Henry Watson Wilbur.

Friends with Lincoln in the White House : adapted from Nellie Blessing-Eyster's story online

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Online LibraryHenry Watson WilburFriends with Lincoln in the White House : adapted from Nellie Blessing-Eyster's story → online text (page 1 of 1)
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i During the Civil War there lived in

5 Clinton County, Ohio, about fifty

^ miles northwest of Cincinnati, Isaac

*H and Sarah Harvey. They were of the

"^ conservative type of Friends of that

generation. Isaac was a man often

"moved" to do what seemed to his

prudential neighbors, strange, if not

foolish things, which made some of

them call him the "crazy Quaker."

But he was also a man who did not

feel "easy"' in his mind if his concerns

could not be translated into conduct.

As the war proceeded, and the

cause which produced it persisted, in

the summer of 1862 Isaac Harvey de-
veloped a compelling concern to visit
Washington, and lay the burden of his
mind upon the heart of the great Pres-
ident. In 1868 Nellie Blessing-Eyster
visited the Harveys, and the story of
her experience was first printed in
Harpers' Magazine about 1874. In
1889 it was restated, and published in
the New Voice, New York. The quo-
tations in closer-spaced type are from
this story, although we have taken the
liberty of supplying the real names in
place of the fictitious ones used by the
author. We start the story with Nel-
lie Blessing-Eyster's meeting with
Isaac Harvey in the hallway of the
Harvey home.


I crossed the threshold, when sud-
denly, from an armed chair just inside
the door, there arose a tall, slender
old man, who, leaning upon his cane,
confronted me. His appearance would
have been remarkable any where. His
dress was of coarse but of spotless
white linen, the only bit of color being
a narrow black ribbon carelessly knot-
ted under his broad, unstarched collar.
His thin hair was white and fine as
spun glass, a few locks falling over his
high, unwrinkled forehead. His com-
plexion was as fair as a girl's, and the
facial expression intellectual and be-
nignant. His eyes, however, were
concealed by green goggles. Such a
vision of majestic old age instantly ar-
rested me. Nothing could have been
more unexpected. He at once spoke.

"Thy footstep is that of a stranger ;
enter, for indeed thou art welcome/'
was his salutation.

Upon which I advanced a step or
two, and laid my ungloved hand in
his with a few words of greeting.

"Thy hand is that of a gentle-
woman, and thy voice is low and
pleasant. Be seated and tell me who
thou art."

"I have come from the city of Har-
risburg, in Pennsylvania, to visit my
sister, Grace Harvey. I went with
her to meeting this morning and was
invited home to dinner by a lady
whom my sister calls *Aunt Sarah
Harvey.' Do you know her?" I re-

"Yes, I do." There was an in-
stant's pause, when he said:

"Thou hast come, then, from the
great world of which I know but little.


God — ever blessed be His holy name
— has seen fit to take away my sight,
but I have witnessed the coming of
the Lord, and mine eyes have seen the
salvation of a people, so I am con-
tent;" and clasping his long, well-
shaped hands, his lips moved as if in
prayer. My emotions were alive.
They were those of awe, reverence,
and admiration commingled. His ar-
ticulation was unusually distinct,
every word having a purity of finish
which would have been marked in the
diction of a professional elocutionist.

Surely this could not be Uncle
Isaac, even though he was in a certain
sense a "little queer.'* Before he
again spoke Aunt Sarah, Rebecca
and my sister entered.

*'Thee got here first, I see," said
Aunt Sarah. "Now, dear, thee must
feel at home. Let me take thy hat.

We are plain people, but thee and
Grace are truly welcome. Hast thou
felt lonely this morning, father?" she
asked, pushing aside the stray locks
with which a breeze was toying, '*and
did thy poor eyes pain thee much?"
This, then, was the "crazy Quaker."
His smile was perfect, as he an-
swered gently: ''Oh, no, mother, I
forgot my eyes.'' His words came to
me very clearly : " Tor our light afflic-
tion, which is but for a moment, work-
eth for us a far more exceeding and
eternal weight of glory ; while we look
not at the things which are seen; for
the things which are seen are tem-
poral, but the things which are not
seen are eternal.' I thank thee for
bringing the young stranger home. I
will enjoy her speech."

