I spent much of the 1970's in Charlottesville as an undergraduate student and then as a law student at the University of Virginia. For those not familiar with Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson is referred to constantly as "Mr. Jefferson" and one almost expects that he will suddenly materialize on the university grounds or somewhere in town. During my student days, the stories about Jefferson and Sally Hemings were circulating, but if one asked a question about their relationship to one of the docents at Monticello, the generally female staff would act like they were about to have a stroke or a fit of the vapors. Not surprisingly, once they regained their composure, the docents always vehemently denied that Jefferson and Hemings had any amorous relationships. It turns out that the oral family stories handed down through the Hemings family were true and the prim efforts to sanitize and deify Jefferson were false. Now a piece in Huffington Post points to another family's oral history that adds further fuel to modern day speculation that Abraham Lincoln was in fact a gay man. Here are excerpts:
Over 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president. Many of these books either allude to or specifically report on Lincoln's ambiguous relationships with men. Lincoln lived with and shared a bed with Joshua Speed for four years, and they remained friends years after they no longer lived together. He also had a close relationship with Captain David Derickson, who would stay with Lincoln overnight at the Soldier's Home (a retreat from the White House) when Lincoln's wife Mary left town. There were reports of Captain Derickson wearing Lincoln's nightshirt, and Lincoln has been quoted as saying, with a "twinkle" in his eye, "The captain and I are getting quite thick."
Many historians are quick to say that men shared beds due to a bed shortage and that surely Lincoln, the savior of the Union, could not have been gay. The studied impulse to make Lincoln absolutely heterosexual reflects a discernible societal discomfort with the complexities of human sexuality and sexual orientation, as well as deeply embedded streaks of homophobia.
American history is written not only in books but in the sacred narration of family stories that endure as indelible parchment in our hearts. Thomas Jefferson had an affair with his slave Sally Hemings, fathering many children with her. The family history of Sally Hemings' descendants never wavered from the fact of Jefferson's paternity, though their claims were disputed by many offended historians. Surely, these historians protested, the author of the Declaration of Independence would not have had sexual liaisons with a slave. Genetic testing proved them wrong.
Growing up, my mother told me that we were from Blair House, the White House's official guest house. She stated that her great-grandmother was a servant at Blair House, had an affair with the master of Blair House and also babysat Lincoln's kids. The affair produced a child, Mattie, born Oct. 20, 1860.
As a sexologist, I posit that Lincoln was a Kinsey 4 -- homosexual with more than incidental opposite-sex contact. But as I studied Lincoln's magnificent life, I realized that William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner for 20 years and the keeper of Lincoln's legacy, never mentioned anything that would leave one to believe that Lincoln was gay.
One day I was having lunch with Rev. Cindi Love, the executive director of Soulforce. I was telling her about my family history, my burgeoning love affair with Abraham and my quest for more information. "I have been researching Lincoln and found a lot about his relationships with men, and I am getting this from a many sources," I told her. "But I am puzzled about one thing: William Herndon has not mentioned or written anything that would indicate that Lincoln was gay."
She gave me a telling look and said, "Well, here is the missing piece of your puzzle. My maiden name is Herndon. William Herndon was my great-great-uncle, and he was gay, and he was Lincoln's lover." She went on to talk about how this information was handed down from generation to generation in the Herndon family.
I still hope a lost diary or a writing of Lincoln's will surface and make these speculations conclusive fact. True, I'd love to have a new gay icon. Better yet, I'd love to watch the shrieks, wailing and flying spittle from the professional Christian set.