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Authors: Jonathan F. Putnam

Tags: #FIC022060 Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Historical

These Honored Dead (26 page)

BOOK: These Honored Dead
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he letter arrived at the Department offices nearly two years later. Postmaster Clark himself brought it over to me at A. Y. Ellis & Co. to collect the postage due. As I handed him the coins, I knew at once whom it was from, even though the block handwriting on the outside flap was unfamiliar.

I slit open the envelope with a letter knife and took out a single folded sheet, covered on both sides with the same block writing. Inside the fold were several large denomination banknotes issued by a New York bank. I put these aside and read the letter:

My Dear Speed—

I am safe and sound. Due to the daring of our mutual friend from the Continent, and aided by your dear one’s quick thinking as the cocks began to stir in their coop, we got out of town well before anyone knew to give chase. I collected the package where you’d left it for me and we made it north to the little village of Chicago unmolested. From there, I set sail among the “Great Lakes.”

You will be glad to know I’ve kept the promise I made to your dear one when we last spoke. The tragic circumstances in Sangamon, which I abetted by my wishful blindness and inaction, increased my fervor to bring modern methods to
the care of the ill. Especially for those who suffer from true afflictions of the mind.

With the assistance of some enlightened friends here in New York, and with the proceeds I’d managed to amass from my real estate schemes, I am organizing a new sort of hospital. It will be a “lunatic asylum,” supported by the state, where disturbed persons, regardless of their material circumstances, may be sent to receive moral treatment leading to their rehabilitation or, should that prove impossible, at least live out their days without posing any threat to their fellow man.

Had my daughter lived, she would have been our first patient. As it is, there are two men and a woman from the surrounding towns who are residing with us now. Several more sufferers are expected to arrive shortly. My daughter rests in eternal peace in the ground outside my window. A small sapling from an apple tree has recently taken hold above her. I am hopeful it will bear fruit in the coming years.

I have one final debt to pay, for which I humbly beg your assistance. My former brother-in-law was wrong in his belief that I caused the death of his sister, but he was right about everything else. I realize my sudden departure prevented him from securing the compensation he was due for my unworthy attempt to renege on our land transaction. The enclosed notes represent the full agreed-upon purchase price. Kindly see to it they reach his hands.

I have taken certain precautions to obscure my origins. Nonetheless, please destroy this letter for your safety and mine.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Amariah Brigham

Founding Superintendent

New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica

When I finished reading, I looked up and saw my sister Martha watching me closely from across the storeroom. Martha and I had since moved on to other adventures together, but not a month had passed where one of us had not wondered aloud about the fate of Dr. Patterson.

“He made it, then?” she asked.

“He did,” I said, as I struck a match and held the letter over the flame. “Thanks to you.” The fire ravenously tore its way up the sheet.

“What are those banknotes for?”

The fire had consumed the entire letter now, and once the flames licked my fingers at the very top of the page, I held the envelope to the flame until it, too, had all gone up in smoke.

“The doctor asked that I deliver them to Major Richmond, the so-called mad major. To make amends for his wrongdoing in the land dispute between the two of them.”

“I’d long ago forgotten all about Richmond,” my sister said. “Do you even know where to find him now?”

I nodded my head. “He’s at rest in the churchyard behind the Episcopalian Church,” I said. Martha’s eyes widened. “Passed on last year, from an ailment of the stomach, as I recall.”

“What are you going to do with the notes?” she asked. “That’s quite a sum.”

It took only a moment for the answer to come to me. “There’s to be a general muster next month, on the field south of town,” I said. “I’ll stand the entire regiment of the Late War with Great Britain. And I’ll tell them I’m doing it in Richmond’s honor.”

And that’s exactly what we did.

Historical Note

hese Honored Dead
is a work of imaginative fiction, but it is grounded in fact. Joshua Fry Speed and Abraham Lincoln shared a bed in the room atop Speed’s general store, A. Y. Ellis & Co., from the day Lincoln arrived in Springfield in April 1837 until the spring of 1841, when Speed returned home to Louisville. The two men remained close lifelong friends. Lincoln’s presidential secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay (the latter the nephew of Milton Hay, “young Hay” of the novel) wrote in their 1890 biography that Speed “was the only—as he was certainly the last—intimate friend that Lincoln ever had.”