*1 am the one to feel grateful, sir,"
I replied impulsively. "I have trav-


eled a great deal in my life, but never
before been in a place like this. Every-
thing charms me, and I am glad
of the privilege to just sit still and
hear you talk. May I not also call you
'Uncle Isaac?'"

. "Yes, if it pleaseth thee ; but thou
must not flatter. There is no jewel
like unto sincerity. Thy tones are

Aunt Sarah's kind heart was sat-

*T see thee can entertain each oth-
er," she said, ''so I will get dinner.
Grace, thee and daughter can help
me." Uncle Isaac and I were left

He broke the silence by asking:
"Hast thou seen General Grant ? Dost
thou think him a good man ? I long to
hear his voice, and daily pray to God


to strengthen his hands and to make
him worthy of the great work to
which he has been called."

I said I knew him only as the sol-
dier-statesman, but I felt that he, per-
haps, more than any living American
would perfect the grand schemes left
unfinished by the death of Abraham
Lincoln. At the mention of that name
the old man's face glowed with a
beauty almost divine. Every fiber in
his body seemed animated with new
life. Laying his hand lightly upon
my shoulder, he asked in a voice of
suppressed eagerness, "Hast thou seen
Abraham Lincoln?''

"Yes," I said. "Once I stood so
near him while he addressed a multi-
tude that every line of his grand face
was as visible to me as is yours. It
was the last time that he spoke to a
crowd as Abraham Lincoln, citizen,


for in a few days he took the oath of
office as President of the United
States. Once again I stood near him,
but it was to look upon his coffined
face as it lay in state in the Senate
Chamber of Pennsylvania. Did you
ever see him, sir?*'

I asked the question mechanically,
for, somehow, nothing seemed to me
more unlikely.

"Ah, yes, yes; and a sadder face
than his was then no one ever looked

I was alive with curiosity, and ex-
claimed, "Why, Uncle Isaac! where
was he, and under what circum-
stances? Please tell me."

"Perhaps thou wilt not sympathize
with me. I rarely speak of these
things save among my own people.
In what light dost thou view the col-
ored race?''


The freeing of the slaves and the
education of the freedmen had long
been among my "enthusiasms," so,
when called upon to ''rehearse the
articles of my belief," I did it so
promptly that he could not doubt my

Folding his thin hands, his face
wearing an expression of sweet grav-
ity, and his words coming slowly as
if he was weighing the value of each,
he said :

"I will answer thy question. My
quiet life has known few storms. I
have loved God as my first, best, and
dearest friend, and He has ever dealt
most tenderly with me.

"During the first years of the great
rebellion, when I read and heard of
the condition of the poor crushed ne-
groes, I tried to think it was a cunning


device of bad men to create greater
enmity between the North and the
South; but when I read Lincoln's
speeches, I thought so good and wise
a man could not be deceived, and then
I resolved to go and see for myself.
At one of our First-day meetings I
spoke of my intention, but although
the brethren felt as I did upon the sub-
ject they said it was rash for me to
expose my life, for I could do no good.
Nevertheless I went, traveling on
horseback through most of the South-

"Often my life was in danger from
guerillas, but there was always an un-
seen arm between me and the actual
foe, and in a few weeks I returned,
saying the half had not been told of
the sufferings of these poor, despised,
yet God-fearing and God-trusting peo-


Here his voice trembled with the
overflow of pity of which his heart
seemed the fountain.

"That summer/' he continued, "I
plowed and reaped and gathered in my
harvest as usual. Day by day I
prayed, at home and in the field, that
God would show his delivering power
as He had to the children of Israel.
Nothing seemed to come in answer.
Occasionally, during the beginning of
the war, news reached us that battles
had been fought by the Northern men
and victories won, but still the poor
colored people were not let go.

