A Secret Mister Lincoln Never Knew.

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It was a secret both men carried to the grave.

One knew what it was.

One didn’t.

It’s a shame he didn’t know..

It might have brought him a measure of peace in a world that had lost its sanity.

The day would live in infamy.

A shot was fired.

A country was at war.

A watchmaker’s country, and Jonathan Dillon bowed his head in sadness.

He whispered a prayer.

He had been working for the M. W. Galt and Company on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., when the news reached him.

He had heard the muted roar of angry voices.

He had heard the rumors for days, for months.

They were rumors no longer.

War rained down on America.

The attack on Fort Sumter had begun.

A tenuous truce between North and South had been torn asunder.

Death would not begin nor end at Fort Sumter. It would spread wherever soldiers marched, and a landscape would be stained red with their blood.

Jonathan Dillon had been working on Abraham Lincoln’s personal watch when the owner of the shop walked in and announced that the first shot had been fired in a Civil War that would be anything but civil.

Dillon quietly unscrewed the dial of the watch, and with a sharp instrument, he engraved the following words on the metal case:

Jonathan Dillon April 13 – 1861. Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon April 13 – 1861 Washington. Thank God we have a government.

He closed the dial.

He returned the watch to Abraham Lincoln.

The engraving on Lincoln's gold watch. Photograph courtesy of the American History Museum.
The engraving on Lincoln’s gold watch. Photograph courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

And the President was still carrying the gold timepiece the night he sat down in Ford’s Theater, the night he died, the night an assassin accomplished what the Rebels could not do at Fort Sumter.

Lincoln stood strong to the end.

But the end came too soon.

He never opened the watch. He never read the inscription. He never met Jonathan Dillon He never knew what he carried in his pocket.

It was a message of praise.

It was a message of pride.

It was the secret Abraham Lincoln never knew.

Someone he did not know believed in him and trusted him.

Thank God, the watchmaker said, we have a government.

And the watch?

It wound up where it belonged – in the National Museum of American History. Recently, the great-great-grandson of Jonathan Dillon contacted the museum and told officials his story.

It was a family legend, he said, a recollection passed down from one generation to the next.

But was it true?

So many legends aren’t.

The museum agreed to remove the dial to see if the watchmaker had indeed left a message for the President inside.

The watch was intact. So was the engraving. Jonathan Dillon had left his signature and the historic date scratched on the metal, along with the words he wanted Mister Lincoln to know.

The words are as important now as they were then.

Thank God we have a government.

Lincoln would have been proud.

Those had been dark days for Lincoln, and the days became darker.

The President often wondered if anyone believed in him.

He shouldn’t have worried.

A little watchmaker did.

And a little watchmaker spoke for all who came after him.

Thank God we have a government.

SecretsOfThe-LowerPixPlease click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    To me, little known history is the most fascinating history of all.

    • Sara Marie Hogg

      Another fascinating story I’d never heard. Thanks for pointing it out, Caleb.

      • Sara Marie Hogg

        It looks like something was written on the mechanism about Jeff Davis..hmmm!

        • Sara Marie Hogg

          I looked up another photo and L. E. Grophs (?) illegible Wilhite? White?, another watchmaker wrote the JD comment in 1864, 3 years later, I think…and was it pro-JD or anti-JD?–another mystery!

          • Caleb Pirtle

            Solve one mystery. Create another. That’s what keeps us digging for more.

  • You make a human connection come alive. It brings up a whole era, to think of Lincoln’s watch – and the requisite watchmaker. In a world where many rely on the ubiquitous cellphone for the time, a rich detail like this makes an earlier time real.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      The little that we know about the past is what makes the past such a wonderful place to explore.

  • Well done! And beautifully written, thanks Caleb!

  • Christina Carson

    Lincoln himself holds such great mystery for me, a man of such strength and wisdom. This story just adds to my awe. That’s a good one Caleb, well told.

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