After Finding No Evidence Hat Was Abe Lincoln’s, Illinois Historian Is Out Of A Job

By Tony Arnold for WBEZ
July 17, 2020

Just months after authoring a critical report that raised further questions about the provenance of a multimillion dollar stovepipe hat purported to have been owned by President Abraham Lincoln, Illinois’ state historian is out of a job.

A spokesman for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum told WBEZ that Dr. Samuel Wheeler is no longer employed at the ALPLM, where his title was state historian, director of research and collections.

The circumstances of Wheeler’s departure, however, remain unclear. The spokesman declined further comment on whether Wheeler left on his own or whether he was forced out. Wheeler did not respond to WBEZ’s requests for comment. Wheeler’s departure was first reported in the Illinois Times.

The stunning turn of events comes after Wheeler was asked by the former executive director to study the history of the Lincoln hat in August of 2018. His report, which Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration released in December, shows an exhaustive — but still fruitless — effort to tie the hat to Lincoln.

Trustee Kathryn Harris said she sits on a committee of the ALPLM’s board that is investigating the provenance of the hat, which had recently given Wheeler the go-ahead to contact historical textile experts to give further scrutiny to the hat. She hoped that the results of that investigation would finally put to rest the scandal of whether the hat ever belonged to Lincoln.

She was stunned when she says Wheeler called to tell her he was out of a job and had been escorted out of the building — right after a regular board meeting had adjourned where the matter had not come up.

“I can’t get my head around why this was not told to us at the board meeting. The board was caught unawares,” Harris told WBEZ. “And that to me is not good. I thought the whole thing was unprofessional. It appears sinister and any other negative words you might want to attach to the action.”

While Wheeler concluded more study on the hat is warranted, his findings pour an even heavier dose of skepticism on a hat purchased by a private foundation from West Coast collector Louise Taper for display at the ALPLM. The hat was once appraised at $6.5 million.In the report, Wheeler focused on a history of double-dealing, conflicts of interest and a neglect of basic due-diligence in studying the hat’s provenance before its purchase.

He also slammed a “weaponization” of the hat during years of friction between the museum and the not-for-profit that acquired it on behalf of the museum, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. The hat was the cornerstone of a $25 million haul of Lincoln artifacts in 2007 by the foundation — just as the newly-opened, state-run museum was looking to establish itself as a can’t-miss Illinois tourism destination and a nationally respected institution. At the time of the hat’s purchase, Taper sat on the foundation’s board of directors. Wheeler’s report also found the hat isn’t in Lincoln’s size.

Last year, Pritzker fired the ALPLM’s executive director, Alan Lowe, after Lowe loaned a copy of the Gettysburg Address to conservative commentator Glenn Beck for $50,000, in violation of ALPLM policy. Mercury One, Beck’s right-leaning nonprofit, put the rare artifact on display for three days at its office in Texas as part of a “pop-up” museum in June 2018.

On Thursday, board member Harris further complimented Wheeler’s work, saying she’d heard of no complaints of his performance. She said she couldn’t say whether Wheeler’s departure was related to his report.

“When people say we’re going to go in a different direction, that means nothing,” she said. “It’s words strung together that don’t mean diddly squat.

The enslaved people who built and staffed the White House: An afterthought no more

By Joe Heim for The Washington Post
Feb. 17, 2020

Three hundred and seven. So far.

That’s the number of enslaved men, women and children who can be linked by historians to the building and staffing of the White House beginning in 1792 and lasting through the first half of the 19th century.

An excerpt from President Andrew Jackson’s bank book on March 23, 1832, shows a check for $400 “to son for Negro Girl Grace.” It is part of an exhibition on enslaved people and their role at the White House. (Library of Congress)

For years, those individuals have been remembered as an afterthought, if they’ve been remembered at all. Hidden from history, conveniently forgotten. In the White House itself, there is no mention or acknowledgment of the people who built it but were not paid. No mention of the people who worked and lived there but were not free to leave.

