The Story Of Abraham Lincoln's Last Descendant, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

On May 30, 1922, the last remaining direct descendants of President Abraham Lincoln gathered together — along with numerous dignitaries, including President Warren G. Harding — to dedicate the newly finished Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., per the Knoxville Sentinel. Among those present was Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. He was just 17, the great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln, and would end up being the last of the 16th president's line.

While Lincoln guided the country through its most traumatic period during the Civil War before being cut down by an assassin's bullet in 1865, Beckwith — who went by Bud as a child and Bob as an adult — would live a less dramatic life. And, also unlike his ancestor, who dedicated his life to service, Beckwith was far less civic-minded. He told the press he was "a spoiled brat" whose interests included boats, fast cars, and women, according to "The Lincoln Family Album." He married three times but left no heirs when he died in 1985, per the Chicago Tribune.

Sole survivor

Robert Todd Lincoln — Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith's grandfather and namesake — was Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln's eldest son and the only one of their four boys to survive into adulthood. He was a captain in the Union Army during the last year of the Civil War and went on to serve two presidents — James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur — as secretary of war, according to Mr. Lincoln's Whitehouse. He later served as minister to Great Britain.

He and his wife, Mary Harlan, had two daughters, Jessie and Mary, who survived into adulthood, per The Miami Herald. Their only son, Abraham, who could have carried on the Lincoln name, died at age 16. Jessie Lincoln was married three times and had two children, Mary Todd Lincoln Beckwith — known as Peggy — and Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, per "The Lincoln Family Album." Her sister, Mary, had one child, Lincoln Isham. The Lincoln family's hope of continuing their line floundered when none of the next generation had children.

A poor student

When Robert Todd Lincoln died on July 26, 1926, his grandchildren — Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith and his sister Peggy — were visiting him at his summer home, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont, per the Associated Press. By that time, Beckwith, who was born in July 1904, had proven to be somewhat lazy and uninterested in his education. He'd run through both private and military school with a mediocre record and only attended Phillips Exeter, where his grandfather had gone, for two years before deciding not to go on to college, according to "The Last Lincolns: The Rise and Fall of a Great American Family."

A 1931 Journal News article described him as "a big, good-natured boy" (although he was by this time in his late 20s) who was "prone to being overweight" and "never has been much of a student." He also had a stutter that he blamed on an unstable childhood with two different stepfathers.

The final generation

Peggy Beckwith became a dairy farmer, amateur artist, equestrian and aviation enthusiast, per The Boston Globe. She lived a somewhat secluded life at Hildene, which she inherited, and never married or had children. Their cousin Lincoln Isham married but had no children and spent his time playing golf and hanging out at Manhattan's tony Stork Club, according to "The Last Lincolns."

It was up to Robert "Bob" Beckwith to carry on Lincoln's line. In 1937, he finally decided to settle down and marry Hazel Wilson, per The Evening Sun. But the fact that she was 20 years older than Beckwith meant there was little hope of the two having their own children. Beckwith did become a stepfather, though his two new children weren't that much younger than he was. Beckwith became good friends with one — James Wilson, only tens years his junior,  per "The Lincoln Family Album." Beckwith also went all out for his new stepdaughter, Doris, getting her into a prestigious prep school and giving her a lavish coming-out party.

[Featured image by Rolf Müller via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 3.0]

Paternity fight

Following the death of Bob Beckwith's first wife, he remarried in 1967. His second wife, Annemarie Hoffman, was 20 and Beckwith was 63, per "The Lincoln Family Album." She was born in Germany and was a foreign exchange student when the two met. It seemed possible that Lincoln's line might continue after all, especially after she became pregnant four months into the marriage. The only problem was that Beckwith had had a vasectomy and his chauffeur, an ex-con who'd served time for burglary named Jack Coffelt, may have been the father, according to "The Last Lincolns." Coffelt later claimed he was D.B. (or Dan) Cooper, the man who hijacked an airliner in 1971 and then parachuted out with a bag full of ransom money.

Beckwith divorced his wife alleging adultery, but the case dragged on for several years. In 1976, a Washington, D.C. appeals court ordered that the child — by then 7 and living in West Germany with his mother — receive a blood test to determine if he was Beckwith's heir, per UPI. She refused the order and the court finally granted Beckwith a divorce the next month, according to the Associated Press and The Evening Sun.

Gentleman farmer

Bob Beckwith spent most of the rest of his life as a self-described "gentleman farmer of independent means" on the farm he inherited — Woodstock — in Middlesex County, Virginia, per "The Last Lincolns." His cousin Lincoln Isham died in 1971 and his sister Peggy four years later leaving no children, according to Abraham Lincoln Online. Beckwith married one final time in 1981. He had no children with his third wife Margaret Fristoe either.

He died on Christmas Eve 1985 just four years into the marriage. He was 81 and living at a nursing home in Virginia because of advanced Parkinson's disease, per AP. While Beckwith attended Lincoln-related events over the years and donated many of his ancestor's papers and other artifacts to various organizations, he was never really interested in his great-grandfather. "I just want to live my own life," he told a reporter (via "The Lincoln Family Album").