Sunday, February 15, 2009

In which I see more dead people on my magic computer thingy.

Who out there loves the Interweb?? I'm a full-on addict, and it's only getting worse. Latest fix:

The Thatcher family has always understood that its patriarch, Hezekiah Thatcher, my great-great grandfather, knew Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in the 1830s and 1840s when all three were residents of Springfield, Illinois (Hezekiah had not yet joined the LDS Church and Lincoln was still a junior law partner, just beginning in his political career). I've long wondered if it were really true. Maybe (thought I) they didn't really KNOW each other, but when Lincoln became famous “I used to pass him on the street” suddenly became “we knew each other.” I wanted to know more about this claim, but Hezekiah never kept a journal, so I figured that digging up any details of his association (friendship? rivalry? mutual indifference?) with Lincoln would be an ordeal. Probably involving a trip to Illinois. So I never bothered to try.

Then all the yammer related to Lincoln started in the last few weeks (Happy 200th, Abe!) and brought the question back to my mind. I thought it couldn't hurt to consult my friend Google to see what he might have to offer on my question. “Hezekiah Thatcher” + “Lincoln” took me to a site that informed me Lincoln was one of the lawyers in an 1843 Springfield civil case involving Hezekiah. I then typed the name of the case into Google and up came a website that meticulously archived all of Lincoln's legal papers, complete with case abstracts and scanned images of the original files! And there was my grandfather's name, in Abe Lincoln's handwriting. It was almost as surreal as seeing your grandfather's name written in God's handwriting.*

The Hill v. Thatcher case ended in a settlement rather than a full trial, which is in keeping with a description I recently heard of Lincoln the lawyer – he would encourage settlement and discourage trials whenever possible. Already showing signs of moral greatness at that early date.

So the family story is at least minimally true. The quiet, shy Hezekiah really was personally acquainted with the awkward, melancholy Abe Lincoln at least on this one occasion. Then, little knowing Mr. Lincoln's destiny or his own, he joined up with the Mormons and headed west, adding a whole slew of Wild West credentials to his resume.** Lincoln headed east and.....saved the universe, more or less.***

And now I've got this lead on the Lincoln/Thatcher link, I think I'll dig some more. Maybe I will find, buried deep in the Sangamon County Archives, a Happy 30th birthday card to Abe Lincoln signed

From one hardy frontier fellow to another,
Hezekiah T.

For any family members who want to know more about what I found or see my transcription of the complaint written up by Lincoln, click here for more complete information.

* Of course, there would be no way of knowing it was God's handwriting unless you'd found the Ark of the Covenant and could use the stone tablets to do a thorough forensic comparison. Which would be an unforgivable use of the Word of God that would surely call down a lethal ZAP! from on high.
** Friend of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, pioneer in the first year of the Mormon exodus to the West, polygamist, fearless rescuer of stranded immigrants, forty-niner who made his fortune in California, father of a Pony Express rider, tireless traveller who walked across the USA three times, founding settler and generous financier of Cache County Utah, and on and on and on, gush, gush, gush.
*** Oh, for shame -- you were paying attention in school, weren't you?


lenalou said...

I think Abe's handwriting is actually MORE weird than if it were God's. After all, we already know that God knows everyone.

D'Arcy said...

Oh for Shame indeed!

Carvel said...

Please feel relieved that I'm not marveling herein about the fantastic coincidence that you and I seem to be closely related to the same man whose name was handwritten by Abraham Lincoln. (Who'da thunk it?)
But, I felt deflated when I informed one of my brothers about this document, and his bland comment was, "Yes, that's interesting history."
On the other hand, a cousin who has always been interested in family history was very pleased to be informed, and glad that I promised to mail a copy of your posts to him.
Also, I was wondering whether our distant cousin, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, has discovered this connection. I'm tempted to send her another letter, but since she didn't reply to my last letter to her, pooh on her.
Thanks for the sterling research and the well-written posts!

Marie said...

Lena -- That's a good point.

D'Arcy -- :)

Dad -- I'm glad you enjoyed it -- thanks for reading! Not everyone likes history. Dead people are deader for some people than others. Please don't write LTU again, or at least wait until you're off your high, okay? :) Also, given that I found it with a GOOGLE SEARCH you can hardly call it research worth much praise, as fun as the results were.

sharonsfriendjen said...

Wow!! Your family is so full of fun history and great tales. I love hearing about history, especially when it intertwines with people you are related to.

Sharon said...

I think you would get less of a zap from on high for the forensic test than the forger of God's signature would get. (just to look on the bright side)

wynne said...


Wow. How long did that take him?

wynne said...

And what good would it do for someone to forge God's handwriting, Sharon? "Ah, yes, this is a genuine pre-time mountain made by God--look, his signature is right, wait a minute...something's off about this...maybe it's because the mountain is upside down and made of pudding?"

wynne said...

I, too, enjoy family history, especially when you come across the good bits. Or the just plain weird bits. Or the bits that are a screaming red flag for some skeleton in the closet...mostly, though, I don't get answers, just more questions.

Glad you found an answer to this one, though. Cool beans.

Sharon said...

I didn't think of it in the signature of nature sense. Good point. I wonder if those palm tree-shaped fake islands in Dubai count, or Ocean City, MD. I love the mountain of pudding image. I think that would be approved of on high.
Marie, I love your family history moments. Can you find something interesting in my family history? There must be something. You are the best finder of interesting family history items I know. Also, if you want to find something that would make me independently wealthy and able to leave insurance behind, that would be cool too.

Annette G said...

It is sad that my only claim to fame is that Bill Murray said "hi" to me on the streets of NYC.