t you lie to me.”

Jack was attending school in Versailles when he suffered a rather mundane cut on his left arm in November 1889. The wound became severely infected, and Jack languished for four months his death in March 1890 at age 16.

The loss devastated his parents, and Jack was buried in the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield. Robert, too, had expected to be buried there, but after his death in 1926, wife Mary decided that he “should have his own place in the sun.” She ordered her husband buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and Jack’s remains were exhumed and moved there in 1930. The decisions did not sit well with some, particularly in Springfield.

Jessie, meanwhile, married three times, beginning with her November 1897 elopement to her first husband, Iowa Wesleyan football player Warren Beckwith, whom Robert disliked. In that union, Jessie left the Lincoln home in Chicago, met Warren and boarded a train to Milwaukee, where they were married. She returned home as if nothing had happened, and her father found out when a reporter called the next day.

A chronic problem to Robert, Jessie was always asking her father for money, loans, and favors. She was eventually disinherited from the sprawling Lincoln summer estate in Vermont, Hildene, and had an open affair in her second of three marriages. She died in 1948.
“In reading Robert’s letters, I think she was a disappointment to him,” said Temple. “I mean, the way she ran off and married that football player, and the way she lived. I think she really disappointed him.”

Three great-grandchildren of President Lincoln were produced, and each shared similar traits; all were wealthy, lived quietly, and disliked publicity. Mary Isham had one son, Abraham Lincoln “Linc” Isham who, at age 15 in 1907, crashed Robert’s luxury automobile, angering his grandfather. An art collector and musician, Linc married a prominent New Yorker, a union that produced no children. He died in 1971.

Jessie had two children with her first husband, starting with daughter Mary, the fourth generation with that name, who was better known as “Peggy.”

Peggy, who never married, enjoyed golf, hunting, fishing, and car collecting. A chain smoker, she dressed in pants and men’s shirts. A friend said, “she should have been a man.”

Indifferent to the Lincoln legacy, Peggy once said “I don’t care much about ancestors” and “it was just luck that A.L. happened to be a relative.” After christening the nuclear submarine USS Abraham Lincoln in 1960, she penned in her diary “Cloudy A.M. Sun out P.M. Broke bottle on boat. So home to bed.”

Peggy Beckwith never married and died in 1975 at age 76. She gave Hildene to the Christian Science Church, following the religious preferences of her grandmother and aunt Mary Isham. Hildene has since been transferred to a private group that operates it as a historic site.

Her brother, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, was a Georgetown law school grad but never practiced, choosing to live off the family fortune. A self-described “spoiled brat” and self-styled playboy, he once said that he never asked Robert Lincoln much about his great-grandfather or the Civil War since he was “not especially interested.”

Like some of the others, he attended a few Lincoln-related events and donated some items to various museums and libraries, but said, “I just want to live my own life.”

However, Temple, who met Beckwith on several occasions, believes that he was “very proud of the Lincoln legacy. Whenever I talked to him, he certainly seemed proud of his connection to Lincoln.

“But he wasn’t always willing to speak publicly about it, or reminiscene,” continued Temple. “He didn’t look much like Lincoln, either. Lloyd Ostendorf, the greatest of the Lincoln artists, told me one time that Beckwith didn’t look like Lincoln at all, except that he had Lincoln’s ears.”

In 1976, the second of Beckwith’s three wives, who was 36 years his junior, charged him with paternity during divorce proceedings, although Beckwith had undergone a vasectomy six years before. In a celebrated case, a judge ruled Beckwith was not the father. He never fathered any other children.

Beckwith died in Virginia on Dec. 24, 1985 at age 81, the last direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln. Other Presidents with no surviving direct lineage include Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Polk, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and McKinley.

However, thousands of Americans claim some kinship to Lincoln, mainly as distant cousins several times removed. Emmy-winning actor Tom Hanks is reportedly a distant relative to Lincoln based on his connection to the President’s birth mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Gene C - 10-04-2015 02:58 PM

Interesting article Tom.
If you had taken the family and worked backwards who'd have thought they were descendants of Abraham Lincoln.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - LincolnMan - 10-04-2015 04:23 PM

Thanks Tom. Great stuff!

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - L Verge - 10-04-2015 06:39 PM

Wouldn't you love to be present at a Lincoln family reunion in the hereafter? Mr. Lincoln would probably find a way to laugh off the outcome of his line, but I bet Mary would have had a case of the vapors after dealing with Jessie and Peggy!

