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Joshua Fry Speed
Portrait of Joshua Fry Speed as a young man.
Born November 14, 1814
Louisville, Kentucky
Died May 29, 1882
Louisville, Kentucky

Joshua Fry Speed (November 14, 1814–May 29, 1882) was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln from his days in Springfield, Illinois, where Speed was a partner in a general store. Later, Speed was a farmer and a real estate investor in Kentucky, and also served one term in the Kentucky Legislature.


Joshua Fry Speed was born at Farmington, the estate of the Speed family in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the fifth son of Judge John Speed and Lucy Gilmer Fry Speed, both of prominent slave-holding families.

Joshua Speed's father, Judge John Speed (May 17, 1772 - March 30, 1840) was born in Charlotte County, Virginia. John was first married to Abby Lemaster (d. July, 1807). They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.

  • Thomas Speed
  • Mary Speed (born 1800)
  • Eliza Speed (born 1805)
  • James Speed

John was then married to Lucy Gilmer Fry (March 23, 1788 - January 27, 1874). Lucy was born in Albemarle County, Virginia. They had eleven children.

  • Thomas Speed (September 15, 1809 - 1812)
  • Lucy Fry Speed (born February 26, 1811 - 1893). Later married to James D. Breckinridge.
  • James Speed (March 11, 1812 - June 12, 1887)
  • Peachy Walker Speed (May 4, 1813 - January 18, 1881)
  • Joshua Fry Speed (1814 - 1882)
  • William Pope Speed (April 26, 1816 - June 28, 1863)
  • Susan Fry Speed (born September 30, 1817 - 1888)
  • Major Philip Speed (April 12, 1819] - November 1, 1882)
  • John Smith Speed (born January 1, 1821 - 1886)
  • Martha Bell Speed (born September 8, 1822 - 1903)
  • Ann Pope Speed (November 5, 1831 - 1838)

Early adulthood[]

Young Joshua Speed attended St. Joseph's Academy in Bardstown, like the sons of many wealthy families in Kentucky. He was apparently not content to follow in the footsteps of his father. Speed set out in 1835 for Springfield, Illinois, to try his fortune in the Midwest. At the time, Springfield was a town with a population of fewer than 1,500 people. Almost immediately upon arriving there, Speed engaged in merchandising and assisted in editing a local newspaper.

Speed and Lincoln[]

Speed had heard the young Lincoln speak on the stump when Lincoln was running for election to the Illinois legislature. On April 15, 1837, Lincoln arrived at Springfield, the new state capital, in order to seek his fortune as a young lawyer whereupon he met Joshua Speed. Lincoln sublet Joshua's apartment above Speed's store becoming his room mate and his lifelong best friend.

On March 30, 1840, Judge John Speed died. Joshua announced plans to sell the store and return to his parent's large plantation home, Farmington, near Louisville, Kentucky. Lincoln, though notoriously awkward and shy around women, was at the time engaged to Mary Todd, a vivacious, if temperamental, society girl. As the dates approached Speed's departure and his own marriage, Lincoln broke the engagement on the planned day of the wedding (January 1, 1841). Speed departed as planned soon after, leaving Lincoln mired in depression and guilt.

Seven months later, in July 1841, still depressed, Lincoln visited Speed in Kentucky. Speed welcomed Lincoln to his paternal house where the latter spent a month regaining his perspective and his health. During his stay in Farmington, Lincoln rode into Louisville almost daily to discuss legal matters of the day with attorney James Speed- Joshua's older brother. Joshua Speed began a courtship with Fanny Henning (1820-1902) and married on February 15, 1842.[1] They remained married until his death.

Lincoln, during his presidential administration (March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865), several times offered Speed a government appointment. Speed refused each time, choosing to help in other ways. Speed disagreed with Lincoln on the slavery question but remained loyal, and coordinated Union activities in Kentucky during the American Civil War. His brother, James Speed, however, did agree to serve as Lincoln's United States Attorney General beginning in November 1864. In explaining the nomination to Congress, Lincoln acknowledged that he did not know James as well as he knew Joshua.[2]

Later activities[]


Joshua Speed interment, along with Fanny Henning Speed, in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky

Following the assassination of Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, Speed organized a memorial service in Louisville for the departed leader. He also pledged his support to the administration of succeeding President Andrew Johnson (term April 15, 1865 - March 3, 1869). Sixty members of the Speed family gave money for a monument to honor Lincoln in Springfield. Joshua Speed also wrote lengthy letters to William Herndon, a former law partner of Lincoln who had set about to write a biography of Lincoln.

