Doncaster man was best friends with US president Abraham Lincoln

Bentley man William Marsh became good friends with US president Abraham Lincoln.
Bentley man William Marsh became good friends with US president Abraham Lincoln.

An incredible story has been uncovered of how a Doncaster man became best friends with legendary American president Abraham Lincoln.

Painstaking research by local historian Alison Vainlo has unearthed the tale of how William Marsh, a miller’s son from Bentley, ended up rubbing shoulders with the President in the White House.

She said: “It is an extraordinary story. He should be the most famous man in Bentley. As his life unfolded, I couldn’t believe it had remained hidden for so long.”

The tale begins in February 1826 when William was born to John and Hannah Marsh, who owned and ran a corn mill in Finkle Street.

The couple’s fourth child was educated at Arksey School and originally worked in the coal trade and railway industry, marrying his wife Charlotte in 1853.

After a failed attempt at setting up in Hull as a wine and beer merchant, in 1855 the family decided to set sail for America to – which is where William’s life in politics first began.

They settled in Kansas where William managed a large estate and, as a keen poet, submitted poetry to the Washington Home Journal.

It was his writing that led to him cross paths with Lincoln after the family moved to Springfield, Illinois.

He began working in the grain trade and he had a series of political articles published in the Springfield Journal – which brought him to the attention of Lincoln – but at that stage, Lincoln was not president.

Lincoln became a frequent guest of the Marsh household, and Mrs Marsh began teaching music to Mr Lincoln’s children.

In 1860 Lincoln was nominated for the presidency.

William assisted in the campaign by capturing a series of photographs of the politician who seized power in 1861.

As a thank you, he was given a job in the Interior Department and, in return, the couple named their son Lincoln Bennet Marsh in the president’s honour.

He was later handpicked by Lincoln to oversee political crises in Denmark, and eventually returned to Doncaster where he died in 1912, aged 86.

Alison said: “It is a marvellous story. I am glad we can bring the story to even more Doncaster folk.”

* To read Alison’s full fascinating story of William Marsh’s friendship with Lincoln, visit


Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

He led the United States through its Civil War – its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis.

In so doing he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernised the economy.

His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became an iconic statement of America’s dedication to the principles of nationalism, liberty, and democracy.

Six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in a theatre.