October 14, 1968, was a day like any other in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a rough year nationally for the Civil Rights Movement as the country still reeled from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April and Robert Francis Kennedy in June. The Civil Rights Movement, arguably set in motion by the emancipation of slaves achieved due to the political genius of the 16th president a little over 100 years previous, would survive these losses and continue thriving into the 21st century.
ABE LINCOLN’S DESCENDANTS
But while the legacy of Abraham Lincoln has thrived up to the present day, his progeny has not fared equally well. Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons, but only one son survived to adulthood. Edward Baker Lincoln, the second eldest son, died of tuberculosis or thyroid cancer at the age of 3 in 1850. Lincoln’s third son, William Wallace Lincoln, succumbed to what was likely typhoid fever at age 11 in 1862. He died in the White House during his father’s presidency. The youngest Lincoln son, Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, lived to the age of 18, six years past his father’s assassination. Only the eldest son, Robert, would survive to adulthood, and it was through him that Lincoln’s line would continue.
Robert married Mary Eunice Harlan and had three children. His youngest child, Jesse Harlan Lincoln, married Warren Wallace Beckwith, and they had two children: Mary Lincoln Beckwith and Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. Mary Lincoln Beckwith died childless in 1975. Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith would widely be considered the last direct descendant of Honest Abe when he died, presumably also childless, in 1985. But 17 years earlier, on October 14, 1968, the eventually thrice-married, 63-year-old playboy’s 27-year-old second wife had given birth to a son and named him Timothy Lincoln Beckwith.
SETTLED ESTATE, UNSETTLED QUESTIONS
The problem with the lineage of this son, born to Annemarie Hoffman Beckwith, is that Robert Beckwith had undergone a vasectomy six years prior and was supposedly confirmed by a doctor to be completely sterile. Robert Beckwith divorced Annemarie, whom he accused of adultery, and the divorce court ordered blood tests to confirm the paternity of the child. Annemarie, who was raised in Hanover, Germany, fled with her son to Europe to avoid complying with the court’s wishes. The divorce court ruled that Timothy Lincoln Beckwith was the product of an adulterous relationship; however, he retained the right to pursue a future claim of being heir to the Lincoln estate.
The Mary Harlan Lincoln Trust, established by the wife of Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert, consisted of a significant amount of money to be distributed to three beneficiaries in the absence of a bloodline heir: The American Red Cross, First Church of Christ Scientist, and Iowa Wesleyan College. These beneficiaries agreed to provide Timothy Beckwith a considerable settlement from this Trust at the time of Robert Beckwith’s death in exchange for his relinquishing any future claims as heir to the Lincoln Estate.
Most articles, museums, and other sources espouse the belief that Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, who died in 1985, was the last living descendant of President Abraham Lincoln. The circumstantial evidence, such as Annemarie Hoffman Beckwith’s defiance of the court’s request for a blood sample from her son, Timothy Beckwith’s acceptance of a settlement from the three beneficiaries of the Lincoln Estate, and Timothy’s reluctance to speak on the subject, as highlighted in a USA Today article from February 6, 2013, also seems to indicate that Abraham Lincoln’s direct line of descendants ended with the death of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith in 1985.
The stories and events surrounding the Lincoln family after the president’s death offer a shadowy aura of mystery and mystique to contrast the whitewashed veneration of his life. From the unusually long span of time it took Abraham Lincoln to reach his final resting place to the relatively short span of years until his progeny were no more, there is seemingly no part of the Lincoln story which lacks the interesting details necessary to captivate students of American History.