Did you know that there was a secret engraving in Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch? On April 13th, 1861, watchmaker Jonathan Dillon was repairing President Lincoln’s pocket watch when the first shots of the Civil War occurred. As soon as Dillon heard the news, he removed the dial of the watch and engraved this message onto the underside of the movement:
Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon
Washington Thank God we have a government
Lincoln never knew his pocket watch carried this hidden inscription. And no one else knew either until an 84-year-old Dillon gave an interview to The New York Times in 1906 and recalled the event. In 2009, Dillon’s great-great-grandson contacted the Smithsonian Museum–who had possession of the pocket watch–and asked them to remove the case of the watch to view the inscription. “Lincoln never knew of the message he carried in his pocket,” said the director of the National Museum of American History.
Until recently, the inscription remained hidden behind the dial for almost 150 years.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 20, 2012. We have updated it for clarity.