A new online exhibit by the White House Historical Association, a private nonprofit that sits across the street from the White House, explores that untold history. The project launched this month, “Slavery in the President’s Neighborhood,” is an effort to remind Americans of the role enslaved people played in the establishment and maintenance of the country’s most symbolic address. And, just as important, to attach names to those people and flesh out their lives and experiences.

“I like to say that the people’s house deserves a people’s history,” said Matthew Costello, a historian with the organization and assistant director of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History. If that history is sometimes difficult and even wrenching, Costello said, it’s all the more important to tell.

Costello recalled learning some of that hard history as he gathered material for the project. He learned how President Andrew Jackson, while in office, purchased a young enslaved girl named Emeline, 8, to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“I have a daughter, and so when I was reading about that, it really cuts into your core as a parent,” Costello said. “To imagine that moment when your child is taken from you.”

Historians Lindsay M. Chervinsky, from left, Matthew Costello and Lina Mann in what was a slave quarters in the Decatur House, a block from the White House. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Researched and built over the past two years by Costello and fellow historians Lindsay M. Chervinsky and Lina Mann, the association’s online portal draws from history books, primary documents and ongoing research at presidential libraries and museums such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The extensive timeline includes descriptions of the role that slavery played in presidential households and paintings and drawings that depict the lives of enslaved people. There are also revealing and disturbing artifacts such as a newspaper advertisement calling for the return of Oney Judge, an enslaved woman who escaped while working for Martha Washington.

“Absconded from the household of the President of the United States,” the notice begins before providing a physical description. “Oney Judge, a light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair. She is of middle stature, slender, and delicately formed, about 20 years of age.”

Particularly powerful is an index of enslaved individuals who were associated with the White House from its inception. For the men who quarried the stone, laid the bricks and built the executive mansion, it is just their first names that are known: Abraham, Amos, Cato, George, Emanuel, Moses, Nace, Salisbury, Thomas.

Last names are known only for their owners who leased them out to work on the project.

Also listed in the index are the names of the enslaved people who served in the presidential households of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk and, finally, Zachary Taylor, the last president known to have had enslaved people working in his White House.

The discovery that John Quincy Adams, a known abolitionist, had enslaved people in his presidential household surprised Chervinsky.

“Everyone thinks of him as this great abolitionist president,” she said. “What we found is that while he didn’t own enslaved people and was against slavery as a political, moral issue, the reality was much more complicated.”

The historians learned that Adams’s niece and nephew lived with him during his presidency, and they owned two enslaved people whom they brought with them to live and serve them in the White House.

“We don’t know the details of their day-to-day existence, but probably they labored for free under the roof of the great abolitionist,” Chervinsky said.

The White House Historical Association’s project was inspired in part by a speech Michelle Obama gave at the 2016 Democratic National Convention where she said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

That pronouncement sent a shock wave through many Americans who didn’t know the history of slavery at the White House. The next day, the association’s website crashed under the deluge of visitors hoping to learn more about that history.

In this drawing from about 1815, enslaved people pass the Capitol wearing shackles and chains. (Library of Congress)

Costello, Chervinsky and Mann worked with their colleagues and with presidential historians across the country to track down as much information as possible related to slavery in the executive mansion. They learned that Jefferson, who owned more than 600 people during his lifetime, opted to have white servants at the White House. In an 1804 letter to his son-in-law, John Wayles Eppes, Jefferson wrote, “At Washington I prefer white servants, who, when they misbehave, can be exchanged.”

But Jefferson also brought three teenage enslaved girls from his home at Monticello to the White House to serve as apprentices to his French chef. By the time he finished his two terms in 1809, 11 enslaved people had lived there, including at least two children.

Perhaps the most famous enslaved person who served in the White House was Paul Jennings. Born into the estate of James and Dolley Madison in 1799, Jennings’s life is recounted in detail on the association’s website, including a story that recasts an account of White House lore.

