Discovering Lincoln at the University of Florida

Editor’s Note: This month we take a look at primary sources from our Remembering Lincoln partners at the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries. Their Special and Area Studies Collections include historical and contemporary materials from and related to Florida, some that demonstrate how different individuals have remembered President Abraham Lincoln both in the immediate aftermath of his death and in the years since.

The UF Smathers Libraries have earned a major grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) at the National Archives for a collection called Pioneer Days in Florida. The goal of this project is to digitize materials that help portray life in Florida in the 1800s, in the early days of the state’s development.

From the Pioneer Days collection comes an 1865 journal entry by a clerk named Otis Keene who worked at the Department of the Treasury. From April 14 to April 27, 1865, Keene reports the fallout from the Lincoln assassination as he experienced in the nation’s capital.

Keene’s April 14th entry has breaking news qualities. He writes about receiving the first news around midnight. The next morning, Keene begins with his immediate reaction: “Oh Lord, help our bleeding and afflicted nation in this hour of its sad bereavement and irreparable loss.” He subsequently records Lincoln’s funeral procession and the hunt for John Wilkes Booth across multiple pages.

On Monday, April 17, Keene returned to his job at the Department of the Treasury. But that same day, he reports how federal officials have arrested suspects with “excited crowds follow[ing] all that they bring in.” These personal accounts by Otis Keene complement the more public remembrances and responses to the assassination of President Lincoln.

Other strong examples of public responses come from the Southern Christian Advocate of Macon, Georgia, for August 31, 1865. On the first column of page three is a pronouncement from the Methodist Church in the North regarding the death of Lincoln and moves to bring the denomination back together after it had previously broken apart over slavery. The second item in the pronouncement said:The Southern Christian Advocate story also records the reaction of Southern Methodists to this pronouncement, rejecting the terms that Northern Methodists had proposed for what the piece appropriately termed “church reconstruction.”

On April 27, 1866, the same newspaper ran a story on the front page that notes an exchange at the general meeting of the southern Methodist Church, in which a delegate, Rev. Dr. McTyeire, alleged a statement from the meetings of the American Bible Society blamed Southerners for Lincoln’s death. McTyeire elaborated that he would “not vote for anything that implies in the most remote manner that the Southern people were a party to the assassination of President Lincoln.” This shows, a year later, a desire among white Southerners to ensure that blame for the actions of John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators did not fall on them.

Because Florida had only two newspapers before it became part of the United States and few thereafter, the Florida Digital Newspaper Library also includes articles, like the ones noted above, about Florida. These articles are found in the Historic News Accounts of Florida section, and are drawn from newspapers from the William and Sue Goza, and Thomas and Georgine Mickler Collections in the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, Special and Area Studies Collections, UF Smathers Libraries.

The collections of UF Smathers Libraries also contain materials that help us to understand the ongoing memory and history of Lincoln. For example, children’s books from the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, part of the Baldwin Digital Collection, contain stories remembering the President as told for children and families. One simple remembrance is the Almanac for 1884, illustrated by Kate Greenaway, which lists the date of President Lincoln’s death for the entry for April 15. The Ballad of Abraham Lincoln offers six pages of text with four pages of illustrations, with the final text page lamenting the loss of President Lincoln.

All materials from the University of Florida collections and hosted partner collections are available online in the UF Digital Collections and openly available for worldwide access for all to read and remember President Lincoln and many other histories together. Search the full text for different terms and keywords throughout the collections.

Laurie N. Taylor, Ph.D., is the Digital Scholarship Librarian at the University of Florida. Her work focuses on data/digital curation, digital scholarship and developing socio-technical supports (people, policies, technologies, communities) for scholarly cyber infrastructure. This includes work to develop, sustain and integrate digital scholarship and data curation across communities, and by fostering an environment of radical collaboration made possible in the digital age or the age of Big Data.