"One day while plowing I heard a
voice, whether inside me or outside of
me I know not, but I was awake. It
said : 'Go thou and see the President.'
I answered: 'Yea, Lord, Thy servant
heareth.' And unhitching my plow,
I went at once to the house and said


to mother: 'Wilt thou go with me to
Washington to see the President?'

"'Who sends thee?' she asked.

'* 'The Lord,' I answered.

" 'Where thou goest I will go/ said
mother, and began to make ready.

•^My friends called me crazed; some
said that this trip would be more fool-
ish than the first, and that I, who had
never been to Washington and knew
no one in it, could not gain access to
the great President.

"The Lord knew I did not want to
be foolhardy, but I had that on my
mind which I must tell President Lin-
coln, and I had faith that He who
f eedeth the sparrows would direct me.

"We left here on the L^th of Ninth
month, 1862, the first time mother had
been fifty miles from home in sixty
years. It was a pleasant morning.
Before we left the house we prayed


that God would direct our wandering,
or, if He saw best, direct us to return.
Part of our journey was by stage.
Every one looked at and spoke to us
kindly. Oh, God's world is beautiful
when we see the invisible in it.

*'\Ve got to Washington the next
evening. It was about early candle
light, and there was so much confu-
sion at the depot and on the street
that mother clung to my arm, saying :
'Oh, Isaac, we ought not to have come
here ! It looks like Babylon !'

" 'But the Lord will help if we have
faith that we are doing His will,' I
replied, and we walked away from
the cars.

"Under a lamppost there stood a
noble-looking man, reading a letter.
I stepped before him and said: 'Good
friend, wilt thou tell us where to find
President Lincoln?'


''He looked us all over before he
spoke. We were neat and clean, and
soon his face got bright and smiling,
and he asked us a few plain questions.
I told him we were Friends from
Ohio who had come all of these
weary miles to say a few words with
President Lincoln, because the Lord
had sent us.

''He nodded his head and said, 'I
understand.' Then he took us to a
large house called Willard's Hotel,
and up to a little room away from all
the noise.

" 'Stay here,' he said, 'and I will
see when the President can admit


"He was gone a long time, but
meanwhile a young man brought us
up a nice supper, which mother said
was very hospitable in him, and when
the gentleman returned he handed me


a slip of paper upon which was writ-
ten : 'Admit the bearer to the chamber
of the President at 9.30 o'clock to-
morrow morning.' My heart was so
full of gratitude that I could not ex-
press my thanksgiving in words. That
night was as peaceful as those at home
in the meadows.

"The next morning the kind gentle-
man came and conducted us to the
house near by in which the President
lived. Every one whom we met
seemed to know our conductor and
took off their hats to him. I was glad
that he had so many friends. At the
door of the big porch he left us, prom-
ising to return in an hour. 'You must
make your talk with him brief,' he
said. 'A big battle has just been fought
at Antietam. The North is victorious,
but at least 12,000 men have been
killed or wounded, and the President,


like the rest of us, is in great trouble/
"I did not speak. I could not. The
room into which we were first shown
was full of people, all waiting, we
supposed, to see the President. 'Ah,
Isaac, we shall not get near him today.
See the anxious faces who come be-
fore us,' whispered mother.

" 'As God wills,' I said.

"It was a sad place to be in, truly.
There were soldiers' wives and
wounded soldiers sitting around the
large room, and not a soul but from
whom joy and peace seemed to have
fled. Some were weeping; soldiers
with clanking spurs and short swords
were rapidly walking through the
halls; men with newspapers in their
hands were reading the news from the
seat of war, and the President's house
seemed the center of the world. I felt


what a solemn thing it must be to have
so much power/'

Here Uncle Isaac's voice got husky
and tears fell from his eyes upon his
wrinkled hands. I reverently brushed
them off, and in a few minutes he con-
tinued :

"When the summons came for us
to enter — it was in advance of the
others — my knees smote together, and
for an instant I tottered. 'Keep heart,
Isaac,' mother whispered, and we went
forward. I fear thou wilt think me
vain if I tell what followed."

