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Community Club find has a connection to Abraham Lincoln

By Staff | Nov 25, 2016

One never knows what they will find stuffed in the yellowed pages of a fraying book that appears to be ready for the Halltown paper mill. But while sorting just such a book for the Shepherdstown Community Club’s annual October book sale, a fragment of a piece of paper was found connected to Abraham Lincoln.

A volunteer, Marie Tyler-McGraw, was sorting through a box of books. She came upon a small autograph album from the mid-19th century. Very worn, and with the binding exposed, the album of once-blank pages had autographs and poetry written to Eliza S. Cabot from her friends in 1834 and again in 1845. Inside the album were other pieces of paper: one an invitation to a New Year’s Ball addressed to Miss Eliza Cabot and another a part of a contract between Cabot and parents in Petersburg, Illinois, to teach school for the fall season of 1843 and, finally, a fragment of a note referencing confirmation of her credentials as a teacher: “teaching school” third district” “1835.” The agreement between Miss Cabot and her Petersburg clients of August 21, 1843 provides in part for her to “teach a Common English School Reading Writing Arithmetic English Grammar three months in the town of Petersburg.”

Tyler-McGraw’s curiosity was aroused by the age of this album and the name of its owner. On her computer she found Cabot’s name in historical references, most notably to Abraham Lincoln who, it turns out, was her lawyer in a court case between Miss Cabot and a resident of Petersburg, Illinois where she had gone to teach. Tyler-McGraw emailed the Curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum with this find and about an hour later received a detailed one page email in return that confirmed this was a verifiable historical find of interest to the museum, as evidenced by the immediate response it generated.

The New England-born Miss Cabot became the subject of local gossip in Petersburg for her perceived conduct with one of two local male visitors to her boarding house. When a local doctor said she was a fallen woman, she sued and hired Abraham Lincoln as her lawyer. Lincoln took the case through three courts. In the first she won (1844), but only $12 in jury-awarded damages, rather than the $5,000 for which she had sued. In another circuit court, where the case had been moved on a successful change of venue appeal by Lincoln, a jury found in her favor with $1,600 in damages. At the Supreme Court of Illinois, the court affirmed the second lower court’s award, although the legal dispute continued to drag on with Lincoln as her solicitor through 1848.

Accounts of the court cases can be found in at least two books cited on Google Books. Shortly after her very brief residence in Petersburg, Miss Cabot returned to Connecticut where she married Dr. Erastus Chase Torrey, a graduate of Dartmouth and the medical college at Bowdoin. They had two daughters (1848 and 1849), while he practiced in Windsor, Connecticut. They then moved to Detroit for ten years (1850-60), after which he took a position in the office of the Auditor of the Treasury Department in Washington, DC.

Eliza Cabot Torrey died in 1871 and is buried with her husband in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC.

The Shepherdstown Community Club, at its November board meeting, decided to donate the paper document and the book in which it was found to the Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois so that it may be preserved in its archives and possibly displayed in some future exhibit where it is appropriate.