Indeed, Lincoln would become close to several members of Speed’s large family during his life. Speed’s older brother James, depicted in the opening pages here, was named U.S. Attorney General by President Lincoln in 1864 and served in that position at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. He is best known to history for issuing the legal opinion that the Lincoln conspirators should be tried by a military commission rather than in civilian courts. Speed’s sister Martha was the youngest of the Speed children who survived into adulthood.

As portrayed in the novel, 1837 was a momentous year. The nationwide currency crisis, sparked in part by the closing of the Second Bank of the United States, set off the Panic of ’37, which would mire the country in a deep depression until the
early 1840s. Meanwhile, in Springfield, only the lonely capitol cornerstone—laid on July 4, 1837—marked the coming arrival of the state government, which was moving there from the previous state capital, Vandalia. The state legislature, with Lincoln a prominent member, would first meet in Springfield in December 1839.

The trial at the heart of
These Honored Dead
is inspired by a number of actual cases Lincoln handled during his long and varied legal career. A surprisingly large number of Lincoln’s cases involved questions of insanity. And several defendants in Lincoln’s cases disappeared before justice was served. Among the murder defendants Lincoln represented was one Melissa Goings, charged with killing her abusive husband by striking him on the head with a piece of firewood. Goings fled during a recess in her trial. When the trial judge accused Lincoln of having encouraged her flight, Lincoln is said to have responded: “Your Honor, I did not chase her off. She simply asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I said Tennessee has mighty fine drinkin’ water.”

Beyond Lincoln and Speed, many of the characters in the novel are drawn from life. At the time the novel is set, Judge Jesse B. Thomas Jr. presided over the Circuit Court for Sangamon County; David Prickett was the state’s attorney; Stephen Logan was the senior lawyer in Springfield and Lincoln’s patron; Henry van Hoff was the carriage maker; Cyrus G. Saunders ran the Globe Tavern (where Lincoln and Mary Todd would later live during their first years of marriage); and Speed and Lincoln’s circle of friends included the newspaperman Simeon Francis, Billy the Barber, the court clerk James Matheny, the young office boy Milton Hay, and the store clerks William H. Herndon (later to become Lincoln’s final law partner) and Charles Hurst, who shared the other bed in the room above Speed’s store.

Eighteen-year-old Mary Todd spent the summer of 1837 in Springfield, lodging with two of her older sisters, Elizabeth and Francis, who had previously moved there from their home in
Lexington, Kentucky. After returning to Lexington to work at Ward’s school as an apprentice teacher for two years, Mary would move to Springfield permanently in June 1839.

Frederick Julius Gustorf was a young, well-born Prussian who toured Illinois in the 1830s and kept a journal he intended for publication in his native land. Earlier during his American journeys, he had tutored Harvard and Yale students in German; by some accounts, he was the first-ever German-language instructor at Harvard.

Shortly after the time when the novel ends, Dr. Amariah Brigham founded the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica, New York. It was one of the first modern insane asylums in the country.

The 1840 federal census counted 116 African-Americans among Springfield’s total population of 2,579, including 6 “slaves” (notwithstanding the fact that slavery did not, as a legal matter, exist in Illinois) and 110 “free colored persons.” A number of these “free colored persons” were bound in strict contracts of indentured servitude, a system explicitly allowed by Illinois’s Black Code.

Separately, an 1840 “inventory of the slaves” at the Speed estate Farmington near Louisville, Kentucky, listed the first names, ages, and “value” of some 56 enslaved persons owned by the Speed family. Among these was Phillis, then age 43, with a “value” of $300, and Sinderella, then age 4, with a “value” of $250. While the inventory does not indicate familial relationships among the slaves, it is a likely reading of the information the inventory does provide that Sinderella was indeed one of Phillis’s granddaughters.


was a trial lawyer for two decades before embarking on writing a novel. It’s been a long road, and I have a lot of people to thank.

My sister Lara Putnam, an eminent historian, currently chair of the History Department at the University of Pittsburgh, tirelessly read successive drafts and contributed her keen historical knowledge and editorial sense. Lara also gave me the key narrative insight for how to tell this story.

My college roommate Joshua F. Thorpe, one day older than me and therefore forever wiser, was also present at the creation. Josh patiently read draft after draft and consistently gave me on-target feedback. As a fellow trial lawyer, he also helped me shape the courtroom scenes.

