Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Prayer In His Watch Pocket: Abraham Lincoln

You never know what may be in your pocket. Did President Lincoln know what was in his? Nearly 150 years ago, in April of 1861, shortly following the attack of Fort Sumter, South Carolina by Confederate Rebels, a secret cursive inscription was etched into a metal plate under the watch face of Abraham Lincoln’s gold pocket watch.

Jonathan Dillon, a watchmaker for the M.W. Galt & Company on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. apparently was repairing Lincoln’s watch when he was told of the outbreak of the Civil War. Later claiming to be the only Union sympathizer working at the jewelry company, he stated he had added a Civil War message to the watch that day.

In 1906 at the age of 84, Dillon told a New York Times reporter about his engraving. For years the Dillon family and friends heard the “tale” of the engraving on Lincoln’s watch. Although his recollection in 1906 was not completely accurate as it has now turned out, the sentiment was there. He had said his engraved words were, “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a president who at least will try.”

The gold pocket watch has been in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History for a number of years. It may be the 200th anniversary celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, along with comments from relatives that lead Jonathan Dillon’s great-great grandson Doug Stiles, to do a Google search on the Internet and find the 1906 newspaper article about the engraving of the watch. He notified Smithsonian curators, who knew nothing of the engraving inside the pocket watch. This past Tuesday, a press conference was held as watchmaker George Thomas, a museum volunteer, carefully opened the watch before an audience of museum workers and reporters who watched on a video monitor. With a magnifying glass, Doug Stiles read his great-great grandfather’s words: “Jonathan Dillon April 13-1861 Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon” And then, “April 13-1861 Washington thank God we have a government Jonth Dillon.” The actual attack took place on the 12th of April, 1861.

So in a way, President Lincoln had in his pocket a prayer, words of gratitude, along with messages of wisdom and inspiration which he often received from his “friends from the upper country.” And as we know, angels work in mystical and mysterious ways, and maybe this Irish immigrant watchmaker was a “messenger” of the message to the man who was leading our government during a chaotic and terrible time in our history.

As part of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the Museum has brought together its unique Lincoln collection. Through a focused selection of nationally important Lincoln artifacts, visitors may explore the life and times of this extraordinary man. The museum website states, “Each highlighted object will be augmented with personal stories told by Lincoln and the people who knew him best. The exhibition will showcase more than 60 historical treasures associated with Lincoln's life from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s in New Salem, Ill., to his iconic top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. The exhibition will tell a new and very intimate story of the life and legacy of this remarkable individual.”

See the Online Lincoln Exhibit.

I love the unfolding and revealing of all sides of our sixteenth President. As I have written in my latest ebooks I always have admired Lincoln’s spiritual side. And what better thing to be revealed now in this year of his birthday celebration than the message his pocket watch carried, and which he held often in his hand, possibly without ever knowing what was hidden away behind the dial of his pocket watch.


1 comment:

Randy Watson said...

Hey Linda, nice blog sight. I enjoyed your piece on Lincoln's watch. This is a wonderful story. Thanks, by the way, for stopping by the Lizard Camp.