Our current Fine Autographs and Artifacts auction (Jan. 19 – Feb. 7) includes a featured section relating to US Presidents. There are many unique and rare documents, but here is one stand-out: A land grant signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
The item (Lot 53) is considered “excessively rare” and was signed by President Lincoln on Jan. 2, 1863 – the very day after signing the Emancipation Proclamation into law, ending slavery in the United States.
In it, President Lincoln grants 120 acres of land in St. Cloud, Minnesota, to “Margaret Donnell Widow of Eli Donnell who served in the name of Eli Donnald Private Captain Harpole’s Company Tennessee Militia War 1812.” The document states the plot of land has “been assigned by the said Margaret Donnell to George H. Marsh and by him to Emma C. Stebbins now Emma C. King in whose favor said tract has been located.”
A history of the land grant
The rather mundane presidential practice of signing land grants was discontinued in 1833 during Andrew Jackson’s second term, when Congress passed a law authorizing the president to appoint a special secretary to sign them on his behalf. It is therefore incredibly rare to find an authentically signed land grant after that.
Indeed, this is the only Lincoln-signed land grant we have ever encountered, and our research suggests that no other authentically signed example has appeared at auction. The vast majority of land grants issued during the Lincoln administration were signed by William O. Stoddard, who was specifically appointed for the task on July 15, 1861.
The ultimate recipient of this parcel of land, Emma C. King, was the wife of Horatio Collins King, son of politician Horatio King, who briefly served as postmaster general at the end of the Buchanan administration. Lincoln and the elder King saw eye-to-eye on many issues, and in April 1862 President Lincoln appointed Horatio King to the three-man Emancipation Commission, which reviewed petitions for compensation by DC-area slave-owners affected by the end of slavery in the district. In September, Lincoln issued a warning that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion by the new year.
Rare and Remarkable
The vellum document is boldly signed at the conclusion by President Lincoln, and countersigned by Recorder of the General Land Office G. W. Granger. The printed “By Sec’y” text beside Lincoln’s signature has been struck through, signifying that the president himself signed the document—a highly unusual occurrence.
In addition to being an unheard of format for a Lincoln signature, this remarkable document dates to a defining moment in American history and landmark achievement of Lincoln’s legacy.