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A Copley Newspaper
Serving Central Illinois
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Athens family giving an heirloom
Document of survey done by Lincoln

Published Saturday, December 10, 2005

ATHENS - In 1835, it would have been a difficult choice guessing who would be more successful, Abraham Lincoln or John Kennedy Kincaid.

Both from Kentucky, the two men, in their mid-20s, were just getting started. Lincoln settled at New Salem as a surveyor and store clerk, while Kincaid, an abolitionist educated in Greek and Latin, began buying up property and farmland near Athens.

Lincoln helped Kincaid establish the boundaries of some property midway between Athens and New Salem. The land, it's thought, was to supply timber for the Kincaid homestead.

Decades later, the Kincaid family had the surveying document framed. It was passed down through the generations and proudly displayed.

At first glance, the document is no different than any other 19th-century piece of pioneer bureaucracy - except for the "A. Lincoln" signature down at the bottom of the page and the future president's distinct handwriting.

But Kim Bauer, Lincoln curator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, sees more.

"It's showing here that Lincoln can take a complex subject like surveying, boil it down to its basics," Bauer said. "(He had) the ability to take a subject and master it within a six-month period after taking it up. It's a nice example of a larger story."

Lincoln's first survey was in 1834.

"It was one of the first jobs where he had a much wider scope of being able to go out, meet and greet and understand people," Bauer said.

In 1976, Kincaid's great-grandson, also named John Kennedy Kincaid, and his wife, Margaret, took the survey to Springfield and had it assessed. When they were told it was worth about $20,000, its life as a conversation piece ended.

"I took it to the lock box that afternoon," recalled Margaret Kincaid, whose husband died in 1996.

Kincaid and her family have decided to donate the survey to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum during a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. today in the museum's Treasures Gallery.

"It needs to be in a place that is humidity-controlled," Kincaid said. The family had been discussing how the document might be preserved, and the new museum is "the logical place," she said.

Kennedy also said it's time for the survey to belong to the public.

Historians have known about the survey for years, and it has been published in books. Kincaid's brother, Archibald, also had property surveyed by Lincoln. While copies of it appear in print, the original is missing.

Kincaid said her great-grandfather in-law was a Whig supporter who, in the mid-1850s, backed the new Republican Party, which Lincoln helped create. There are family stories that the two men were friends who called each other "Ken" and "Abe."

Kincaid keeps at her home a part of an old door panel that someone etched "Ab" on. The story is that Lincoln stayed at a log cabin belonging to a Kincaid relative while surveying in the area. He began carving his name on the door once while waiting for supper. Apparently, supper was announced before Lincoln could finish carving his name.

Kincaid, who is a firm believer in the authenticity of the panel, admits it's a hard story to prove, as many family members have told her. Bauer, however, suggests that there's a 70 percent to 80 percent chance of it being true, given the Kincaids' indisputable connection to Lincoln and that the story is traced to a close ancestor who claims to have witnessed it.

Kincaid said her survey, inside its safe-deposit box in a Petersburg bank, has been reassessed since 1976. She wouldn't tell its worth, except to confirm that, had someone paid $20,000 for it 30 years ago, it would have been a very good investment.

According to Bauer, the Kincaid donation is among artifacts with a total appraisal exceeding $1 million that have been given to the library and museum since August, when Lincoln's brief case and other items were donated two months before the library opened.

Three weeks ago, Bauer, at his office, greeted an older man and his wife who told him they wanted to give to him something.

"He said his name was Robert Lincoln Todd. He walked right in and said, 'Here!'" Bauer recalled.

Todd gave Bauer a silver "loving cup" with an inscription on the bottom: "R.T.L. to R.L.T."

Todd is a grandson of George Todd, a cousin of Robert Lincoln, Abraham and Mary's only child to reach adulthood. Apparently, the cup was a gift from Robert to George honoring the birth of his son, Robert Lincoln Todd, the father of the man who visited Bauer.

Bauer said the library has a lot of information on George Todd, a dreamer and schemer who frequently hit up his famous cousin for support.

"Without any suggestions, they came in and said they've had the cup all these years," Bauer said. "They couldn't find anywhere else they preferred to have it."

Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or pete.sherman@sj-r.com.

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