Joshua Fry Speed (November 14, 1814 – May 29, 1882) was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln from his days in Springfield, Illinois, where Speed was a partner in a general store. Later, Speed was a farmer and a real estate investor in Kentucky, and also served one term in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1848.
Joshua Fry Speed was born at Farmington, to Judge John Speed (Kentucky) and Lucy G. Speed (née Fry) on November 14, 1814. On his father's side, Speed's ancestry can be traced back to 17th century cartographer and historian John Speed. John Speed's great grandson (James Speed) emigrated to Virginia in 1695, and in turn his grandson Captain James Speed, fought in the American Revolution during which he received a serious wound in 1781, for which the Continental Congress awarded him 7,500 acres in the territory of Kentucky. Captain Speed emigrated to Kentucky in 1782, became a judge and land speculator (accumulating 45,000 acres in central Kentucky) and member of the territorial conventions by which Kentucky became separated from Virginia. One of Captain Speed's children (out of six), John Speed, owned a store in the 1790s, operated (with leased slaves) a salt works. In the 1800s his father gave him a large tract on which to begin farming. In 1808, after the death of his first wife, he married Lucy Gilmer Fry. In addition to growing staples, John Speed used his farm to produce the labor-intensive cash crop of hemp. He would acquire other businesses as well, including a blacksmith. By his death in 1840 he had become one of Kentucky's largest slave-owners with 54.
Lucy Speed had come from Virginia where her family was close to Thomas Jefferson. Her father inherited considerable wealth in land and slaves in Virginia but left for Kentucky in 1788 or 1789 and opened a school in his house where he taught a number of boys who would later become prominent. Joshua Speed was the fifth of 11 children from the marriage (one of which died in infancy the year Joshua was born). Although Speed remained close to his mother until her death, he seems to have had a strained relationship with his father, who complained of "all your abuse of me" when Joshua was 15. Depression seems to have run in the family with evidence of it in his father, two of his brothers (with James Speed showing signs of clinical depression) and Joshua himself. Lincoln himself even observed of Joshua that "you are naturally of a nervous temperament."
Despite having little formal education himself, his father wanted his children to have that advantage. Joshua Speed was tutored by his maternal grandfather, Joshua Fry, and attended St. Joseph's College near Bardstown. Before completing college, however, he fell ill. He returned home and, despite his father's insistence, argued that he was ready to begin a career. He spent two to three years as a clerk in the largest wholesale establishment in Louisville. He then moved to Springfield, Illinois where he became a country merchant.
He was apparently not content to follow in the footsteps of his father. Speed set out in 1835 for Springfield, Illinois, to try his fortune in the Midwest. At the time, Springfield was a town with a population of fewer than 1,500 people. Almost immediately upon arriving there, Speed engaged in merchandising and assisted in editing a local newspaper.
Speed had heard the young Lincoln speak on the stump when Lincoln was running for election to the Illinois legislature. On April 15, 1837, Lincoln arrived at Springfield, the new state capital, in order to seek his fortune as a young lawyer whereupon he met Joshua Speed. Lincoln sublet Joshua's apartment above Speed's store becoming his roommate and his lifelong best friend.
On March 30, 1840, Judge John Speed died. Joshua announced plans to sell his store and return to his parent's large plantation house, Farmington, near Louisville, Kentucky. Lincoln, though notoriously awkward and shy around women, was at the time engaged to Mary Todd, a vivacious, if temperamental, society girl, also from Kentucky. As the dates approached for both Speed's departure and Lincoln's own marriage, Lincoln broke the engagement on the planned day of the wedding (January 1, 1841). Speed departed as planned soon after, leaving Lincoln mired in depression and guilt.
Seven months later, in July 1841, Lincoln, still depressed, decided to visit Speed in Kentucky. Speed welcomed Lincoln to his paternal house where the latter spent a month regaining his perspective and his health. During his stay in Farmington, Lincoln rode into Louisville almost daily to discuss legal matters of the day with attorney James Speed, Joshua's older brother. James Speed lent Lincoln books from his law library.
Joshua Speed and Lincoln disagreed over slavery, especially Speed's argument that Northerners should not care. In 1855, Lincoln wrote to Speed:
You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. ... I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings ...
