On July 16, 1882, one hundred and thirty years ago today, Mary Ann (Todd) Lincoln (1818-1882), widow of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), died in Springfield, Sangamon Co., Illinois, USA. Although I am not a descendant of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, there is a claim in a branch of my family that there is a connection to Mary (Todd) Lincoln.
Sally (Todd) Thornton (1793-1891), my 6th great grandmother, always claimed throughout much of her long life that she and the First Lady were distant cousins. Sharing the surname Todd and having a connection to Kentucky (where Mary was born) undoubtedly was all that was needed to convince Sally of her relationship to the wife of the 16th President of the United States. When I discovered this claim, I set out to learn if it had any truth to it.
Sally’s family did come from Kentucky, as did Mary’s, but hers came from Madison County, while Mary’s came from Fayette County, which shares a border with Madison County. Mary’s grandfather, Maj. Gen. Levi Todd (1756-1807), appears to have settled in Kentucky prior to 1792, while Sally’s grandfather, Benjamin Todd (1725-1810), came around 1797. Both Sally’s and Mary’s grandfathers came from Pennsylvania, with Sally’s being from Northampton County and Mary’s being from the nearby Montgomery County. Both of their great grandfathers were also from Pennsylvania as well.
However, it is with their 2nd great grandfather’s that the story shifts. Sally’s 2nd great grandfather, Joshua Todd (ca. 1685-1721), was born in Pennsylvania the son of Joseph Todd (1645-1699), who was born in Eling, Hampshire, England. Mary’s 2nd great grandfather, Robert Todd (1697-1780), was born in County Armagh, Ireland and immigrated to Pennsylvania prior to 1725.
The ancestral lines prior to their 2nd great grandfathers become difficult to trace and confirm for both Sally and Mary. Both are claimed to either be of English or Scottish ancestry prior this generation. Most argue that Joseph Todd (Sally’s 3rd great grandfather) was the son of a John Todd (1594-1678), also of Eling, whose father, William Todd (1569-1617) was from Scotland. As for Mary, her 2nd great grandfather’s ancestry is said to be either English or Scottish prior to their presence in Ireland, with many claiming that the father of Robert was a James Todd (ca. 1638-1669), who is said to have been born in Scotland and died in Ireland.
Despite the remarkable similarities in journeys within the United States between their families, I have yet to find any connection or evidence that Sally (Todd) Thornton was indeed a distant cousin of Mary (Todd) Lincoln. Perhaps a connection still exists, but the significant challenges in tracing either line with certainty beyond their respective 2nd great grandfathers makes it unlikely that it will ever be discovered.
Although it is very likely that there is little merit to her claim of kinship to one of the most famous First Families in U.S. history, Sally remains for me a fascinating person to look at in my ancestry. It is interesting to note that her long life began in the presidency of George Washington, the 1st President of the United States, and ended, at the age of 98, during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States. It must have been amazing to witness all that she did.
Sally and her husband, William Thornton (1792-1858), are direct ancestors of my 4th great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who, together with her husband John Agee (1839-1912), are direct ancestors of my 2nd great grandmother, Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who is the mother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who was the wife of Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).