Monmouth County history: The hunt for Deborah Lincoln’s tombstone


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By Thomas K. Robbins

President Abraham Lincoln did not know his ancestors and dismissed questions about his
ancestry saying, “I don’t know who my grandfather was, and am much more concerned
to know what his grandson will be.”

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Although he was not interested in learning about his forefathers, Miss Ida Tarbell certainly was.

Ida Tarbell was a famous investigative journalist in the early 1900s who wrote best-selling books on various topics including Standard Oil, Napoleon Bonaparte and Abraham Lincoln.

It was while working on her book “In the Footsteps of the Lincolns” that she began her journey to discover the Lincolns of New Jersey.

Her research led her to Freehold in August 1922, searching for Richard Saltar, the President’s third great-grandfather whose daughter, Hannah, married Mordecai Lincoln. She had the notion the Saltars lived in Freehold, but was mistaken.

Tarbell checks the courthouse for any records on the Lincolns, but comes up empty. She proceeds to the library and that is a dead end, too.

However, the librarian directs her to the local newspaper offices which Tarbell visits and where she finds Maxim Applegate at the Inquirer offices, who tells Ida something she did not know – Mordecai and Hannah Lincoln had a child, a little girl buried at Covell’s Hill. This is news to Tarbell.

The next day she uses a taxi to drive out to Clarksburg (Millstone Township) looking for a church and graveyard Applegate described as being the site of Covell Hill.

At the top of a hill outside town, she spots white gravestones, but no church. With rain drizzling down and not dressed for tramping around in the bush, she makes her way up to the top of the hill.

There she finds graves that “… are grown up with high grass, poison ivy, huckleberries
and all sorts of low stuff.”

From her notes it seems she is looking for Mordecai’s tombstone as well since she writes, “… Here are many old grave stones such as I never saw before, the natural red sand stones, as flat as they could get them but quite unworked, jagged and rough, no initials that I could find. If there is a M.L. anywhere, I did not find it or anything else that Applegate had promised, such as many tomb stones of Jemisons(sp).”

She leaves the cemetery and ends up at Mrs. Rue’s, sister to Mr. Joseph Holmes who claimed he was related to the Lincolns.

Mrs. Rue shows her a manuscript of the family genealogy where the inscription of Deborah Lincoln’s tombstone was documented. It read: Deborah Lincon, 3 years 4 months, 1720.

Tarbell returns to New Jersey on Aug. 14, traveling to Trenton to conduct research at the courthouse for land transfers related to the Lincolns.

Later that night back at the hotel, she reviewed her copy of J. Henry Lea’s “The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln” and found a passage where Lea writes that Deborah Lincoln is buried in

The next day, Tarbell takes a taxi to Allentown and visits a graveyard in the back of a house on Church Street.

Coming up empty, she asks if there is anyone in town who may know about the tombstone. The owner of the house says an old man down the street may know something.

Tarbell knocks on his door and describes the feeling of meeting him as “… same
kind of feeling I have when looking for china I come upon a Loewstof (Lowestof) or see
a real Windsor or find a factory that I know is a labor factory or an employer that I know
realizes what human beings are … real things. I had found one, Charles Hutchinson, 25
years a store keeper in Freehold (Allentown), 29 years insurance and land office work.

“Through all this time he had been gathering information about Monmouth – its history
and its settlers, putting it down in ledgers in a hand so precise and neat that it was like
copper-plate – not an erasure, not a blot, not a crooked or hasty letter. Almost perfect

Did Mr. Hutchinson know about Deborah Lincoln? Of course, and he informed Tarbell she was not buried in Allentown, but at Covell Hill about “… four or five miles from here … at the place in which I started.”

Hutchinson pulls out one of his books and shows Tarbell the same tombstone inscription Mrs. Rue had.

A month later they begin corresponding with each other and Hutchinson sends Tarbell a photograph of the tombstone she ended up using in her book.

Thomas K. Robbins is a resident of Havre de Grace, Md., and a descendant of the Robbins family of the Allentown-Upper Freehold Township area.

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