I enjoyed The Last Lincolns by Charles Lachman, and he was a good speaker at a Surratt conference a few years ago. Sometimes it's a little consoling to find out that even our ancestors had problems with their children.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - RJNorton - 10-05-2015 04:22 AM

Wonderful article, Tom. I am curious about the death of Abraham Lincoln II ("Jack"). I have seen various words (guesses?) in connection with his sickness and passing - examples: (1) malignant carbuncle in his arm; (2) non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and (3) septicemia. I am curious if the absolute truth of Jack's illness is known. Whatever it was, would Jack have survived with contemporary treatment?

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Eva Elisabeth - 10-05-2015 05:06 AM

Thanks for sharing this, Tom!
I, too, enjoyed "The Last Lincolns" although it's rather a sad and haunting story (not just the book title - "Rise and Fall of a Great Family" sounded like E. A. Poe's work). And like in the proverb, the best (Jack) died young.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Anita - 10-05-2015 06:29 PM

(10-05-2015 04:22 AM)RJNorton Wrote:  Wonderful article, Tom. I am curious about the death of Abraham Lincoln II ("Jack"). I have seen various words (guesses?) in connection with his sickness and passing - examples: (1) malignant carbuncle in his arm; (2) non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and (3) septicemia. I am curious if the absolute truth of Jack's illness is known. Whatever it was, would Jack have survived with contemporary treatment?

I found the book "The Last Lincolns " a facinating account and filled with well-reseached information that was new to me. Case in point is the account of Jack's illness. Roger, according to the record, Jack had a great chance of living at the time had the French doctors not made egregious errors in his treatment. By the time Robert became aware of this it was too late. Robert brought him back to back to England, but Jack was too far gone. The book contains detailed medical descriptions of what happened. Very sad indeed.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Eva Elisabeth - 10-05-2015 07:09 PM

I need to re-read the descriptions of Jack's case, but "malignant carbuncle in his arm" in nowadays terms is cutaneous anthrax. Of all anthrax infections this is the best curable one - but not prior to penicillin. And it would easily have led to sepsis.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - RJNorton - 10-06-2015 08:53 AM

(10-05-2015 06:29 PM)Anita Wrote:  I found the book "The Last Lincolns " a facinating account and filled with well-reseached information that was new to me.

Thanks, Anita. I think that is the most detailed description of Jack's illness I have ever seen. In summing up, it sounds like the wound simply would not heal (no matter what was tried) after the French doctors had operated on the carbuncle. I wonder what would cause the wound never to heal. It sounds like the problems eventually traveled to his lungs and heart, and he simply grew so weak to a point from which he could not recover. Such a sad story.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - STS Lincolnite - 10-06-2015 04:35 PM

(10-06-2015 08:53 AM)RJNorton Wrote:  I wonder what would cause the wound never to heal. It sounds like the problems eventually traveled to his lungs and heart, and he simply grew so weak to a point from which he could not recover. Such a sad story.

It would not be unusual for the infection itself to retard or prevent wound healing. In a time before antibiotics, if that infection spread as you described, it certainly could be fatal. Blaine could elaborate further.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Eva Elisabeth - 10-06-2015 05:27 PM

Roger, there were no antibiotics in those days, and an infected wound, depending on the causative agent or the size, would easily resist healing, especially when the immune system was weakened (and the infection respectively toxics produced by the causative agents would add to the weakening, a circulus vitiosus, so to speak). Toxics can, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (if Jack suffered from this, which I doubt) does cause thrombopenia (lack of thrombocytes). Thrombocytes are essential for wound healing.

This is the medical description (case history) summarized:

In summer 1889, at age sixteen, Jack felt something strange under his arm, an accumulation of boils formed into a nasty cluster - a carbuncle. It was a staphs first it was a mild irritant, of 'little consequence'.
It should have cleared up in a week or two, but kept growing. French doctors determined that surgery was necessary, which took place November 6.
Surgical incision was made from underarm to elbow to allow the infection to drain. Healing was expected to take a week.

11 days later [Nov. 17?], Jack continued to improve slowly, suffering a slight fever up to 102 F.

On Nov. 28 the doc thinks Jack will be able to begin sitting up out of bed in 4 or 5 days.

Ten days before Christmas, although the fever almost down to normal, Jack seemed to deteriorate, had no desire to get out of bed and couldn't even sit up. The wound refused to heal.

On Jan. 13 Jack was "slipping", having been feverish and coughing the previous night. Another ganglion had materialized on his arm. French physicians cut it away again.

