449. Richard N. Collins to William H. Herndon
Cincinnati Aug 19 '67
Yours of the 5th duly reced. I have deferred answering until I could have another interview with Rev. Dr Jno G. Montfort in reference to his probably having been a teacher of the late President Lincoln when the latter was 19.
In company with Mr Edgar Conkling I have just had an interesting conference with Dr Montfort. He had just received your letter in reply to his to you which was brought out by my first interview with him. He is now thoroughly interested and is very pardonably proud (in advance) of the pleasant notoriety your Book will give him as a teacher of the late President — if the strong belief can be made facts by proof He will write you again in a few days. If you will come to Cincinnati I have no doubt Dr Montfort will take special pleasure in going with you to Camden Preble county Ohio and searching up the needed confirmation. Perhaps he may go on and succeed without you.
Mr. Conkling has unintentionally misled you as to the extent of my Knowledge about Mr Lincolns parentage &c. The origin of my talk with him was this: In the summer of 1861 Rev. Dr Robert J. Breckenridge on returning from a visit to Baltimore via this city, to his home at Lexington and Danville Ky. called at my office for an hour — then a room adjoining the office of the "Presbyterian" of which Rev Dr Montfort and Rev John M. Wampler are editors & proprietors. Seeing Dr Breckenridge pass their door towards mine they called on him in my office, and soon began to 'jump' him as to the private, political and war news he had learned in the East — supposing until Dr B. deneid it that he had been at the White House in confidential conference with Mr. Lincoln. Dr B. was nettled by their persistence in seeking to learn the secret history of his movements &c. &c — and failing to turn the conversation readily by other remarks asked if they knew that Mr Lincoln was a 'bastard'. Of course they were astonished, nay startled — and more 'curious' than ever. He proceeded to tell them that Mr Lincoln's parents were poor tenants in the edge of the largest home-farm of a wealthy & influential land holder (whose name I have forgotten), that in the absence of the tenant Lincoln, at work on the farm, the landlord frequently visited the log cabin for adulterous purposes with Mrs. L. — and thus became the actual father of Abraham L This intimacy which was more than suspected by the neighbors, occasioned some talk; and as the infant boy grew apace and became well known for miles around the unlikeness to his nominal father and the remarkable resemblance to the landlord in build, appearance & manners increased the suspicions and pointed allusions to the intrigue to such an extent that the landlord arranged and provided means for their removal.
This is a rough outline of the conversation which I have only repeated two or three times in a private way Of course you will not repeat my name in this connection; but search out the facts for yourself from the hints below
think it likely that Dr Breckenridge would give you such names & other data as would enable you to search up & prove the facts in detail as fully & satisfactorily as is now possible. I heard it intimated not a year before Mr. Lincolns death that a full detail & in form that would carry conviction had been prepared for publication — probably for political purposes — but that it was suppressed through the influence of individuals who were politically unfriendly to Mr Lincoln's reelection to the Presidency who condemned such a mode of electioneering & besides believed it would recoil on those who had prepared it. If what I heard was
568true Geo. D. Prentice Esq., of the Louisville Journal was active in suppressing it & could give you a clew to the information you want. If approached by you in person I think he would aid you; or at least would put you on the track of the most definite information that is accessible at this late day.
If I can serve you further write me.
Yours very respectfully
Richd N. Collins
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3025 — 26