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Amos Fortune Forum: ‘How did young Lincoln become our Lincoln?’

  • Jonathan F. Putnam speaks at the Amos Fortune Forum in Jaffrey about how a young Abraham Lincoln became our Lincoln. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Jonathan F. Putnam speaks at the Amos Fortune Forum in Jaffrey about how a young Abraham Lincoln became our Lincoln. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • Jonathan F. Putnam speaks at the Amos Fortune Forum in Jaffrey about how a young Abraham Lincoln became our Lincoln. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, July 30, 2018 5:56PM

Jonathan F. Putnam is on a journey to showcase a lesser-recognized side of the nation’s 16th president.

The author and trial lawyer spoke at the Amos Fortune Forum at the Jaffrey Meetinghouse on Friday to talk about his books series, the Lincoln and Speed mystery series, and how a young Abraham Lincoln became the president everyone pictures in their head.

“If you picture Lincoln bearded, he grew a beard for the first time during the 1860 election,” Putnam said. “If you think about him bearded, you are essentially thinking about his last five years.”

Putnam’s journey as an author began in 2006 when he was at his parents’ house in Jaffrey researching famous historical lawyers. After deciding on Lincoln, it took Putnam a decade to publish his first book.

“What I was trying to explore in my books is where that Lincoln comes from,” Putnam said, referring to the Lincoln many picture in their minds.

The Lincoln and Speed series focuses on a younger Abraham Lincoln and his close friend Joshua Speed solving murder mysteries. Putnam has released three books to date, with “Final Resting Place” coming out a few weeks ago.

“I sometimes compare my stories to Sherlock Holmes on the frontier, with Lincoln as a Holmes character… and Speed as the Watson character,” Putnam said. “… when I was reading about Speed, I said I had found my Dr. Watson, I found my narrator.”

Putnam said he has built his murder mysteries on top of the real life friendship of the two men, keeping many things as historically accurate as possible. The plots from the books come from real-life legal cases that Lincoln worked on, albeit with some rearranged facts.

“There’s a murder, someone is accused of the crime, and Lincoln defends the accused man. In order to properly defend the accused man, he needs to figure out who did it,” Putnam said.

When Speed and Lincoln met, Lincoln was nowhere close to the man that became the President of the United States of America in 1861.

Putnam said Lincoln showed up in Speed’s store with two saddles bags containing all of his possessions, asking for a bed to sleep in. Lincoln had come to Springfield, Illinois to become an attorney – his latest attempt to make something of himself.

Lincoln didn’t have much as he had already failed as a storekeeper. Lincoln didn’t have the money to pay for a bed, but offered to pay Speed back later in the year.

The two would share a bed, something not uncommon for two younger men in that time period.

“That was the start of a life-long friendship between the two men,” Putnam said. They lived together from 1837 to 1941.

At this moment in time, Lincoln was 28 years old, almost exactly halfway through his 56 years of life. Lincoln met Speed exactly 28 years before he was killed, Putnam said.

“When I started doing research… and understanding the role that young Speed played in shaping young Lincoln, that’s when I became interested in telling these stories,” Putnam said.

In his most recent book, Putnam said he begins to explore elements of Lincoln’s past coming back to haunt him, including his relationship with his father and his first love, Ann Rutledge.

Putnam is due to publish another book in the series next year, continuing his exploration of a young Lincoln and Speed.

“I do have a more serious goal, a more serious project, and that’s to start looking at this question: how did young Lincoln become our Lincoln,” Putnam said.

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.