Lincoln, during his presidential administration (March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865), several times offered Speed a government appointment. Speed refused each time, choosing to help in other ways. Speed disagreed with Lincoln on the slavery question but remained loyal, and coordinated Union activities in Kentucky during the American Civil War. His brother, James Speed, however, served as Lincoln's United States Attorney General beginning in November 1864. In explaining the nomination to Congress, Lincoln acknowledged that he did not know James as well as he knew Joshua.
Following the assassination of Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, Speed organized a memorial service in Louisville for the departed leader. He also pledged his support to the administration of succeeding President Andrew Johnson (term April 15, 1865 – March 3, 1869). Sixty members of the Speed family gave money for a monument to honor Lincoln in Springfield. Joshua Speed also wrote lengthy letters to William Herndon, a former law partner of Lincoln who had set about to write a biography of Lincoln.
Joshua Speed died on May 29, 1882, in Louisville, Kentucky. He is interred in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. His family's estate, Farmington, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and while the farm is substantially reduced in size, the house has been restored and has become a local event venue, and the focus of living history events.
In 1999, author and gay activist Larry Kramer claimed that he had uncovered new primary sources which shed fresh light on Lincoln's sexuality. The sources included a hitherto unknown Joshua Speed diary and letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his relationship with Lincoln. These items were supposedly discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, and are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa. Kramer has yet to publish any of this material for critical evaluation, and historian Gabor Boritt, referring to Kramer's documents, wrote, "Almost certainly this is a hoax ... ."
Joshua Speed began a courtship with Fanny Henning (1820–1902) and married on February 15, 1842. They remained married until his death. They had no children, though they enjoyed close relationships with several of their nephews and nieces.
Fanny Henning Speed bequested a large amount to Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, and Speed Hall, listed on the National Register, is named for her.
Joshua was a seventh generation descendant of antiquarian cartographer and historian John Speed (1552 – July 28, 1629) and his wife Susanna Draper. He was born in Farndon, Cheshire, England to an even older John Speed. His further origin is unknown. He settled in London and was a member of the Merchant Taylors' Company. His surviving maps, compiled originally in books, have been largely broken up and dispersed, as have been his writings, notably the genealogies in the King James Bible in Latin. His last will and testament mention him having twelve sons and six daughters.
He was a sixth generation descendant of an elder Dr. John Speed, MD (1595 – May 1640) and his wife Margaret Warner. John entered Merchant Taylors' School in January, 1603/1604. He became a Scholar of St John's College, Oxford in October, 1612. He received a Bachelor of Arts on May 3, 1620. He was named a Fellow of St John's College and became MD on June 20, 1628.
He was a fifth generation descendant of Dr. John Speed, M.D. (November 4, 1628 – September 21, 1711). John was born in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. He entered Merchant Taylors' School in September, 1640. He was elected Fellow of St John's College, Oxford in June, 1644. He received a Bachelor of Arts on February 1, 1647/1648. He was expelled from the University of Oxford on May 15, 1648 and was dismissed from his Fellowship in October of the same year. He was reinstated in 1660 following the Restoration of Charles II of England to the throne. He received a master's degree on September 20, 1660 and became M.D. on June 19, 1666. He settled in Southampton around 1667. He served twice as Mayor of Southampton (1681–1682, 1693–1694).
He was a fourth generation descendant of James Bernard Speed (September 28, 1679 – March 15, 1719). James was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England and immigrated to Surry County, Virginia in 1695. On September 6, 1711, James was married to Mary Pulley (born c. 1693).
He was a great-grandson of a senior John Speed (February 5, 1714 – March 8, 1785) and his wife Mary Mintrey (c. 1706 – July 1, 1782). He was also a great-grandson of Militia Colonel John Fry (son of Joshua Fry Colonel of Virginia Militia, and commander of Lt Col George Washington, and lead survey of the Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia, and Mary Micou Hill) and his wife Sarah Adams. Sarah was younger sister to Thomas Adams.
His paternal grandfather was Captain James Speed (March 4, 1740 – September 3, 1811), a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. His paternal grandmother was Mary Spencer (October 20, 1742 – March 5, 1829), daughter of Thomas Spencer, Sr and Elizabeth Julia Flourney. His maternal grandfather was Lieutenant Joshua Fry, another veteran of the American Revolutionary War. His namesake also represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1785 to 1786. His maternal grandmother was Peachy Walker, daughter of Dr. Thomas Walker and Mildred Thornton Meriwether of Castle Hill.