Joshua Speed died on May 29, 1882, in Louisville, Kentucky. He is interred in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

In 1999, author and gay activist Larry Kramer claimed that he had uncovered new primary sources which shed fresh light on Lincoln's sexuality. The sources included a hitherto unknown Joshua Speed diary and letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his relationship with Lincoln. These items were supposedly discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, and are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa.[3] Kramer has yet to publish any of this material for critical evaluation, and historian Gabor Boritt, referring to Kramer's documents, wrote, "Almost certainly this is a hoax ... ."[4]

Further family and ancestry information[]

Joshua Speed and his wife Fannie Henning had no children, though they enjoyed close relationships with several of their nephews and nieces.

Joshua was a seventh generation descendant of antiquarian cartographer and historian John Speed (1552 - July 28, 1629) and his wife Susanna Draper. He was born in Farndon, Cheshire, England to an even older John Speed. His further origin is unknown. He settled in London and was a member of the Merchant Taylors' Company. His surviving maps, compiled originally in books, have been largely broken up and dispersed, as have been his writings, notably the genealogies in the King James Bible in Latin. His last will and testament mention him having twelve sons and six daughters.

He was a sixth generation descendant of an elder Dr. John Speed, M.D. (1595 - May, 1640) and his wife Margaret Warner. John entered Merchant Taylors' School in January, 1603/1604. He became a Scholar of St John's College, Oxford in October, 1612. He received a Bachelor of Arts on May 3, 1620. He was named a Fellow of St John's College and became M.D. on June 20, 1628.

He was a fifth generation descendant of Dr. John Speed, M.D. (November 4, 1628 - September 21, 1711). John was born in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. He entered Merchant Taylors' School in September, 1640. He was elected Fellow of St John's College, Oxford in June, 1644. He received a Bachelor of Arts on February 1, 1647/1648. He was expelled from the University of Oxford on May 15, 1648 and was dismissed from his Fellowship in October of the same year. He was reinstated in 1660 following the Restoration of Charles II of England to the throne. He received a Master's degree on September 20, 1660 and became M.D. on June 19, 1666. He settled in Southampton around 1667. He served twice as Mayor of Southampton (1681 - 1682, 1693 - 1694).

He was a fourth generation descendant of James Bernard Speed (September 28, 1679 - March 15, 1719). James was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England and immigrated to Surry County, Virginia in 1695. On September 6, 1711, James was married to Mary Pulley (born c. 1693).

He was a great-grandson of a senior John Speed (February 5, 1714 - March 8, 1785) and his wife Mary Mintrey (c. 1706 - July 1, 1782). He was also a great-grandson of Militia Colonel John Fry (son of Joshua Fry and Mary Micou Hill) and his wife Sarah Adams. Sarah was younger sister to Thomas Adams.

His paternal grandfather was Captain James Speed (March 4, 1740 - September 3, 1811), a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. His paternal grandmother was Mary Spencer (October 20, 1742 - March 5, 1829), daughter of Thomas Spencer, Sr and Elizabeth Julia Flourney. His maternal grandfather was Lieutenant Joshua Fry, another veteran of the American Revolutionary War. His namesake also represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1785 to 1786. His maternal grandmother was Peachy Walker, daughter of Dr. Thomas Walker and Mildred Thornton Meriwether of Castle Hill.

See also[]

  • List of people from Louisville, Kentucky
  • Louisville in the American Civil War
  • Sexuality of Abraham Lincoln


  1. Ishbel Ross. The President's wife: Mary Todd Lincoln: a biography. 1973, p 44.
  2. Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005), Team of Rivals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 676. ISBN 978-0-684-82490-1.
  3. Carol Lloyd Was Lincoln Gay? Salon Ivory Tower May 3, 1999
  4. Gabor Boritt, The Lincoln Enigma: The Changing Faces of an American Icon, Oxford University Press, 2001, p.xiv.

Further reading[]

  • Bush, Bryan S. (2008). Lincoln and the Speeds: The Untold Story of a Devoted and Enduring Friendship. Morley, Missouri: Acclaim Press. ISBN 978-0-9798802-6-1. 

External links[]

no:Joshua Fry Speed sv:Joshua Fry Speed