Secret message engraved by Irishman in Abraham Lincoln’s watch
After repairing the watch for the president he left a communication
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch this past March, and discovered a secretly engraved message that turned an unsubstantiated family story into a confirmed historical event.
Jonathan Dillon, a watchmaker who immigrated to Washington, D.C. from Waterford, Ireland, repaired Lincoln’s gold watch in 1861 and engraved the following words on the underside of the watch movement:
“Jonathan Dillon April 13- 1861 Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date.
April 13-1861 Washington thank God we have a government. Jonth Dillon.”
Dillon passed down the story of engraving his pro-Union sentiments in Lincoln’s timepiece to his descendants, and his great-great-grandson Douglas Stiles, a lawyer from Illinois, recently discovered an article in The New York Times from April 1906 in which the story is recounted.
Then 84, Dillon told of writing the inscription after the owner of M.W. Galt & Company, the Pennsylvania Avenue watch shop in Washington, D.C., rushed upstairs to announce that the first shot had been fired and the war was underway.
“At the moment I had in my hand Abraham Lincoln’s watch, which I had been repairing,” Dillon recounted.
The watch was bequeathed to the Smithsonian by a great-grandson of Lincoln’s in 1958, but after Stiles brought the curators’ attention to the 1906 article, the museum enlisted the help of George Thomas, a master watchmaker from Maryland, who opened the watch using magnifying glasses, a strong light and minuscule instruments in an event open to the public.
“It’s a moment of discovery, and you can only discover things once. We wanted to share it,” said Harry Rubenstein, curator of the Smithsonian’s “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” exhibition.
In the 1906 article, Dillon recalled his inscription as reading, “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try.” This description was not entirely accurate, but museum director Brent D. Glass was unsurprised that Dillon did not mention slavery in the actual engraving.
“In 1861 the preservation of the union was the key issue, and the abolition of slavery came later,” said Glass. Dillon’s inscription also misdates the opening shot of the Civil War, which was actually fired on April 12, and misspells Sumter. Still, the message is clear.
“It has that hopeful sound that the union will hold together, the country will go on,” said Rubenstein. “That Lincoln carried this hopeful message in his pocket unbeknownst to him – it casts you back.”
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Brolaur that was brilliant very well put. We do have crazies in Canada just not the violent kind. The quicker that this idiot puts himself away the beIrish students told “No Irish Need Apply” to Chicago for summer 2014
I was wondering where the real Chuck was hiding. I meant nothing by my comment except to invite the Irish students to our fine country and was only giNelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning its arms during 2000 talks
Chuck very well said, you are really a man of vision. I wish I could have said that. The world needs men like that, he was a lot like the great PresidNelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning its arms during 2000 talks
You sat back on your effen arses and let the only real leader of Irish men since 1916 starve to death instead you went for the worm Ahern,Cowen &