Lot 296    

Mary Todd Lincoln Archive of Commitment Papers to Bellevue Place, Batavia, IL
2010, American History, Including the Civil War, June 11
1874-1875, 1933; 9 items.

Somewhere in the annals of ungrateful children, an entire chapter is devoted to Robert Todd Lincoln. The son of America’s most beloved president, an accomplished attorney and diplomat, Lincoln (his detractors say) earned his infamy in the mid-1870s when he committed his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, to an insane asylum. The incident quickly became a mainstay of the lore surrounding the Lincoln family, and ever since, Robert’s motives -- and Mary’s mental state -- have been doubted, debated, and derided.

Even prior to the Civil War, Mary was short on temper and long on eccentricity, displaying a strong tendency toward depression. To be sure, she had abundant reasons to be depressed: her husband’s death at an assassin's hand in 1865 and the early deaths of three of her four sons -- Robert being the exception -- would depress even the strongest. With the death of her youngest son, Thomas, in 1871, however, Robert complained that his mother’s grief had reached alarming levels. During a trip to Florida in March 1875, she was said to have become delusional, allegedly complaining to Robert that someone was trying to poison her and that she had been robbed. Equally alarming was the allegation that Mary was spending lavishly on clothing and household goods, none of which she needed, squandering the stipend that Congress had granted her and frittering away her savings. After Robert claimed that his mother suffered some kind of a fit, he said he grew concerned that she might take her own life and approached the court to have her institutionalized against her will. This remarkable collection of documents relates to this most salacious episode in the family history of our great martyr for liberty.

After obtaining a court order in May 1875, Robert had his mother taken to Bellevue Place, a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois, run by Richard J. Patterson. There, distraught, Mary allegedly made an attempt to commit suicide. Robert, meanwhile, was left in control of his mother’s finances. However disturbed she may have been, Mary maintained a correspondence with friends and supporters on the outside by sending letters through her attorney, James Bradwell, and his wife Myra, a feminist and (like Mary) Spiritualist. The public attention she soon attracted caused a great deal of embarrassment for Robert, and by September, Patterson declared that she was well enough to return home to live with her sister and Mary was released. The following June, she was found competent to resume control over her financial affairs and Robert was removed as her “conservator.” For four years after her release, Mary traveled in Europe, returning to the States after injuring herself in a fall. She died in 1882 without ever healing the rift with her son.

The heart of this small collection consists of the warrant for Mary Todd Lincoln’s arrest, the commitment decree, and the ledger book signing her in to Bellevue, along with a few supporting documents. A notarized letter accompanying the collection provides crucial details on the history of the nine items concerning Mary’s confinement and release. The writer states that she is the great-granddaughter of Frederick H. Daniels (1860-1928), who purchased Bellevue from Patterson and operated it until his death. The operation was then taken over by the writer’s grandfather, and during his stewardship of the institution, the writer’s mother located these documents in the asylum basement and “these items have been in my families possession and passed down since their discovery in the 1930s.” Together, these provide a brief, but relatively complete summary of the sordid affair from beginning to end, answering nothing about the mysteries of Robert’s motivation or Mary’s mind, but framing the falling out with a clear paper trail.

The first document is the warrant for Richard J. Patterson (founder of the Bellevue Place Sanitarium at Batavia and a family friend of the Lincolns) to arrest Mary and convey her to Bellevue, May 19, 1875, which is followed by an official document by the County Court¸ Cook County, Ill., certifying that Mary Todd Lincoln had been declared insane and found so by a jury of her peers and examination by several physicians, May 19, 1875, bearing the embossed seal of the County Court. The document orders Mary committed to the state hospital. To document this sad event, the collection includes the actual register in which Mary Lincoln was recorded upon her arrival, with a notation added upon her release, classifying her as “I” (presumably “Insane”).

As news of the confinement leaked out, one can only imagine the intense public interest and the pressures that must have been felt by all parties. With the clamor for her release rising, Dr. Andrew McFarland writes from the Sanitarium to recommend against allowing Mary to travel except under close supervision, adding: “I am pained to add that there are features of her case that give me grave apprehensions as to the result unless the utmost quietude is observed for the few ensuing months, beyond which all hope of her real restoration must be abandoned, unless success within that period is achieved.”

A letter Mary received at the asylum on July 15 gives a flavor of what McFarland and Patterson (not to mention Robert Lincoln) had to contend with. From Springdale (Cedar County), Iowa, Elasha Tod [sic] wrote: “Dear Sister, We hav hurd of your arest and incarceration flee strate to us if you feele as tho you hav bun justly delt with was ar Spiritaless and fear thare hav bin some foul play. Speak out planely. Let us hear from you soon.” The term sister here appears to have been applied loosely, and it is unclear whether the Todds were related or whether he was addressing Mary as a brother Spiritualist: Todd was born in Ohio in 1806 and may have been a distant relative at best.

