Brent Ashworth is an American historical documents collector.
Cover image: Photograph of William Wallace Lincoln.
On February 20, 1862, 11-year-old William Wallace Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, died at the White House, apparently of typhoid fever he and his little brother Tad may have picked up from drinking the White House water. Tad recovered.
Mary Lincoln’s grief over Willie’s death was so devastating that she took to her bed for three weeks, so distraught that she could not attend his funeral or look after Tad. She never entered Willie’s death bedroom during the remaining three years in the White House.
President Lincoln was equally devastated, refusing to leave Willie’s death bedroom until the body had to be removed several days later.
It is said that Willie was the most like his father of the four Lincoln sons. He wrote poetry, was an avid reader with a brilliant young mind. The family really never recovered from Willie’s death.
From our collection is this original sad handwritten letter Mary signed on May 5, 1862, to family friend and recent widower Charles Reeves of Cleveland, Ohio:
The sad intelligence of the death of your most excellent wife reached me…and I have been so bowed down and broken hearted myself or I should have written you to express my deep sorrow in your heavy bereavement.
Where Mrs. Reeves was known, there her goodness and influence was ever felt. She was one of the pure hearted beings of this world who are most frequently first removed. In His own time, we will know why it is.
The Hereafter will explain many things that are now in the dark and mysterious to us. Our own afflictions are so overwhelming my Husband and myself, are so crushed and sorrowful, that we can well sympathize with those who mourn, our hearts can go out to those who weep – We know in our trials, that the heavy stroke came from a Father’s hand, yet it is so difficult while our hearts are bleeding, to be submissive-
There was no lovelier boy than ours and none more precious or more dearly loved, yet he has been called away and we are left to our desolation and agony. Our Beloved Willie dearly loved your wife and I know she equally as much attached to him.
And I fully know and believe they are this day together rejoicing in the presence of their Saviour. I have shed many tears over the last writing of your sainted wife in memory of our darling boy.
If it were not for the hope that by serving God rightly here we may be enabled to meet them again – what would life be – As it is, there are days when I feel I cannot struggle on much longer.
Just a short time before his illness, I had intended sending Mrs. Reeves his photograph which did not do Willie justice- please receive this from me – If you should ever come on to Washington, I will show you a painting of him very much like him and far handsomer than this.
Please excuse this letter, written in much haste, and almost blotted by my tears – When we weep here, we can only remember that there “all tears are wiped away from their eyes.” Sorrow never enters there.
From your sincere friend,
The letter is black bordered, sent in a black bordered envelope, free frank, signed by Abraham Lincoln.