In Michael Bergmann and Christin Brecher, I found two fellow writers who shared my passion for puzzling out the mysteries of storytelling (and the storytelling of mysteries) while eating mediocre Italian food. I am very grateful to both of them for their countless insights that have greatly improved this story.

My many friends and colleagues at the leading international law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where I was a partner for many years and am delighted to remain of counsel, taught me everything I know about being a trial lawyer and have been remarkably supportive of this new venture.

Carolyn Waters and her staff at the incomparable New York Society Library (NYSL) gave a home to my writing life and provided me with so many invaluable resources. Chief among these were my colleagues in the NYSL fiction writers’ group, who read drafts of many different versions of my story and always gave me insightful and sympathetic feedback. My fellow NYSL writers included Jamie Chan, Lillian Clagett, Susan Dudley-Allen, Janet Gilman, Hurd Hutchins, John Koller, Jane Murphy, Alan Siegel, Helena Sokoloff, Victoria Reiter, and Mimi Wisebond.

This book is based on extensive historical research. I’d particularly like to thank for their assistance the staffs of the Lincoln Presidential Museum, Old State Capitol Historic Site, Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site, and Edwards Place Historic Home, all in Springfield, Illinois, as well as Diane Young of the Farmington Historic Home site in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Dennis C. Dirkmaat of the Department of Applied Forensic Sciences at Mercyhurst University and Professor Thomas D. Morgan of the George Washington University Law School generously gave me insights into their areas of specialty (dead bodies and legal history, respectively).

In addition to the people mentioned elsewhere in these acknowledgments, this and previous versions of my story have benefitted greatly from the editorial input of the following people: Cordelia Francis Biddle, Gail Brussel, Catherine Hiller, Patrick LoBrutto, Alonso Perez-Putnam, Nike Power, Amy Ross, Mark Stein, and Alina Tugend.

While nearly everyone I know has been incredibly supportive of this venture, I need to specifically thank the following additional people for their support, encouragement and assistance along the way: Robin Agnew, Nancy Almazar, John Robert Anderson, Ruby Barrios, Shannon Campbell, Stephanie Altman Dominus, Andrew Dominus, Steven Everson, Shiva Farouki, Andrew M. Genser, Tom and Julie Gest, Marc Goldman, Atif Khawaja, Laura Kupillas, Wyman Lai, Laura Lavan,
Jay P. Lefkowitz, Janet Lopez, Nancy Pascone, Mario Perez, Gabriel Perez-Putnam, Miriam Perez-Putnam, Michelle Pfeffer, Mark Pickrell, William H. Pratt, Joel and Jane Schneider, Joseph Serino Jr., Ed Steinfeld, Lee Ann Stevenson, David Thorpe, Megan Tingley, Jeff Wang, Jennifer Warner, Caroline Werner, Doug Wible, Nancy Winkelstein, and Dan Zevin.

My fantastic agent Scott Miller of Trident Media Group said “maybe” when other agents were saying “no,” and he has been an unerring guiding light throughout this process.

My editor Matt Martz, the editorial director of Crooked Lane Books, also said “maybe” when others said “no.” Eventually we got to “yes” together. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about storytelling from Matt, and I’m thrilled to publish my debut novel with him.

My parents and parents-in-law, Robert and Rosemary Putnam, Donna Gest, and Joel and Carla Campbell, have been a constant source of support. I often tell the joke that my parents may be the first in history who, upon learning that their son was resigning from his New York City law firm partnership to try to become a novelist, reacted by saying, “Thank God. It’s about time.” It’s not actually a joke.

My three sons, Gray, Noah, and Gideon Putnam, have been incredibly good-humored about joining me on research trips, giving me focus-group insights into my story, and making room for a late-to-the-party stay-at-home dad.

Finally, this book is dedicated to my wife, Christin Putnam. During one of our first dates—thirty years ago, when both of us were still teenagers—we sat along the scruffy banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and discussed a shared future together in which I was a writer. I am overjoyed, at long last, to have made that vision come true with her. Christin has been my first and last reader of every word in the novel and an inexhaustible source of love, encouragement, and—not least—plot points. The book would not have existed without her.

BOOK: These Honored Dead
4.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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