When Madison won election in 1808, Jennings traveled to Washington as his valet. He was also put to work by Dolley Madison as a dining room servant. Dolley Madison’s most famous act as first lady was personally saving a portrait of George Washington from the walls of the White House before it was looted and burned by British troops in 1814.

But in Jennings’s telling of his years in the White House, “A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison,” published in 1865, he remembered it differently.

“It has often been stated in print, that when Mrs. Madison escaped from the White House, she cut out from the frame the large portrait of Washington … and carried it off. This is totally false.”

According to Jennings’s account, the first lady ordered workers in the White House to remove the painting, and they secured it on their own and transported it to safety.

For Chervinsky, personal stories of the enslaved people who worked at the White House help connect this long-standing symbol of America with people who may not always have felt close ties to it.

“I think it helps to make it an American story, not just a presidential story,” she said. “For a lot of people of color or people who don’t come from families of wealth, the story of the presidents doesn’t always speak to them or their experience. Whereas if we can tell a story of all the people going through, it gives people something to hold on to . . . or a way for them to feel like they are represented.”

Although the website is accessible, the work isn’t finished. The association’s historians plan to continue adding to it as they gather and corroborate more information. They know there are stories that still have not been told, and they have asked scholars and families with ties to enslaved people at the White House to share their histories. They expect there will be more names added to the list of the men, women and children who were subjected to slavery at the White House.

So far, the number is 307.

The 1619 Project

American slavery began 400 years ago this month. This is referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s true origin.

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

Read all the Articles in the Series


Dolley Madison’s White House Adventures

By Edward Lengel

Just over two hundred years ago, British soldiers burned down the White House. Everything went up in flames—everything, that is, except the most valuable item of all: Gilbert Stuart’s life-size painting of George Washington.

Visitors can still see the portrait today–hanging in the East Room. Anyone who gets a chance to view this priceless painting should thank Dolley Madison, one of the most remarkable women in American history. She not only rescued the Washington portrait from ruin, but she made her mark as a powerful woman in the center of American political life.

The story begins on August 24, 1814, a brutally hot and dusty late summer day. The United States was embroiled in what became known as the War of 1812 with Great Britain, and things were not progressing well; an invading British army had defeated an American force at the Battle of Bladensburg. Now, the redcoats were marching on Washington, D.C. Nobody thought the capital could fall to the enemy, and few people knew what to do, except run away. Thousands of refugees took to the roads on foot or horseback, carrying their most important personal possessions as they tried to flee.

President James Madison had already escaped, along with most of the government; the one hundred soldiers guarding the White House, had retreated too. First Lady Dolley Madison, however, refused to leave. Forty-six years old, with black hair and blue eyes, and taller than most women, she was in many ways the complete opposite of her slightly built, shy, intellectual husband. Guests might have had trouble finding the unimposing president, or getting him to say what he thought, but not the First Lady. She was outgoing and loved to talk. A popular hostess, she amazed guests with her elaborate costumes—including a large turban decorated with exotic bird feathers—and served delicious ice cream. And, when she wanted things done, people listened.

That was the case on this sweltering late summer night in 1814. When the guards departed, Dolley Madison roamed the White House halls, trying to figure out if there was anything she could save. Her eyes fixed on the portrait of George Washington, which had been hanging there since the building was constructed. A small group of men appeared beside her, and asked the First Lady what they could do.

“Save that picture if possible,” she ordered. “Under no circumstances allow it to fall into the hands of the British!” Some of the men immediately set to work on taking the portrait down, but it was huge, and its heavy wooden frame was screwed tightly into the wall. Desperate to act quickly, the First Lady told them to crack open the frame. A steward named French John used his penknife to cut the edges of the canvas so that it could be removed. The portrait was rolled up, placed in a wagon, and carried to safety outside the city. Only then did Dolley Madison depart.