"No fear, Uncle Isaac. Pleace pro-

"It seemed so wonderful that, for a
moment I could not realize it. To
think that such humble people as we
were should be there in the actual
presence of the greatest and best man
in the world, and to be received by


him as kindly as if he was our own
son, made me feel very strange. He
shook hands with us and put his chair
between us. Oh, how I honored the
good man ! But I said :

" 'Wilt thou pardon me that I do
not remove my hat?' Then he smiled,
and his grave face lit up as he said,
'Certainly, I understand it all.' The
dear, dear man" — and again Uncle
Isaac stopped as though to revel, as
a devout nun counts her beads, in the
memory of that interview.

But I was impatient. "What then,
sir ?" The answer came with a solem-
nity indescribable. My curiosity and
his reminiscence were not in harmony.

'*Cf that half hour it does not be-
come me to speak. I will think of it
gratefully throughout eternity. At last
we had to go. The President took a
hand of each of us in his, saying, T


thank you for this visit. May God
bless you.' Was there ever greater
condescension than that? Just then I
asked him if he would object to writ-
ing just a line or two, certifying that
I had fulfiilled my mission, so that I
could show it to the council at home.
He sat down to his table.

"Wilt thou open the drawer of that
old secretary in the corner behind thee,
and hand me a little box from there-

Up to this moment I had not no-
ticed my surroundings. The old-fash-
ioned furniture was oiled and rubbed,
and a large secretary which belonged
to the Colonial period was conspic-
uous. I obeyed instructions, and soon
placed in the old man's now trembling
fingers a small square tin box which
was as bright as silver. Between two
layers of cotton was a folded paper,


already yellow. The words were ver-
hatim these :

''I take pleasure in asserting that
I have had profitable intercourse with
friend Isaac Harvey and his good
wife, Sarah Harvey. May the Lord
comfort them as they have sustained
me. Abraham Lincoln.*

"Sept. 19, 1862."

"Uncle Isaac !" I exclaimed. "I can
scarcely realize that away off here in
the backwoods I should read such
words traced by Mr. Lincoln's own
hands. How singular !"

*In a letter to H. W. W., Jesse Har-
vey, Isaac's son, thus accounts for this
precious document: "We kept the writ-
ing given by A. Lincoln for years. It
was borrowed some times, and finally
was so soiled we concluded it would not
be of interest to any one, and destroyed
it with other old papers."


"Not more so than the whole event
was to us, dear child, from the first
to the last. The following Second-day
the preliminary Proclamation of
Emancipation was issued. Thank
God! Thank God!"

It is not possible to depict the devout
fervor of the old patriarch's thanks-

"Our new friend was waitmg at the
outside door when we came out. I
showed him the testimonial. He nod-
ded his head affirmatively and said, Tt
is well.'

"We soon left Washington, for our
work was done and I longed for the
quiet of home. Our friend took us
to the omnibus which conveyed us to
the cars, having treated us with a
gracious hospitality which I can never
forget. May the Lord care for him
as he cared for us."


"Did you not learn his name?" I
inquired, wondering what official in
those days would have bestowed so
much time and courtesy upon these
unpretending folk.

*'Yes, he is high in the esteem of
men and they call him Salmon P.

"Truly," I thought, 'God exalteth
the lowly, and they who trust in Him
shall never be confounded.''

In the published diary of Mr. Chase
he describes the eventful Cabinet meet-
ing prior to the announcement, Mon-
day, September 22, 1862. The Sunday
morning directly succeeding Uncle
Isaac's visit Mr. Lincoln worked upon
the Proclamation. God alone knows
to what extent the President's long-
desired step was influenced by that
half-hour's visit with Uncle Isaac, but
I cannot help feeling that I have read


a page in his history which would have
been sealed but for my unexpected
meeting with that precious old Qua-

I have repeated our conversation,
word for word, but I can no more ex-
press the timbre of Uncle Isaac's
sympathetic tones than I can arrange
in bars and notes the song of a soaring

We pass suddenly from the poetic
diction of Nellie Blessing-Eyster, to
the prosaic confirmatory facts under-
lying the story. There are two very
reliable sources of information along
this line, represented by the two sur-
viving sons of Isaac and Sarah Har-
vey. The son Jesse lives on the old
homestead, near Clarksville, Ohio.


