The face of Lincoln’s father?

One of the highlights of the collection at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, TN is the photograph seen here, which may be the only image of Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas.  It’s been published and reproduced numerous times since it first surfaced many decades ago, but there have always been doubts about the identity of the man in the photo.

It once belonged to the daughter of an Ohio veteran of the Civil War named O. V. Flora.  According to her, he bought the photo during the war in Coles County, IL from someone he believed to be a relative of the Lincoln family.  Thomas Lincoln did indeed settle in Coles County, and the man in the photo matches descriptions of Thomas by people who knew him, but a relic owner’s testimony and a physical resemblance do not, by themselves, a Thomas Lincoln photo make.

When I worked at the ALLM I did some research to try to settle things one way or the other.  My good friend Steven Wilson kindly offered to publish the results in the Lincoln Herald, a quarterly journal devoted to Lincoln and Civil War studies.  My long-ago little foray into the murky world of Lincolniana has accordingly been dusted off for publication in the next issue.

For such a seemingly narrow research project, I found this to be incredibly frustrating.  I ended up looking into everything from nineteenth-century clothing styles to Confederate subversive activity in wartime Illinois…and I still couldn’t conclusively determine whether or not the photograph depicted Thomas Lincoln.  I did, however, arrive at a tentative conclusion about which explanation is most probable in light of the available evidence.

Based on what I could uncover about O. V. Flora, the historical record relating to the circumstances under which he claimed to have acquired the photo, and what is known about the Lincoln family, I think the case for the picture’s authenticity  is much more sensible than the case against it.  All the evidence I was able to find will be available for both perusal and vehement disagreement when the forthcoming Herald rolls off the press.  Have a look and see if you’re convinced.

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