The collection also includes a photograph of Dr. Frederick Daniels and his daughters; a copy of letter from board of commissioners appointed by the Governor of Illinois to review the best site for the location of the new mental asylum, 1869; and an eight page minority report complaining that the site selected by the majority of commissioners (in Elgin) did not meet the essential criteria. Illinois politics: joy eternal. Finally, the collection includes a newspaper clipping from the Aurora Beacon-News, 1933, mentioning the discovery of the documents and citing some at length.

The infamy of Mary Todd Lincoln’s confinement in 1875 remained with her son throughout the rest of his life, and suspicions about his motives have never died. This collection, with exceptional provenance and in good condition, presents a unique opportunity to acquire a piece of one of the last tragedies to befall a tragic First Family.
Sold: $37,600.00
Price includes
Buyer's Premium
      Ask a Question

All Images

don't miss

an opportunity to bid. You can't win if you're not in.

sign up to bid

what's it worth?

ask the experts

sell your item

start selling
Confederate Col. George Porterfield ALS and General Order, After Philippi Debacle
Lot # 108 - Confederate Col. George Porterfield ALS and General Order, After Philippi Debacle
George A. Porterfield to Dr. George P. Terrill, August 30, 1861; ALS with printed General Orders No. 39, July 4, 1861 The Battle of Philippi, May 14, 1861, was arguably the first significant land battle of the Civil War, with the forces on both sides displaying all the raggedness and inexperience ... > Item Details
<i>Black Chicken, Yankton, Siouan Family</i> by De Lancey W. Gill
Lot # 485 - Black Chicken, Yankton, Siouan Family by De Lancey W. Gill
Platinum print produced by De Lancey W. Gill, identified as Black Chicken, Yankton, Siouan Family, numbered on verso 6697. Negative date: March 1905, printed ca 1913. 6 x 7.8 in., overall 8 x 10 in. Black Chicken, or Siyo Sapa, was also known as Prairie Hen. This portrait was taken at the Bure... > Item Details
Nicholas Clopper, Early Ohio & Texas Settler, Archive of Manuscripts
Lot # 344 - Nicholas Clopper, Early Ohio & Texas Settler, Archive of Manuscripts
Ca 25 items. Nicholas Clopper was born in New Jersey. In the early 1800s he was actively buying land in Pennsylvania. Nineteen of these items relate to these land purchases. Most seem to be related to the purchase of Daniel Duncan's land. Duncan died intestate and his land was divided among 10 heirs... > Item Details
<i>Monarch of the Air</i> Hot Air Balloon, CDV Photograph
Lot # 404 - Monarch of the Air Hot Air Balloon, CDV Photograph
A view from a distance of the hot air balloon, Monarch of the Air taken at the time of ascension, with a large crowd of onlookers surrounding the balloon, inked manuscript on verso This is the largest one. "Monarch of the Air." The Monarch was one of many balloons constructed by James Allen (1824-18... > Item Details
CDV of Sgt. Peter H. Butler, 19th USCT
Lot # 17 - CDV of Sgt. Peter H. Butler, 19th USCT
A fine image of an African American soldier, and companion to the Aldrich CDV, ink signed in the same unknown hand, “Peter H. Butler/B. Co. 19th U.S.C.T./Leonardtown, Md./Dec. 26th 1866.” A casual Sergeant Butler holds a slouch hat with prominent 25th Corps badge and ostrich feather. Butler joined... > Item Details
Confederate Sheet Music Collection
Lot # 133 - Confederate Sheet Music Collection
Lot of 24, including the following titles and Parrish & Willingham (1988) numbers: We Met by Chance [7616]; Would I Were With Thee [7645]; Wait till the war, love, is over [7598]; The Volunteer; or, It is My Country's Call [7591]; The Unknown Dead [7571]; The Young Volunteer [7655]; When This Cruel ... > Item Details
Fine Group of Gettysburg Civil War Stereoviews
Lot # 27 - Fine Group of Gettysburg Civil War Stereoviews
Lot of 8. From Anthony's Photographic History The War for the Union, on yellow mounts with paper labels verso. Includes the following titles: Rebel Prisoners; Woods on Left Wing; Gen. Mead's Headquarters; Wheat Field where Gen. Reynolds was killed; Cemetery Gate; Position of the centre of the Army;... > Item Details
Civil War Request for Replacements Endorsed by Three Major Generals
Lot # 60 - Civil War Request for Replacements Endorsed by Three Major Generals
2pp, 8 x 10 in., Head Quarters 39th N.Y.V.V.I., 31 Jan. 1865. From Major John Hyde, requesting additional troops to bring the unit up to strength. The 39th New York was mustered in on 28 May 1861, and veteranized in May 1864. Hughes notes: The 39th Regt NYVV left camp near Stevensburgh, Va. in May/6... > Item Details
Annie Oakley Cabinet Card by Brisbois
Lot # 556 - Annie Oakley Cabinet Card by Brisbois
