“In 2009 the Smithsonian found a “secret” message engraved in Abraham Lincoln’s watch 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 he was working for M.W. Galt and Co. on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where he was repairing Lincoln’s watch. The owner of the shop announced that the first shot of the Civil War had been fired. Dillon reported 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. Dillon told The New York Times in 1906 that to his knowledge, no one ever saw the inscription. 

“After being contacted by Dillon’s great-great-grandson, the museum agreed to remove the dial to see if the watchmaker’s message was inside. The museum did find a message inscribed on the brass underside of the movement. The wording was slightly different 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
Washington Thank God we have a government
Jonth Dillon


“Lincoln never knew of the message he carried in his pocket,” said the director of the National Museum of American History. This inscription remained hidden behind the dial for almost 150 years.’

Smithsonian Museum

9 Responses

  1. qka

    There seems to be more in the picture than in your article. Starting with the very prominent “Jeff Davis” on the pice over the gear wheel. [Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America, e.g. "The South".]

    • Avatar of Scout Paget
      Scout Paget

      It is oddly obvious that the text of this article is out of sync with the engravings on this watch. Even the referenced New York Times article is off. *in-ter-es-ting*

      ReplyReport user
  2. John Fink

    The Jeff Davis inscription may have been made later as the signature above it looks like L. E. Grofs Sept 1864.

  3. David H

    Looks like someone else saw the inscription. The year 1864 also appears to have been scratched into the brass by the central shaft. Above and to the left of the Jeff Davis. There is more to the story, I am sure.

  4. CrHuntington

    It says Sept 1864 Wash DC. In regards to this and what appears to be the name Jeff Davis the only thing I could find is a letter from Pres. Lincoln to Gen. Sherman dated Sept. 27, 1864. Not sure why this would be carved into the watch (or by whom) or if it’s even related but it’s food for thought.

    Letter: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=lincoln;rgn=div1;view=text;idno=lincoln8;node=lincoln8%3A63

    Also: http://www.thelincolnlog.org/view/1864/9

  5. Evan

    Chances are Lincoln knew about these inscriptions.

    Lincoln was known for taking things like watches apart and tinkering with them and rebuilding.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.