The British troops came hard on her heels that night. After eating the remains of a meal that had been set for the president and his family, they piled up the White House furniture and torched it. Within minutes the entire building erupted in flames. By the time the British departed in the morning, nothing remained of the president’s mansion but its scorched walls.

The government would return, and so would Dolley Madison. After the war ended, President Madison and his successor, James Monroe, worked to restore the White House to its original glory. By the time it reopened in 1818, Mrs. Madison and her husband had moved back to their home in Montpelier, Virginia.

Dolley Madison, 1848.

After James Madison died in 1836, Dolley Madison returned to Washington, and her rightful role at the center of city society.

Over the next thirteen years– she died in 1849–Dolley Madison visited the White House regularly and was quite in demand at parties. She was even elected an honorary member of Congress, and attended debates. More important, Dolley advised other First Ladies on how to carry themselves with elegance.

Sources: several articles published on the White House Historical Association website, some of which originally appeared in White House History:



Abigail Adams’s Famous Letter to her Husband: ‘Remember the Ladies’

On March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John, the future second president of the United States:

” I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.

Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.

If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend.”

Source: “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March – 5 April 1776” Massachusetts Historical Society, Adams Family Papers

Martha Was Not the Only Woman Behind George

by Ed Lengel

A woman helped President George Washington make one of the hardest decisions of his life. And, her name wasn’t Martha.

Washington never wanted to spend more than four years as president of the United States, and in November, 1792, the time was almost up. The autumn air was turning crisp, and he was looking forward to returning home to sit by the fireside at Mount Vernon. Washington was tired. He had spent most of his life in the service of his country. He had led the United States to victory in the Revolutionary War. Then, he had helped his fellow Americans choose a constitution. Finally, he had served as president. Now, he thought, let somebody else do all the hard work.

But the country was in trouble. Two of the most powerful men in the government–Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton–had become enemies. Jefferson thought Hamilton wanted to bring monarchy back to America–maybe even replace the president with a king–and Hamilton believed Jefferson wanted to start another revolution to get rid of all government. Washington tried to get the two men to reconcile, but they refused. Now, their followers were taking to the streets and yelling at each other. Soon, they might start fighting, and tear America apart. If they did, all of Washington’s hard work would have been for nothing.

Jefferson went to meet with Washington privately, and asked him to run the country another four years. That was the only way, Jefferson said, to protect America from Hamilton and his followers.

After he left, Hamilton also conferred with Washington privately and made the same request. That was the only way, he said, to protect the country from Jefferson and his followers. Washington could hardly believe it. He was sick of all the fighting; surely there was somebody who could get these angry men to stop arguing, and work together.

One evening, George and Martha Washington were relaxing in their presidential mansion in Philadelphia when there was a knock at the door; a man and a woman walked in. Their names were Samuel and Elizabeth Powel. George and Martha rose to meet them, and smiled, because they were good friends. Samuel was an important man. He had once been mayor of Philadelphia. Elizabeth was qualified for the job as well, but no one in those days would have considered it a suitable position for a woman. That was a shame, because Elizabeth was one of the smartest people in Philadelphia–and maybe the whole country. When she and her husband held dances and parties, people were eager to learn what she thought about about things like politics and diplomacy. Whatever she said, was almost always right.

George Washington wanted advice from Elizabeth, now. While Samuel sat down to talk with Martha, the president went with Elizabeth into another room. He admired her powerful mind, and knew he could trust her. George told her all of his worries. He knew the country was in trouble, and the bitterness between Jefferson and Hamilton was becoming dangerous. But, he also wanted to retire, spend the rest of his life with Martha–in peace–at Mount Vernon.

Elizabeth listened carefully, but she wasn’t ready to tell the president what to do–yet. She needed time to think. After a little while, she and her husband left. Two days later, Elizabeth dispatched a letter to her friend, George Washington. She had made up her mind about what he had to do.

