Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lincoln's Other Mary

One day in the mid-1980's, I got a phone call from a gentleman in Michigan who identified himself as David Owens. Turned out that not only was he a genealogist studying and documenting the Owens clan back into the 1700's, he was also a professional musician with a band of his own (the genes do show up, don't they?). He wanted to know what had happened to my Dad's father after he left Harvard. At that time, I had no earthly idea that my grandfather had attended, much less graduated from Harvard University.

Seems as though my grandfather, Jessie Vinyard Owens, wanted to be a school superintendent and went to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska for that specific degree. That's where my father was born. I knew that they had moved to Butte, Montana where "Bapu", his nickname, took over the school system there. During this conversation David mentioned that my grandfather's aunt was once engaged to Abraham Lincoln. I remember saying "No way! You're pulling my leg!" and he said that it was true and was documented in the book "Lincoln's other Mary". I told him I would get the book and check it out. And he was right, the book exists and it does tell quite a story.

Seems as though my great-aunt, Mary Owens, lived on a big plantation in Lexington, Kentucky in the early 1800's along with her sister and brother and perhaps other siblings. Her father was very wealthy and owned hundreds of slaves, a mark of great wealth in those days. Her sister got married and moved to Springfield, Illinois. Her sister kept writing to Mary asking her to come visit since she missed her very much. Finally, Mary got the trip organized and took the long trip by horse and buggy to Springfield. While she was there she was introduced to this attorney who was poor as a church mouse but they hit it off immediately. Mary went home and made other trips to Springfield and on the last one, this attorney asked her to marry him. She told him that she was very fond of him but would have to think about it.

Mary went back to Lexington and pondered the whole deal for a few weeks and finally wrote to the attorney and turned him down. It was Abraham Lincoln. He finally married the "other" Mary. Mary Owens eventually married a man by the name of Jessie Vinyard. Her brother, Robert Owens, apparently thought so highly of Mary's husband that he named one of his boys Jessie Vinyard Owens, my grandfather.

So I have encouraged my children and grandchildren to always tell people that one of their relatives jilted Abraham Lincoln. It's a really good, true story for cocktail parties!

No comments: