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    Abraham Lincoln: Pioneer Clothing Made from Cloth Purchased at the Lincoln-Berry Store in New Salem. The romance associated with New Salem has exerted a strong pull on writers, filmmakers and admirers of Abraham Lincoln. The name conjures up a notable cast of frontier characters: Jack Armstrong, the Clary's Grove Boys, Mentor Graham, Bowling Green, Ann Rutledge. The town was founded in 1819, centered around a grist mill built over a small dam on the Sangamon River. Lincoln's flatboat got stuck on that mill dam. He was able to extricate himself, adding to his stature among the townsfolk and inspiring him to patent an invention to lift boats over river shoals. Settlers saw promise in the river and the boats that could transport goods up and down its banks.

    Outposts such as New Salem saw a rapid turnover. People would try their hand at some enterprise and quickly move on to greener pastures. When nearby Petersburg was selected as the seat of newly-formed Menard County in 1836, the exodus from New Salem started in earnest. People walked or rode the few miles to the new site, even dismantling buildings and setting them up in Petersburg. Within a few years, New Salem was a ghost-town - its buildings falling into disrepair, overrun with trees and vegetation. Like Brigadoon, it was shrouded in the mist of history - described by the likes of Carl Sandburg, Stephen Vincent Benet and Edgar Lee Masters, himself a Petersburg resident. Like his father before him, Lincoln had the "frontier spirit" which compelled him to seek greater opportunities in new places. The need to improve his lot in life prompted Lincoln to leave New Salem in 1837, after a stay of six years, to seek his fortune as a young lawyer in Springfield.

    This lot contains eight articles of clothing. Five of these are made of cotton and are consistent in style and material - an indication they belong together. The other three are silk and, while dating from the 19th century, are likely additions to the ensemble. This latter group includes a green silk housewife (folded pouch used to hold articles of sewing), black vest, necktie, and a pair of sheer cotton gloves. The former group includes items attributed to the Lincoln-Berry store in New Salem. These include:

    1) a dress of Dutch calico measuring 50" in length, a bottom hem measuring 53" across when folded in half, and 20" sleeves. An attached tag describes the material as having been purchased at the Lincoln-Berry store.
    2) a bonnet of brown calico with side fastening straps and pleated border, measuring 7" across the crown.
    3) a housewife in various shades of brown and green. It has three interior pockets containing homespun thread and an attached tag indicating it belonged to Parthena Hill. In the closed position, it measures 4.5" x 3.5".
    4) a cotton handbag with a blue & white tulip design, measuring 10" square.
    5) a turkey tail-feather fan with black cloth strap, measuring 8" x 13.5". Frontier preacher Peter Cartwright, who unsuccessfully ran against Lincoln for Congress in 1846, was noted for using such fans while preaching.

    The group of clothing was owned by Lucy Maria Wright Bennett, a.k.a. "Aunt Lucy." She acquired it from Parthena Hill in the early 1890s. Lucy was born in Petersburg, Illinois in 1838, the daughter of A. D. Wright, a cousin of Stephen Douglas. She married J. Thomas Bennett, a son of John Bennett. Bennett, Sr., along with brothers Richard and William, were residents of New Salem. He was the first State Representative from the newly-formed Menard County (1840-41) and President of the meeting that incorporated Petersburg in July 1838. He also built the Menard House Hotel in Petersburg in 1844 which was frequented by Lincoln, Douglas, Herndon, and others. He was well acquainted with Lincoln, being the recipient of at least two letters from him in the '40s and '50s, dealing with political matters. In one letter, Lincoln addresses him as "Friend Bennett."

    Parthena Nance was also a resident of New Salem who later moved to Petersburg. In 1835, she married Samuel Hill who operated a store and worked at Hardin Bale's wool carding mill. Hill operated a store in partnership with John McNamar (a.k.a., McNeil) from 1829 to 1831. He subsequently worked as Post Master of the small village. His failure to attend to female customers, focusing instead on selling shots of booze, created a great deal of discontent. A petition for his removal was circulated which resulted in the position being given to Abraham Lincoln, who received an appointment from President Andrew Jackson in 1833. Both Hill and McNamar, it should be noted, were suitors of Ann Rutledge. Hill was rejected in his quest, but McNamar became Ann's fiancé, prior to taking an extended and mysterious leave of absence. Ann moved to a neighboring town with her father James, the innkeeper. At the time of Ann's death in 1835, Hill married the nineteen-year old Parthena.

