Abraham Lincoln

“In the spring of 1836 I first saw Abraham Lincoln.”  Joshua Speed

Abraham Lincoln

“It was in the spring of 1837, and on the very day that obtained his license,  that our intimate acquaintance began.  He had ridden into town on a borrowed horse with no earthly property save a pair of saddle-bags containing a few clothes. I was a merchant at Springfield, and kept a large country store, embracing drygoods, groceries, hardware, books, medicines, bed-clothes, mattresses, in fact every thing that the country needed.  Lincoln came into the store with his saddle-bags on his arm.  He said he wanted to buy the furniture for a single bed.  The mattress, blankets, sheets, coverlid, and pillow, according to the figures made by me, would cost seventeen dollars. He said that was perhaps cheap enough; but, small as the sum was, he was unable to pay it.  But if I would credit him till Christmas, and if his experiment as a lawyer was a success, he would pay me then, saying, in the saddest tone, “If I fail in this, I do not know that I can ever repay you.”  As I looked up at him I thought then, and think  now, that I never saw a sadder face.

I said to him, “You seem to be so much pained at contacting so small a debt, I think I can suggest a plan by which you can avoid the debt and at the same time attain your end.  I have a large room with a double bed up-stairs, which you are very welcome to share with me.”

“Where is your room?” said he.

“Up-stairs,” said I, pointing to a pair of winding stairs which led from the store to my room.

He took his saddle-bags on his arm, went up stairs, set them down on the floor, and came down with the most changed countenance.  Beaming with pleasure he exclaimed, “Well, Speed, I am moved!”

According to Joshua Speed, from this time on they were the best of friends despite political differences. Joshua gave the young lawyer and Illinois state legislator access to ever-widening social and political circles, eventually to include a bright and attractive young woman named Mary Todd.  

After Joshua’s father died in 1840 the young merchant returned to Louisville to help his family settle its affairs and care for his mother.  In early 1841, a beleaguered Lincoln decided not to run for reelection and broke off his relationship with Mary Todd. Joshua’s friend was in deep despair when he invited Lincoln to visit Farmington.   The attorney arrived in Louisville in August 1841.

Lincoln’s three weeks at Farmington were restorative. He was welcomed and befriended by the Speed family, he took long walks with Joshua, played games with Mary and here sisters, and borrowed law books from Joshua’s brother, James, who later became Attorney General in Lincoln’s last Cabinet. The recently widowed Lucy Speed gave him a Bible, counseling him to read it and take it to heart.  Lincoln asked Mary to thank her mother for the bible and  assured her he intended to read it saying, “I doubt not that it is really, as she says, the best cure for the “Blues” could one but take it according to the truth.”

He brightened his own spirits by applauding the courtship of Joshua and his future bride, Fanny Henning.  Later, Lincoln later credited this relationship with encouraging his return to courting Mary Todd. Scholars agree that Lincoln’s Farmington visit was one of the happiest experiences of his life.

Farmington was also the first experience Lincoln had seeing life through the lens of the luxurious planter elite.  His first known written observation of slavery is in a September 27, 1841, letter to Joshua’s half-sister, Mary Speed, following his departure from Louisville. The impressions he recorded of slaves chained to one another aboard the steamboat, and soon to be sold, never left him.  According to Joshua, “The scene he describes bears so intimate a relation to his after-life, I think it probable that it may be considered as concentrating his opposition to slavery.”

Over the years, slavery was perhaps the one subject on which Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed (who nevertheless supported the Union) could not agree. But their strong feelings on the issue did not undermine their mutual lifelong devotion.

Joshua ended his memories of his by saying, “I have given some of my reminiscences in the life of Abraham Lincoln.  As President his acts stand before the world, and by them he will be judged; as a man, honest, true, upright, and just, he lived and died.



3033 Bardstown Road
Louisville, Kentucky
United States



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NOTICE: We are open for regular business hours.  Our front driveway is still being cleared of storm debris. Please follow Wendell or Brighton from Bardstown Rd. Turn right onto Lowell, continue on until it intersects with the bottom of our driveway.  Turn left into the parking lot. Our phone & internet are scheduled to be repaired by end of Monday.