Lincoln’s 1835 Survey Donated

The original survey prepared in 1835 by Abraham Lincoln for John Kennedy Kincaid was donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois recently.

Lincoln and Kennedy were both from Kentucky and were in their mid 20’s when they arrived in Central Illinois.  Lincoln settled in New Salem where he was a store clerk and a surveyor.  Kincaid, an abolitionist educated in Greek and Latin, began buying up property and farmland near Athens, Illinois a few miles east of New Salem.

Deputy Sangamon County Surveyor Abe Lincoln helped Kincaid establish the boundaries of his property midway between Athens and New Salem.  The land was to supply Kincaid timber for his homestead.

Decades later, the Kincaid family had the survey document framed and it was passed down through the generations and proudly displayed.

At first glance, the document is no different than any other 19th century piece of bureaucracy – except for the “A. Lincoln” signature down at the bottom of the page in the future president’s handwriting.

Kim Bauer, Lincoln curator, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, sees more. 

“It’s showing here that Lincoln can take a complex subject like surveying, and boil it down to its basics,” Bauer said.  “Lincoln had the ability to take a subject and master it within a six-month period after taking it up.  It’s a nice example of a larger story”.

Lincoln’s first survey was performed in 1934.

Surveying was one of the first jobs where he had a much wider scope of being able to go out, meet and greet and understand people,” Bauer said

In 1976, Kincaid’s great-grandson, also named John Kennedy Kincaid, and his wife Margaret, took the survey to Springfield and had is appraised. When they were told it was worth about $20,000, its life as a conversation piece ended.

“I took it to the lock box that afternoon,” recalled Margaret Kincaid, whose husband died in 1996.

Kincaid and her family decided to donate the survey to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  A ceremony was held in the museum’s Treasures Gallery where the survey will be on display along with the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s original survey plat of the town of Huron, Illinois.

“It needs to be in a place that is humidly-controlled,” Mrs. Kincaid said.  The family has been discussing how the document might be preserved, and the new museum is “the logical place,” she said.

Kincaid also said it’s time for the survey to belong to the public. 

Historians have known about the survey for years, and it has been published in books.  John Kennedy’s’ brother, Archibald, also had property surveyed by Lincoln and copies of the survey have appeared in books but the original survey is missing.

Mrs. Kincaid said her survey, inside its safe-deposit box in a Petersburg bank, has been reassessed since 1976.  She would not tell its worth, except to say that if someone had paid $20,000 for it in 1976, it would have been a very god investment.

Shown Left to right: Robert E. Church, Executive Director of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association is shown with Mrs. J. Kennedy (Margaret) Kincaid, Jr. along with the copy of the John Kennedy Kincaid survey performed by Abraham Lincoln in 1835.

Contact: Robert E. Church, Executive Director
Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association
Phone: (217) 498-8102