April 12: William Marsh (1912)

The accompanying photograph of Abraham Lincoln was taken in May 1860, just two days after Lincoln won his party’s nomination for the presidency. A New Jersey convention delegate was visiting Lincoln in Springfield, IL and asked for a photograph. Lincoln replied he didn’t have a satisfactory one, but “we will walk out together and I will sit for one.” At fifty-one years old, Lincoln appears much younger in this photograph and innocent of the great toll the presidency would take on him. The local photographer was William Marsh. In the 1860 census, Marsh’s occupation is listed as “artist.” Photographers often described themselves as “artists” at the time. Marsh specialized in ambrotypes, a photograph which produces a positive image on a sheet of glass.

William Marsh’s life journey took many twists and turns. He was born in England and pursued a career in the railway industry before immigrating to the U.S. with his new bride in 1855. First they settled in Kansas where William managed a large landed estate for an English gentleman. When that agreement expired, the couple moved to Springfield, IL where William began working in the grain trade. Through some political articles he wrote, he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Marsh taught music to the Lincoln children and Lincoln was a frequent guest in the Marsh home. Once in Washington, Lincoln secured a clerk position for William at the Census Bureau. The Marshes first son was born shortly thereafter and on December 24, 1861, Lincoln Marsh was baptized at the Church of the Epiphany.

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