the todd family
Mary Todd grew up in a town where people knew and respected her family. Her father and mother were from families who helped found Lexington, served in frontier military conflicts, started businesses, and participated in local politics.
Robert Smith Todd was born in 1791, a year before Kentucky became a state. Educated at Transylvania College, he studied law but chose to go into business. After co-owning a store, he became a partner in a cotton manufactory and president of the Lexington branch of the Bank of Kentucky. Involved in local politics as a justice of the peace and sheriff, he worked as the clerk of the state House of Representatives for over twenty years and was later elected to a term in the Kentucky Senate.
Less is known about Elizabeth “Eliza” Parker, who was born in 1794. The daughter of a prominent landowner and merchant, she may have attended one of Lexington’s female academies. Eliza’s father died in 1800 and her mother, also named Elizabeth Parker, remained unmarried until her death in 1850. Biographers believe that Mary Todd was close to her independent maternal grandmother.
Eliza married Robert in 1812, and the couple built a house beside Elizabeth Parker’s home. They had seven children: Elizabeth, Frances, Levi, Mary, Robert, Ann, and George. Robert died as an infant, and after George’s birth in 1825, Eliza died from complications. Mary was six at the time.
Robert Todd may have met his second wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Humphreys, while working for the state legislature. Betsy’s mother had moved her Virginia family to Frankfort after her husband’s death to be near her siblings. Robert and Betsy married in 1826 and had nine children: Robert (who died as an infant), Margaret, Samuel, David, Martha, Emilie, Alexander, Elodie, and Katherine. The year of David’s birth, the Todds moved into the Main Street home now called the Mary Todd Lincoln House.
There is conflicting evidence about relationships within the Todd family. Some sources suggest that Mary and her stepmother did not get along. Others note that as Mary got older, she became closer to Betsy. Some historians describe tension between Eliza’s and Betsy’s children after their father’s death. But family stories and letters reflect affectionate relationships among some of the half siblings.
Like many siblings, the Todd children went their separate ways in adulthood. Sister Elizabeth married Illinois native Ninian Edwards in 1832, and the couple moved to his home state. She gradually brought her sisters Frances, Mary, and Ann to her Springfield home, where they met their husbands. After attending college and medical school, George lived in Cynthiana, Kentucky, the home of his first wife. Only Levi remained in Lexington for his entire life.
Betsy’s oldest daughter Margaret left Lexington to live with her husband in Cincinnati. While Betsy’s oldest son Sam was attending Centre College, his brother David left home to fight in the Mexican War. After his father’s death, Sam moved to Louisiana, where some Humphreys family members lived, and by 1856, David was there too.
Robert Todd died suddenly from cholera in 1849. In settling the estate, Betsy sold the Main Street house and moved to a farm near Frankfort that her family owned. There, Martha and Emilie married and moved to their husbands’ homes in Alabama and to Elizabethtown, Kentucky. In 1860 Aleck, the youngest Todd son, moved to western Kentucky to run a farm owned by the Humphreys family. When Elodie moved to Alabama to live with Martha, the only Todd child remaining at home with Betsy in 1861 was her youngest daughter, Kittie.
When Abraham and Mary Lincoln moved into the White House, Mary’s siblings were living in Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia, Alabama, and Louisiana. Not surprisingly, five supported the Union and eight sided with the Confederacy, and the Todds, like many Kentucky families, became a house divided.