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Museum of American History Discovers Secret Message in Lincoln’s Watch

 And to share the new knowledge, the museum has posted a 3-minute video about the watch on YouTube.

The Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History has discovered a secret message carved in a pocket watch owned by Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s watch, with inscription

And to share the new knowledge, the museum has posted a 3-minute video about the watch on YouTube.

According to NMAH, Lincoln himself never knew of the message in the watch, engraved 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 that he worked for a Washington watchmaker and was repairing Lincoln’s watch when the owner of the shop announced that the first shot of the Civil War had been fired.

According to NMAH, he told The Times 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.

After being contacted by Dillon’s great-great-grandson, Doug Stiles of Waukegan, Ill., the museum agreed to remove the dial to see if the watchmaker’s message was inside.

The museum did in fact find a message inscribed on the brass underside of the movement, slightly different that from Dillon’s own recollection.

The actual engraving says.

Jonathan Dillon
April 13-1861
Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked
by the rebels on the above
date J Dillon
April 13-1861
thank God we have a government
Jonth Dillon

“Lincoln never knew of the message he carried in his pocket,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “It’s a personal side of history about an ordinary watchman being inspired to record something for posterity.”

Smithsonian Institute Museum of National History