A cabinet card portrait of Annie Oakley standing at the ready with a side-by-side shotgun, two volcanic pistols visible on floor, with Brisbois / Chicago imprint as well as Oakley's facsimile signature below image. > Item Details
Roger Sherman, Signer, Engraved Silver Buttons
Lot # 331 - Roger Sherman, Signer, Engraved Silver Buttons
Lot of 3, featuring two 18th-century silver buttons identified to Roger Sherman, the Connecticut signer of the Declaration of Independence, both buttons hand-engraved on each side of the face R - S, 1.125 in. dia., slightly convex, silver shank soldered in place, .125 in. wide. Includes documentatio... > Item Details
Robert Flaherty Signed Photogravures of Inuit People
Lot # 537 - Robert Flaherty Signed Photogravures of Inuit People
Lot of 2, in cyan ink, ca. 1920-1921, impression size mostly 10.5 x 8 and 8.5 in., on larger 13 x 20 in. twilled paper boards with deckled edges, each bearing the copyright of the French fur company Revillon Freres and signed in pencil lower right. Images depict two views of Inuit hunters. > Item Details
Calling Cards From Gen. Comstock Archive, with W.T. Sherman Inscribed Card
Lot # 40 - Calling Cards From Gen. Comstock Archive, with W.T. Sherman Inscribed Card
Lot of 25. Cyrus Ballou Comstock was born in West Wrentham, MA in 1831 and graduated from USMA in 1855. He was assigned to the Corps of Engineers and was involved in the construction of forts for four years until he returned to the Academy to teach natural and experimental philosophy. At the outbrea... > Item Details
Lighthouse Oil Painting by Dahl
Lot # 389 - Lighthouse Oil Painting by Dahl
Oil on canvas, early 20th century, signed lower left and housed in gilt and gesso frame; 19 x 26 in. (sight) > Item Details
[EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY] S.D. Humphrey's <i>System of Photography</i>
Lot # 356 - [EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY] S.D. Humphrey's System of Photography
Humphrey, Samuel Dwight. A System of Photography; Containing an Explicit Detail of the Whole Process of Daguerreotype;...to which is added the process of Galvanizing, Electrotype, Calotype, and Hyalotypes; or Portraits on Plate-Glass; also, M. Becquerel's Process for Producing Daguerreotypes with th... > Item Details
Mary Todd Lincoln's Book, <i>Poems of Thomas Hood</i>
Lot # 281 - Mary Todd Lincoln's Book, Poems of Thomas Hood
New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1872. 8vo, green leather with gilt title on 5-band spine, gilt Mary Lincoln on front; marbled endpapers; gilt page edges and inner edge of covers. Penciled note on rear free page "No-" p. 332 - / No sun - no moon! AUCTIONEER'S NOTE: Cowan's has recently received a Sep... > Item Details
Sioux Uprising of 1862 CDVs
Lot # 495 - Sioux Uprising of 1862 CDVs
Lot of 5, including portraits of U-Se-Do-Ha, Dakota Belle and Po-Go-Na-Ghe-Shick (Hole-in-the-Day) from Martin's Art Gallery, St. Paul, Minnesota; a portrait of A Sioux Dandy, Te-Na-Se-Pa with an embossed mark from the Newport Historical Society and Tepees of the Sioux Indians, both from the Whitney... > Item Details
Quarter Plate Ambrotype of Armed Maine Corporal
Lot # 2 - Quarter Plate Ambrotype of Armed Maine Corporal
An unidentified early war volunteer wearing the eight-button gray wool frock coat issued to the 1st through 6th infantry regiments. The corporal displays the distinctive oversized chevrons associated with this state uniform along with a pair of belted revolvers. Regulation blue clothing replaced s... > Item Details
Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, and Wild West Troop Members Photograph
Lot # 547 - Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, and Wild West Troop Members Photograph
5.5 x 4.25 in. mounted gelatin silver print, negative taken ca 1884-1885, printed ca 1890s. A fine image showing Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, Cody's nephew Ed Goodman, an interpreter, and an unidentified chief. > Item Details
Fox/Sac Delegate Photograph by C. M. Bell
Lot # 483 - Fox/Sac Delegate Photograph by C. M. Bell
9.75 x 16 in. on 10.25 x 17 in. mat. Another fine portrait of an Indian Delegate to Washington, D.C. probably taken in the 1890s. Possibly a member of a delegation of Sauk and Fox that came to the capitol in 1896. > Item Details
Two Family CDV Albums of Capt. Spencer Richardson, 44th Mass.
Lot # 82 - Two Family CDV Albums of Capt. Spencer Richardson, 44th Mass.
comprising 130 civilian photographs being, presumably, Boston friends, family and acquaintances of Spencer Richardson plus 19 Civil War military subjects, many identified in period pencil on album beneath portrait. There are 4 different cartes of Captain S.W. Richardson, 2 in uniform and 2 in civil... > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20