Primary tabs


467. James Hall to William H. Herndon.

St Denis P.O. Md. Sept 17th/73


I am Sure some apology should preface the infliction of a letter from a Stranger upon you on the biographer of Mr Lincoln, Mr Lamon: but I have none to offer except as you may infer from the page or two enclosed.

On page 145 of "Life of Lincoln" in speaking of Denton Offutt, "The most cunning & searching enquiries have failed to discover a spot where he lingered" &c — Of what consequence to know or learn more of Offutt I cannot imagine, but be assured he turned up after leaving New Salem. On meeting the name, it seemed familiar, but I could not at once locate him. Finally I shed up from memory, that some 20 or 25 years since, one "Denton Offutt" appeared in Baltimore, hailing from Kentucky, advertising himself in the city papers, as a veterinary Surgeon, & horse tamer, proposing to have a secret to whisper in the horse's ear, or a secret manner of whispering in his ear, which he could communicate to others, & by which the most refractory & vicious horses could be gentled & controlled. For this secret, he charged five dollars, binding the recipient by oath not to divulge it. I knew several persons, young fancy horsemen, who paid for the trick. Offutt advertised himself not only through the press, but he appeared in the streets on horse back & on foot in plain citizens dress of black, but with a broad sash across his his right shoulder of various colored ribbon, crossed on his left hip under a large rosetta of like material, rendering his appearance most ludicrously conspicuous — Having occasion to purchase a horse at this time, I encountered him at several of our Sale Stables & was strongly urged to avail myself of his secret — So much for Offutt — Therefore if Mr Lamon sees fit, he can add a note to relieve the anxiety of any who may have made such


cunning searches for him, in any future edition. But, were he living in /61 I doubt not Mr Lincoln would have heard of him — I met a gentleman, Lawyer, resident of Vicksburg or Natchez last year, who claimed to have loaned Lincoln his first law book — & in this wise. He & his partner were sitting one afternoon in their office, unemployed, door open, when Lincoln appeared with compass & staff. "Well how now Abe, whats up?" "I'm dead broke — enough surveying, but all on tick no pay — " "Well, better study law — you see how busy we are." "If you'll lend me books I will." Thus commenced the law — The gentleman professed to have for years ridden the circuit with Abe — & told many anecdotes of him, rehearsing his bon mot — if they could be called bon. Will you be kind enough to drop a line to my address, advising me if a Springfield Lawyer of about that time afterwards moved to Miss. & if so, what name — ?

Now after this opening trespass I beg you to permit me to say a word as to the way the assassination story is treated by Mr Lamon. Without going into details or attempting to prove which was intended allow me to express my conviction that mischief was meant, and might or might not have been executed — Mr Lamon bases his disbelief of it on three grounds. 1st The character of the parties Suspected. 2d This open manner of speaking of it — 3d That the parties were not afterward [restricted?] — Two of the parties were well known to me, & more fit men for such a purpose could not be found: but the agents were merely agents, men & women of the highest standing in Balto. could have [schemed?] the assassins of Lincoln then, as did Dr Mudd afterwards — & tis not absurd, or does not appear so to those on the spot to believe that the agents had high support — [Lucket?] was not a common man or common drunkard — He was from the lowest origin in Charles Co. M'd, but made his way up. married into one of the most aristocratic families of Md. a daughter of Gov. Thomas He became a merchant in Balto. of high standing at one time. was a state director in the Bank of Balto. a vestryman in Christs Church &c — However, he failed just before the war & became addicted to drink — He lived in good style at a Country Seat near the Relay H. on the ? R.R — & was elected Capt of a Company of horse to be raised to reject the Yankees in Nov./60. He was a most rabid secessionist — Capt Ferrondina is an Italian, & a man of energy & pluck. headed a company of volunteers under the Com. of Safety after 19th Apl. & although a Barber by trade ambitious of distinction — & quite as likely, "poor knight of the Soap Pot," as he is styled by Mr Lamon, as was the Knights of the Buskin & sock, Booth, to do the damning & damn'd deed — True, he might have cowed, as did Asterolt, in doing the assigned duty, but most who know him, believe, he would have rather Come to time, like Brother. As to the public manner in which the subject talked — nothing


else was talked in public. Such a thing as a black Republican was unknown in Balto. at that time, or if known as such, dared not speak out in public — The very air was lurid with rebellion — equalling Charleston S.C. — Long before that period in the Freemont & Buchanan Canvass a very highly respectable Episcopal Clergyman, Harry B. Goodwin of Charles County, & by the way, Lucket's Pastor when a boy, declared to me, that if Freemont was elected, he should never live to reach Washington, that if the South did not rise to act, he, individually, would put a bullet through his heart, that he would consider it his duty as a Christian to save his Country from nigger rule — And Goodwin too, was a Northern Man, married a Chs. Co. Lady, & even freed some fifty Slaves & sent them, under my care, to Liberia — Nor was he more crazy than Mr Calhoun with whom he was somewhat intimate — "Why was Ferrandina & others not molested?" Simply because, they had only talked as most others talked & as there was no chance for action, their talk subsided, & there was nothing to apprehend from them. It might as well & better be asked why were not the Southern Editors, who urged the "assassination of the Tyrant" punished, or the fellow who offered to do it for a certain sum? or Mr Southern of St. Marys Co. who shot down a sergeant for coming on his place for his Negroes? I cannot but think Mr Lamon has treated this matter too lightly, considering how the Mass. troops were treated by our people not rabble, soon after. Not knowing Mr Lamon's address, I pitched this at you — & you may pitch it at him, or into the fire, as you see fit — but I must express my obligation to you & him for a pattern biography, scarcely second to Boswells Johnson —

very respectfully —
James Hall.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3094 — 95



1. Lamon.

2. See Denton Offutt to AL, Feb. 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress.

3. Probably Josephus Hewitt, who came to Springfield about 1830 and read law with Stephen T. Logan.

4. See p. 273, note 13.

5. See p. 270, note 9.

6. George Atzerodt, one of Booth's co-conspirators, was assigned the task of assassinating Vice President Johnson but lost his nerve at the last moment.

7. Probably John H. Sothoron, who killed a white army lieutenant who was recruiting blacks along the Patuxent River in Maryland.