The son William resides at Americus,
Kansas. Jesse has no doubt that the
story as told by Nellie Blessing-Eys-
ter is substantially as she received it
from his father.

We spent two days in the company
of William Harvey, at Indiana Yearly
Meeting in Eighth month last. He has
many of the evident characteristics of
his father, although he strongly re-
sembles the mother's picture to be
found as the frontispiece of this book-

From William we learn, as might
have been expected, that his father
was a pronounced antebellum aboli-
tionist, and was connected with the
underground railroad, William was
living at home when Isaac and Sarah


made their visit to Washington, and
remembers the details of the trip as
it was told by his parents.

Isaac Harvey does not seem to have
told Nellie Blessing-Eyster the sub-
ject matter of the concern which took
him to the capital and the White
House. William says that his father
suggested to President Lincoln the
advisability of stopping hostilities, on
an agreement of the Government to
pay to the owners $300 for each man,
woman and child held in bondage in
the country. The President felt sure
that such a proposition would not be
accepted by the leaders or the rank
and file of the Confederacy.

Compensated emancipation, how-


ever, was not a new idea for President

Lincoln. In Third month, 1862, he
suggested that Congress pass a joint
resolution providing that the United
States co-operate with any State
which may adopt gradual emancipa-
tion, to the extent of giving pecuniary
aid to any commonwealth which
should adopt this policy. This reso-
lution passed both houses of Congress,
but no practical result followed. It is
well to remember that the original or
preliminary draft of the Proclamation
provided for the compensation of all
loyal people, on the close of the rebel-
lion, for all losses incurred by them,
including the loss of slaves.

Whether the visit of Isaac and


Sarah Harvey helped to hasten the

initial draft of the Emancipation Pro-
clamation is a question which must al-
ways remain in the field of conjecture.

But one thing is certain, there was a

very sudden and rather remarkable

change in the President's mind on the

subject. This followed several events

which came in rapid order. On the

19th of Eighth month, 1862, Horace
Greeley issued his famous open letter

to the President, entitled, "The Pray-
er of Twenty Millions." It was an-
swered bv the President on the 22d,
in one of Lincoln's most terse and epi-
grammatic utterances. At that time
he did not see that a vigorous emanci-
pation policy on the part of the Pres-


ident would be wise or helpful. On
the 13th of Ninth month a delegation
from Protestant churches in Chicago
visited the President, and vigorously
urged him to take a pronounced stand
for the overthrow of slavery. Still he
was not convinced.

On the 19th, three days later, the
Harveys were at the White House,
and on the 22d the country was elec-
trified by the preliminary draft of the
Emancipation Proclamation being
flashed over the wires.

Such was the order of events lead-
ing up to one of the epoch-making

acts in human history. Remembering
how responsive Lincoln was to the
finer and deeper motives and emotions
of the human heart, it is not hard to


believe that the visit of Isaac and
Sarah Harvey came to the Great Pres-
ident as a sort of spiritual revelation,
confirming the external events and in-
ternal leadings which caused President
Lincoln to make the final decision in
the case as he did and when he did.

In any event, the story as told by
Nellie Blessing-Eyster is worth pre-
serving for its portrayal of the light
and leading of a Friend who repre-
sented the spirit of an older time, and
also for its connection with Abraham
Lincoln, now being considered the typ-
ical, if not the First American.

Copies of this booklet can be had for five
cents each, post paid, by addressing Henry
W. Wilbur, 140 North 15th Street, Phila-
delphia, Pa.




Online LibraryHenry Watson WilburFriends with Lincoln in the White House : adapted from Nellie Blessing-Eyster's story → online text (page 1 of 1)