March 11, 2009
Rumor had it, as the Civil War began, Jonathan Dillon, a watchmaker on Pennsylvania Ave., carved an inscription in Lincoln’s watch. A hundred and fifty years later the rumor was confirmed.
“Jonathan Dillon April 13 – 1861,” part of the inscription reads, “Fort Sumpter (sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date.” Another part reads, “Thank God we have a government.”
The words were etched in tiny cursive handwriting and filled the space between tiny screws and gears that jutted through the metal plate. A magnifying glass was required to read them.
Dillon’s story was passed down among his family and friends, eventually reaching a New York Times reporter. In a 1906 article in the paper, an 84-year-old Dillon said no one, including Lincoln, ever saw the inscription as far as he knew.
Dillon had a fuzzy recollection of what he had engraved. He told the newspaper he had written: “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a president who at least will try.”