The close but unlikely friendship between Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley would be permanently shattered by what Mrs. Lincoln would consider a gross betrayal. It was not intended as such.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Debts
When Mary Lincoln was First Lady, merchants in New York and Philadelphia were delighted to grant her unlimited credit. She ran up huge bills that her husband knew nothing about.
Once Abraham Lincoln was dead, however, the merchants had no reason to court his widow. They began dunning her for payment. Mary confessed to Elizabeth Keckley, her mulatto dressmaker and close confidante, that she believed she owed about $38,000 – an enormous sum. Modern historians have tried, but have never been able to make an exact calculation. Historian Jean Baker surmises the debts were more like $10,000 –…
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