Lincoln's Twisted Family Tree
Writing an obit last week for Margaret "Maggie" Fristoe Beckwith, I came across a fascinating 1994 New Yorker piece by Michael Beschloss about Mrs. Beckwith's late husband, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. The president's great-grandson, Beckwith was the last Lincoln heir when he died in 1985. Or, should we say he might have been the last heir? That's the mystery Beschloss's article explores.
Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd had four sons, but three died young. The youngest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to age 82. A Harvard-educated lawyer, banker and president of the Pullman Palace Car Co., he married Mary Harlan and had three children, daughter Mary, daughter Jessie and son Abraham II, who died at 16 of blood poisoning.
Daughter Jessie married Warren Wallace Beckwith, and the couple had two children: a daughter, Mary Lincoln Beckwith (nicknamed Peggy) and the son mentioned above, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. Mary, Robert Todd Lincoln's other daughter, bore one child, Lincoln Isham.
Lincoln Isham married but never had children. Peggy, who was rumored to be a lesbian because she smoked cigars and wore men's pants, also never married or had children. That left Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, known as Bud, who had the potential of continuing the Lincoln line. The theologian Martin E. Marty, who knew Beckwith, wrote in The Christian Century a few years ago that "Bud was maritally adventurous, but not in a way to keep the line going."
He married three times but had no heirs. At least, that's what he said. His second wife claimed otherwise.
When he was 25, Beckwith married Hazel Holland Wilson, an older widow with two children. Although the couple stayed married until Hazel's death 25 years later, they had no children of their own.
Three years after Hazel's death, Beckwith, then 63, married Annemarie Hoffman, a 27-year-old German woman. Six months after the wedding, he found out she was pregnant. That was fine, except for the fact that six years earlier Beckwith had had a vasectomy with a prostatectomy.
Divorce proceedings began in 1976, and a court trial was set in motion to determine whether the boy, Timothy Lincoln Beckwith, was a legitimate Lincoln heir. By then he was 7 and stood to inherit more than $10 million.
In September 1976, Judge Joseph M. F. Ryan Jr. of the District of Columbia Superior Court granted the divorce and ruled that the child was the product of an "adulterous relationship." The judge said that another court would have to rule whether young Timothy could still seek the Lincoln fortune.
When Beckwith died in 1985, the three groups that were to inherit his millions -- Iowa Wesleyan College, the American Red Cross and the First Church of Christ, Scientist -- were worried about Timothy Beckwith, by then 17 and living in the U.S. with his remarried mother. The groups made him an offer -- Beschloss said it was more than $1 million. The teenager said yes, and with that the Lincoln family tree withered into history.
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