Joshua Fry Speed: an intimate friend

July 10, 2012

As the story goes Abraham Lincoln arrived in Springfield, Illinois during a housing shortage, and with two saddlebags under his arms he walked into a wooden two story building that housed a general store partly owned by Joshua Fry Speed, the son of Judge John Speed and member of a prominent Kentucky family. Lincoln, a seemingly hopeless man in a denim suit with very little money, walked up to the store’s counter to inquire about the furnishings for a bed.

Speed remembered ” I looked up at him, and I thought then as I think now, that I never saw so gloomy, and melancholy a face.”  After a short introduction he offered to share his bed upstairs  with Lincoln, pointing towards the staircase. Lincoln, saying nothing walked up the stairs, dropped his two saddlebags down on the floor, came back down the stairs and “with a face beaming with pleasure and smiles,”  declared; “Well Speed, I’m moved.”

Not only was Joshua from a well to do family and well educated, but he was also considered  to be quite good looking. Says one biographer “Joshua was a friendly, handsome, blue-eyed, medium sized youth with the culture and bearing of a gentleman.”  The two new friends got along right away, and soon enough were helping each other through their personal struggles.

In The Hypo,  I chose to focus on the friendship between Lincoln and Speed. Lincoln being a heavy hearted character and Speed being more of a jocular ladies man. And there shouldn’t be any concern with whether or not Joshua Speed was a womanizer. That is a well documented fact.One story I chose to include in my book involves Speed giving lincoln directions to a brothel to meet with a woman for sex. This section appeared in a comics anthology called HIVE published in Minneapolis and shortly afterwards I was asked by a few people if the story was true or not. It is a true story and is told in many Lincoln biographies.

I quote from the book Abraham Lincoln: A life  by Thomas Keneally:”His hulking bedfellow, Speed, was quite the womanizer, and kept ‘a pretty woman in the city.’ One day Lincoln asked Speed, ‘ Do you know where I can get some?’ According to Speed, he sent Lincoln with a note to this woman, who appears to be something of a prostitute. Lincoln and the girl stripped and were in bed before Lincoln remembered to ask about the price. The girl told him five dollars. Lincoln declared he could  afford to pay her only three dollars, and the girl said she would trust him for the rest, but Lincoln declared he had other debts to meet, and rose and clothed himself again. As he left, according to Speed’s secondhand telling of the encounter, the girl said, ‘You are the most conscientious man I ever saw.'”

One subject that the two men did not see eye to eye on was slavery. Lincoln protested slavery in public as early as 1837, while Speed was raised in a slave-holding family on a southern hemp plantation. And in 1840, after Judge John Speed had passed away, Joshua had to move back home to take care of the family plantation. During a visit Lincoln took to the farm in 1841 he saw for the first time slavery in action. He had witnessed slaves being sold in New Orleans almost ten years before, but never had he lived and breathed among working slaves. This was a very distressing experience for him. That trip in particular was important  for me to draw in The Hypo because it’s considered to be when Lincoln’s staunch position  against slavery was fully formed.

Speed in later years

One Response to “Joshua Fry Speed: an intimate friend”

  1. Thanks for doing this project, Mr. Van Sciver. Your artwork looks great, and I would hope will be well-received by those in the know with an appreciation of such things and an interest in Lincoln’s life. Well done.

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