1861: Secret Message in Lincoln’s Pocketwatch
“In 2009 the Smithsonian found a “secret” message engraved in Abraham Lincoln’s watch by a watchmaker who was repairing it in 1861 when news of the attack on Fort Sumter reached Washington, D.C.
“In an interview with The New York Times April 30, 1906, 84-year-old Jonathan Dillon recalled he was working for M.W. Galt and Co. on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where he was repairing Lincoln’s watch. The owner of the shop announced that the first shot of the Civil War had been fired. Dillon reported that he unscrewed the dial of the watch, and with a sharp instrument wrote on the metal beneath:
“The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try.’
“He then signed and dated the inscription and closed the dial. Dillon told The New York Times in 1906 that to his knowledge, no one ever saw the inscription.
“After being contacted by Dillon’s great-great-grandson, the museum agreed to remove the dial to see if the watchmaker’s message was inside. The museum did find a message inscribed on the brass underside of the movement. The wording was slightly different from Dillon’s own recollection. The actual engraving says:
Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon
Washington Thank God we have a government