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Robert McNamara

Elizabeth Keckly, Lincoln Seamstress and Friend

By June 5, 2010

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Elizabeth Keckly was a most unlikely figure, a slave who managed to purchase her own freedom, worked as a seamstress in the nation's capital, and, believe it or not, became a trusted friend of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

An eyewitness to history, Keckly wrote about events she witnessed in the White House, including the death of young Willie Lincoln, in a memoir published in the years following Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Astonishingly, Keckly appeared in the news in the past week as her grave, long thought to be lost, had been discovered in a cemetery in Maryland.

Keckly died in 1907 and was buried in a Washington, D.C. cemetery that was bought by developers in the 1950s. Thousands of graves, including Keckly's, were moved to a cemetery in Maryland, and a recent search of records led researchers to Keckly's grave, which was unmarked.

In a cemetery this past week a modern marker, which was paid for by private donors, was placed on the grave. In a Washington Post story about the ceremony held to place the marker, some modern admirers of Elizabeth Keckly spoke of her as an inspiration.

A copy of the memoir by Keckly (whose named was often spelled as "Keckley" during her lifetime) can be downloaded for free at this page of classic Lincoln books available on the web.


June 14, 2010 at 5:42 pm
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