When more than 40,000 escaped slaves took refuge in Washington in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln sought to provide them with food, shelter and medical care.
For their spiritual well-being, he turned to the Rev. Isaac Cross.
“December 15, 1862, Surgeon General, Please say whether there is a vacant chaplaincy in or about this city, to which I could appoint Rev. Mr. Cross, the bearer. A. Lincoln,” reads a letter the 16th president wrote for the Methodist Episcopal Church minister.
The letter, recently discovered and now being offered for sale by a Philadephia rare documents dealer, was written by Lincoln in reply to one Cross brought to Lincoln. That document was signed by more than a dozen officials and pastors in the church, who believed Cross was well-suited to serve the freed slaves.
“Any document that connects President Abraham Lincoln to the plight of the freed slaves is a remarkable and very important historical artifact.”
- Nathan Raab, rare documents dealer
Lincoln's letter ultimately helped Cross find work as chaplain to the Freedmen’s Hospital, which would one day become the teaching hospital for Howard University.
“I think it’s just a remarkable window into what Abraham Lincoln was going through,” said document dealer Nathan Raab, whose company, The Raab Collection, is offering the letter for $25,000. “It was just after the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, when wounded soldiers and freed slaves were flooding into Washington.”
The Lincoln-penned note had been treasured by Cross's family for generations and was acquired one month ago by Raab, who has studied and authenticated it. It was sent for inspection to The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a long-term project located in Springfield, Ill., dedicated to collecting and publishing all documents written by President Lincoln in his lifetime.
Daniel Stowell, director of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, said this particular document is a testament to Lincoln's humility and accessibility.
“There’s evidence that when Lincoln went to visit the army, he insisted on going around and shaking each man’s hand,” he said. “That meant so much to soldiers in hospitals.”
Raab said the artifact relays a sense of selflessness from both Lincoln and Cross.
“Lincoln feels a great deal of depression, and to see him being approached by this chaplain who just wanted to help, you really get the feeling of these two men side by side, working for the betterment of the country, regardless of what it meant for them,” he said.
Raab said the note gives the public an important perspective into the life and character of one of the country’s most beloved presidents.
“Any document that connects President Abraham Lincoln to the plight of the freed slaves is a remarkable and very important historical artifact,” Raab said. “This letter in particular, highlights how his legacy is forever tied to not merely his leadership but his compassion and sense of right.”