On Jan. 17 Jack was transferred to England, which took 36 hours. There was no evidence of sepsis or pneumonia.

One week later on the edge of death from blood poisoning. The carbuncle had burrowed a channel into Jack's blood system, spiking his fever. His pulse grew weaker, his breathing became labored, a "pleuritic effusion" was diagnosed on the left lung.
The open wound would not heal.
On February 27, a last operation was conducted to remove tissue.
Jack died on March 3.

Lachmann respectively his sources claim a straphs infection. I would like to hear Dr. Steers' or Dr. Houmes' opinion on this.

Carbuncles caused by straphs are usually painful and filled with pus. (If Jack's carbuncle was filled with pus or painful I am sure it would have been mentioned.) Even without antibiotics they are likely to heal when opened using an aseptic instrument (according to Lachmann's sources the French physician did use such) to let the pus out.

Carbuncles caused by anthrax would not cause pain but any opening is contraindicated as pretty certain to cause blood poisoning.

Quoted from Wiki (plus additions):

Cutaneous anthrax, also known as Hide porter's disease, is the cutaneous (on the skin) manifestation of anthrax infection in humans. It presents as a boil-like skin lesion that eventually forms an ulcer with a black center (eschar) [and in German we still call this a Milzbrandkarbunkel = anthrax carbuncle]. The black eschar often shows up as a large, painless necrotic ulcer (beginning as an IRRITATING and itchy skin lesion or blister that is dark and usually concentrated as a black dot, somewhat resembling bread mold [really does look UGLY!!!]) at the site of infection . Unlike bruises or most other lesions, cutaneous anthrax infections normally do not cause pain.

Cutaneous anthrax is typically caused when B. anthracis spores enter through cuts on the skin. This form is found most commonly when humans handle infected animals and/or animal products.

Cutaneous anthrax is rarely fatal if treated [with antibiotics!!!], because the infection area is limited to the skin, preventing the lethal factor, edema factor, and protective antigen from entering and destroying a vital organ. Without treatment, about 20% of cutaneous skin infection cases progress to toxemia [respectively sepsis, which is the immune system response], and death. Sepsis goes along with severe disturbances of temperature, respiration, heart rate or white blood cell count, and may result in multiple organ dysfunction syndrome or septic shock.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - RJNorton - 10-07-2015 04:31 AM

Scott and Eva, thank you very much for replying to my question. I wonder what the French doctors could have done differently?

Does it look like Jack is wearing a black wrapping on his arm in this final photo of him? Or is that some sort of sling? My aging eyes need help.

[Image: jacklincolnbed.jpg]

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Eva Elisabeth - 10-07-2015 05:59 AM

Roger, the photo is too blurred for me, too, to determine.
Without antibiotics the French doctors couldn't have done anything real curative further, the immune system had to fight this out alone. Most likely (if the cause was anthrax), the surgery was a death verdict, but he might have died without, too. If it was straphs, just cutting the carbuncle open as I posted above (i.e. without tearing out all they did) might have helped. But I think the surgery secured his death.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - STS Lincolnite - 10-07-2015 07:47 AM

Roger, I can't see in the photo clearly, but it does look as though he has perhaps a bandage of some sort on his arm.

It is hard to determine what the French doctors could have done differently without knowing exactly what they did (or more precisely how they did it). As Eva said, once the infection had set in, there was probably not much they could do except monitor and support his immune system in fighting of the infection (eating the right foods, resting, etc.).

The best way to fight infection is to never let it happen. When doing a surgical procedure, that means using antiseptic technique (both with the procedure itself and with the post-procedure bandaging and care). At that time, use of antiseptic technique had not been universally accepted. Joseph Lister began publishing on the subject in the late 1860's but it took much longer for many phyiscians to accept the practice. Take for example President Garfield's physicians in early 1880s. Their failure to use the practice likely contributed to his death if not caused it outright. When Jack died in 1890 it may be that the doctors Jack had in France had not yet accepted the practice and failed to use it when lancing his carbuncle. In England, it's use was much more widely accepted and use far more prevelant at the time. That may be why it had been mentioned that the French doctors did not treat him correctly and if he had received his initial treatment in England he would have survived. But as Eva said, once the infection had set in and begun to spread from the initial wound, there was little that could be medically done at the time - so English physicians could do little to nothing either at the point they got involved.

RE: Lincoln Grandchildren & G-Grandchildren - Eva Elisabeth - 10-07-2015 07:55 AM

Scott, I don't have the book at hand now to quote, but it said the French physicians were top modern using antiseptic tools etc.