The happiness of millions of people, Elizabeth Powel wrote, depended on George Washington’s decision. She understood it was a hard choice for him, but of he decided to go home now, the American people would think that the government was broken, the constitution didn’t work—and that George Washington couldn’t fix them. America had only been free ten years, and the constitution was only five years old. Jefferson and Hamilton might want to fight, but everybody trusted Washington. If he remained president another four years, he could give Americans a chance to learn to work together for the common good. But if he left now, everything might fall apart.

Don’t go home yet, Elizabeth told the president. He had already given so much. Now, though, the country asked for one more sacrifice.

When George Washington read Elizabeth Powel’s letter, he knew in his heart she was right. A little while later, he announced that he would stay on four more years as president. His decision, thanks to the brilliant Elizabeth Powel, may just have saved the United States.


Lengel, Ed, First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His—and the Nation’s Prosperity; pp. 222-23.

See Powel’s letter of 17 November 1792 to George Washington; published in the Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, 11:395-97

See also

A timely letter by Thomas Jefferson
heads to auction

‘Every man cannot have his way in all things’ — Thomas Jefferson

January 10, 2019, Washington Post
By Emily Heil

The letter is 218 years old, and yet it might be arriving right on time to deadlocked Washington: a missive from Thomas Jefferson heading to the auction block on Feb. 2 warns against digging in against opponents (sound familiar, anyone?).

The Potomack Company in Alexandria will gavel off the 1801 letter, written by the then-new President Thomas Jefferson to fellow Founding Father John Dickinson. In it, the commander in chief offers words that folks on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue might find useful, as President Trump and congressional Democrats remain at an impasse that’s partially shuttered the federal government.

“My dear friend, if we do not learn to sacrifice small differences of opinion, we can never act together. Every man cannot have his way in all things,” Jefferson wrote, as he despaired about the political divisions of his own day. “If his own opinion prevails at some times, he should acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at others. Without this mutual disposition we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.”

Full Article in Washington Post  >>

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Today is the seventy-seventh anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Grateful American Foundation remembers the men and women who fought for our freedom, and the 2,403 who perished in the process.









AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events — and critics are furious

Washington Post – June 15, 2018 — Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and start the course at the year 1450 — and some teachers and students are appalled.

The College Board, which is a nonprofit organization, announced recently that it was making big changes in the course, and said it would publish an updated course and exam description next year for the 2019-2020 school year. The more than 9,000 years that will no longer be covered in AP World History will instead be put into a new series of courses the College Board is creating for high schools that can afford to purchase it, called Pre-AP World History and Geography.

But some teachers and students have protested, saying the new course will eliminate vital material that students need to make sense of later periods, and that it will be too centered on Europe.  Read the entire article >>

Jefferson’s Monticello finally gives Sally Hemings her place in presidential history

June 13, 2018, Washington Post You cannot see Thomas Jefferson’s mansion, Monticello, from the small room burrowed into the ground along the south wing of his estate. When the door is closed, you can’t see anything at all, because it is a windowless room, with a low ceiling and damp walls. But this was, very likely, the room inhabited by Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore six of Jefferson’s children, a woman about whom little is known, who lived her life as Jefferson’s property, was considered his concubine, was a source of scandal and a political liability, and yet who might be considered the first lady to the third president of the United States if that didn’t presume her relationship to Jefferson was voluntary.

On Saturday, Monticello opened the room to the public, with a small exhibition devoted to the life of Hemings and the Hemings family. Reclaiming this space, which previously had been used as a public restroom, marks the completion of a five-year plan called the Mountaintop Project, which has seen significant changes to the beloved estate of the Founding Father. Using archaeology and other evidence, Monticello curators have restored Mulberry Row, where enslaved people lived and labored; made changes (including to the wallpaper, paint and furnishings) inside the mansion; restored the north and south wings; and opened the upstairs rooms to the public on special tours. But symbolically and emotionally, the restoration of the Hemings room is the heart of the new interpretation of Monticello, and it makes tangible a relationship that has been controversial since rumors of “Dusky Sally” became part of American political invective in the early 19th century. Read the entire article >>