    At some point in time, prior to her removal to Petersburg in 1839, Parthena purchased yard goods to make the above-mentioned five articles of clothing. Tradition holds that the transaction took place in the Lincoln-Berry store in 1832 or 1833. At that time, Parthena would have been seventeen and unmarried. Sam Hill perhaps still retained hopes of a union with Ann Rutledge. During its existence, there were a variety of dry goods stores in New Salem - too many, in fact - resulting in scattered closings and failures. There was Hill & McNamar (1829-31), Denton Offutt (where Lincoln briefly clerked in 1831 and met future associate W. G. "Slicky Bill" Greene), James & Rowan Herndon (1831-32), Reuben Radford (under lease from "Slicky Bill" 1831-33), Lincoln & Berry store #1 (1832-33), Lincoln & Berry store #2 (Spring of 1833), and Sam Hill (1831-39). The Lincoln store, though short-lived, likely had the best stock of merchandise, as it contained close-outs of two other concerns.

    Lucy Bennett, writing years later, asserted that she first saw the ensemble of clothing in 1853, when but a fifteen-year old, at a reception for Governor Matteson in Petersburg. It was worn by Parthena Hill. This would have seemed totally out-of-place at such an event, but it was worn as a novelty, in order to show the mode of dressing during "pioneer days" twenty years earlier. We imagine that Parthena declared then that she purchased the dry goods at the Lincoln-Berry store. There was no need for obfuscation, as Lincoln, while known to all in attendance, was simply a successful Springfield lawyer, former friend and neighbor.

    From that point onward, Lucy coveted the ensemble of pioneer clothes. Her repeated attempts to buy them were rebuffed. Towards the end of her life, Parthena Hill finally relented and gave it to Lucy after she agreed to fill in for Parthena and wear the outfit at an "Old Settler's Picnic." After that, the clothing became Lucy's prize possession. She wore them at every possible public occasion, including chatauquas, gatherings of "Illinois" associations, patriotic venues, etc. She had cabinet cards made of her in costume and appeared in newspaper articles while living in Los Angeles. She even corrected one article that stated that she, not Parthena Hill, had purchased the material. Lucy objected that, being born in 1838, that would have been impossible. She would have had to be 100 years old to have been able to do that.

    Lucy was active in civic affairs and lived in Roff, Oklahoma (Indian Territory) and Los Angeles, after moving from Petersburg. She was interested in both current events and past history, maintaining a scrapbook of articles that dealt with New Salem, Petersburg, as well as the careers and passing of family members and former neighbors. Throughout this period, she steadfastly maintained that the pioneer clothing she possessed was purchased at the Lincoln-Berry store. After her death, some publications said the goods were purchased at Sam Hill's store. Where does the truth lie?

    We look to the model set forth by author Douglas Wilson in his history dealing with the early period of Lincoln's life: "Honor's Voice". Wilson analyses the stories and reminiscences of various "players". He determines if the witnesses were actually present at the events described, or whether their stories are hearsay. He determines if the stories are plausible and whether the storytellers have any motive of personal gain. He looks for patterns of consistency. If the people were actually present, had first-hand knowledge, had no "ax to grind" or advantage to be gained, and had recollections sharing common characteristics with other versions, then their stories acquire the ring of truth and cannot be dismissed.

    What made Lucy Bennett believe these clothes originated at the Lincoln-Berry store? Because, Parthena Hill, who made the clothes, told her so. This wasn't hearsay concerning articles purchased at an estate sale. Lucy got the clothes directly from the woman who made them, a resident of New Salem and friend of Lincoln (it is asserted that Lincoln, given the opportunity of naming Nancy Armstrong McHenry's daughter, named her "Parthena Jane"). There was no reason for Parthena to lie about their origin, especially in 1853. If they were simply relics of pioneer days in New Salem, she could have said so. After Lincoln became President and led the country through the ordeal of Civil War, the articles took on greater importance, leading Parthena to retain them until shortly before her death. She, of all people, was in a position to know their origin. If she had purchased the material from one of the other stores (or got it from her husband, Sam Hill, for nothing!), she would have been much more willing to relinquish them. Plus, there was no monetary gain for maintaining a false pretense. She didn't sell the clothing to Lucy - she gave it to her. Parthena didn't have to invent connections with Lincoln - those connections were real.

    These scraps of calico were Lucy Bennett's prize possessions. Did she have anything to gain by making up stories associating herself with Lincoln? Not at all. She personally knew Lincoln and most, if not all, of the former residents of New Salem. Lincoln knew her father-in-law well and wrote to him on at least two occasions. If Lucy wanted keepsakes, she had those two letters. She also had a silk banner made by the ladies of Petersburg and presented to Mexican War veterans of Petersburg, hailed as heroes, among them her very own father. This was truly a priceless artifact. Yet, she donated that banner to the State of Illinois in 1918. She gave away the banner, but kept the Lincoln clothing!

    Material related to New Salem during its brief existence never comes on the market. There are no auction comparables. We include in this lot the scrapbook maintained by Aunt Lucy, four cabinet cards of her in costume dated 1896, her membership card in the Old Salem Lincoln League, and a prospectus and letter from the league.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2011
    21st Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,195

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