Monday, February 15, 2016

Celebrations: Presidents' Day

Whenever I see this early portrait of Abraham Lincoln I always wonder if the suit he's wearing was made by my paternal 3rd great grandfather, Benjamin Robert "B. R." Biddle (1808-1882).

[Abraham Lincoln, Congressman-elect from Illinois. Three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front. This daguerreotype is the earliest-known photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken at age 37. (digital file from b&w film copy neg. pre-1992, after 1959 cleaning and restoration?) Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.]

Records* indicate that in 1843 Lincoln ordered at least one suit at a local store to be made by B.R. Biddle.
"On May 16, 1843 his largest single day's purchase at Irwin's was made. The $45.37 total included $32.50 for cloth, $3.87 for trimmings and $9 to tailor Benjamin R. Biddle for making a suit for Mr. Lincoln. The suiting is described as two yards of superior black cloth at $11 a yard, and three yards of cassimere, a medium-weight woolen cloth of soft texture, at $3.50. Six months later Lincoln had a second suit made from two and three-fourths yards of beaver cloth (a heavy fabric of felted wool) and three yards of cassimere. More expensive trimmings were used in this suit. As Lincoln had recently returned from his fall trip around the Eighth Judicial Circuit and was busy in the second week of the fall term of the Sangamon Circuit Court, he was available for fittings. On December 30, 1843 his account was charged with $9.50, and Biddle probably was paid in cash by Irwin & Co.**"
B.R. and several partners left Springfield for California in 1849 so it's highly unlikely that anything worn by Lincoln much past that date would have been tailored by him. But it's clear that Lincoln remembered his neighbor and former tailor (now living in Oregon with his family) after he was elected president.

[Journal of the Senate, Including the Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate, Volume 35, Issues 2-37. Source: Google Books]

(Alas, B.R.'s actions during his shortened tenure as Indian agent led to a blot on his reputation, but that's a story for another day.)

*The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln allows you to "stalk" Mr. Lincoln.
**Pratt, Harry E. editor, “The Lincoln’s go Shopping.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 48 (Spring 1955): 66.

© 2016 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.

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