Joshua Fry Speed



“Well, Speed, I’m moved!” — Abraham Lincoln, 1837


Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed became friends on April 15, 1837. The story is a familiar one. Young, lanky Lincoln rode into Springfield, Illinois, with nothing more than his saddlebags. Inquiring at the general store about lodging, Speed, a coproprietor (who knew him by reputation), offered to share his bed with Lincoln—on credit. In the few minutes it took to climb the stairs and drop his bags, Lincoln had made a new home and a lifelong friend.


Both of these Illinois Whigs hailed from Kentucky—but from very different circumstances.  Joshua Speed, the younger of the two, was the son of Judge James and Lucy (Fry) Speed. Raised at Farmington, the family’s plantation estate near Louisville, Joshua received a superb private education and a year at St. Joseph’s Academy before moving to Springfield in 1835.


During 1837-41, Lincoln’s friendship with Joshua Speed flourished. Speed introduced his socially awkward friend to Ninian and Elizabeth (Todd) Edwards—in whose home he met his future wife, Mary Todd of Lexington. Their most intense period of friendship culminated in the few weeks they spent together at Farmington in 1841. Soon after, Joshua returned to Louisville, marrying Fannie Henning in 1842, and quickly becoming an active member of the community. Both friends settled into careers, and correspondence lessened. After a term in the state legislature during 1848-49, Speed and brother-in-law William Henning soon formed a successful real estate partnership. A successful businessman from 1853 to 1855, Speed also served as president of the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad.


By 1860, Speed was a Democrat. He disagreed with Lincoln over slavery, stringently protested John C. Fremont’s proclamation of military emancipation, and advised Lincoln against issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, during the Civil War he remained one of Lincoln’s most loyal friends and an important Kentucky Unionist. Early on, he assisted in the distribution of “Lincoln guns.” Throughout the war, he kept Lincoln abreast of the situation in Kentucky and made numerous confidential trips to Washington. Two weeks before Lincoln’s assassination, Joshua Speed saw his friend one last time.


Joshua Fry Speed

Courtesy of The Filson Historical Society