The Life And Death Of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, The Last Descendant Of Abraham Lincoln

Published June 7, 2023
Updated May 17, 2024

Though Abraham Lincoln had four sons, his last undisputed direct descendant, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985, apparently ending the family line.

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith alongside his sister, Mary “Peggy” Lincoln Beckwith.

When Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, felled by an assassin’s bullet at the end of the Civil War, he left behind a considerable legacy. But Lincoln did not leave behind many descendants. In 1985, the president’s family line ended with the death of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith.

The last of the direct Lincoln descendants, Beckwith stayed out of the spotlight more than his famous great-grandfather had. He rarely spoke publicly about the president and quietly donated all the Lincoln artifacts he’d inherited. But Beckwith did subtly pay his respects to his famous family during his life.

When he died, it seemed that the Lincoln line died with him. But some contend that there is one last direct Lincoln descendant out there.

From Abraham Lincoln To Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

By the time Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was born on July 19, 1904, Abraham Lincoln had been dead for almost 40 years. So how exactly are the president and his final descendant related?

Before he was elected to the White House in 1860, Abraham Lincoln had four sons with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. They were: Robert Todd Lincoln, born in 1843; Edward “Eddie” Baker Lincoln, born in 1846; William Wallace Lincoln, born in 1850; and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, born in 1853.

But tragedy seemed to haunt the Lincoln family. Little Eddie died at the age of three while the family was still living in Springfield, Illinois. Willie Lincoln tragically died at the White House in 1862 at the age of 11 during the Civil War. And less than ten years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Tad Lincoln also died young, at the age of 18, in 1871.

Lincoln Family Portrait

New York Historical SocietyAn 1865 portrait of the Lincoln family: Mary, Tad, Robert, Willie, and Abraham. By then, Willie had already died but the painter added him anyway.

This succession of tragedies left just one of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons alive — Robert Todd, his eldest. Unlike his brothers, Robert lived a long and illustrious life. He died at the age of 82 in 1926 after having three children.

According to the Associated Press, they were: Mary Lincoln, born in 1869, Abraham Lincoln II, born in 1873, and Jessie Harlan Lincoln, born in 1875. Though Abraham Lincoln II died young, at the age of 16, Mary and Jessie both married and had children of their own.

Lincoln Family Tree

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and MuseumThe Lincoln Family tree, which ended with Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith in 1985.

Mary’s branch of the family tree ended in 1971 with the death of her son, Lincoln Isham. But Jessie’s branch stretched longer. She had two children who would become the last living Lincoln descendants: Mary Lincoln Beckwith, born in 1898, and Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, born in 1904.

The Life Of The Last Lincoln Descendant

Unlike his great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, the most famous man of his day, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith lived a quiet and private life.

Born in Riverside, Illinois — about three hours from where Abraham Lincoln had lived with his family in Springfield — Beckwith spent most of his life out of the spotlight. The Associated Press reports that he studied law at Georgetown University and married three times, but had no children.

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith Shaking Hands With Dwight Eisenhower

Lincoln National CollectionRobert Todd Lincoln Beckwith shaking hands with President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House in 1953.

Beckwith later described himself as a “spoiled brat” and acknowledged that he’d led a privileged life. In his spare time, Lincoln’s last direct descendent enjoyed car racing, sailing in the Chesapeake Bay, and raising Black Angus cattle on his ranch in Hartfield, Virginia.

But despite his perchance for privacy, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith didn’t shy away from his roots. He made sure that his uncle, Abraham Lincoln II, was added to the Robert Todd Lincoln family sarcophagus in Arlington, Virginia. Cemetery rules had forbidden the addition of minors’ names; Beckwith made sure that his uncle’s full name was carved into the stone.

The New York Times also reports that Beckwith donated various Lincoln memorabilia to the state of Illinois in 1976. Rather than profit from the items, Beckwith chose to give them away.

Robert Todd Lincoln Sarcophagus

U.S. Army/Rachel LarueRobert Todd Lincoln’s family sarcophagus in Arlington Cemetery. Cemetery rules forbid minors’ names, but Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith made sure to have his uncle’s full name inscribed in the stone instead of just “A.L II.”

When he died nine years later in 1985, a decade after his sister Mary had passed, the Lincoln line seemed to die with him. The family’s attorney told the press that Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and that he’d never discussed his famous family with her.

“We didn’t talk about anything like that,” she explained. “Socially, it’s not done, and in business I talked about what I was paid to talk about.”

But though Beckwith was described as the last Lincoln in various obituaries, it is possible that there’s one last Lincoln descendent out there.

Was Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith Truly The Last Lincoln?

When Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in 1985, obituaries across the nation acknowledged that he’d married three times but had no children. One of his wives, however, had long contested this fact.

obert Todd Lincoln Beckwith married his second wife, Annemarie Hoffman, in 1967. Shortly thereafter, she gave birth to a son named Timothy Lincoln Beckwith.

But her new husband denied that the child was his. He claimed he’d had a vasectomy six years earlier, and that the baby was the result of an extramarital affair. The couple divorced, and when Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in 1985, Hoffman and Tim (then 17 years old) accepted a more than $1 million settlement and waived all claims to the Lincoln bloodline.

“I don’t do interviews,” Timothy Lincoln Beckwith, now a Palm Beach County assistant state attorney, said in one of the few times he spoke on the matter. “Let’s let the past be the past.”

Thus, there is a remote possibility that the Lincoln line continues to this day. But given Timothy Beckwith’s recalcitrance and the settlement he and his mother accepted, it also seems to be a moot point. For all intents and purposes, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith was the last Lincoln.

“Despite Americans’ supposed resistance to the trappings of European royalty, we have always yearned for political dynasties, hoping that the qualities admired in one leader will be replicated in the leader’s progeny,” historian Michael Beschloss noted in his 1994 New Yorker article “Last of the Lincolns.”

But history, Beschloss added, “played a practical joke on the Lincolns.” Despite Abraham Lincoln’s four sons, and Robert Todd Lincoln’s three children, the Lincoln line died out in just a couple of generations.

After reading about the life and death of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, the last direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln, look through these Abraham Lincoln facts that reveal the man behind the myth. Or, discover the story of Ralph Lincoln, a distant Lincoln family descendant who bears a striking resemblance to the 16th president.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "The Life And Death Of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, The Last Descendant Of Abraham Lincoln.", June 7, 2023, Accessed May 27, 2024.