THERE was a curious irony in this nomination of two Southern men to lead the North in its endeavor to keep the South within the Union. The origin of the Tennessee tailor thus put on the National Union ticket as candidate for vice president had been as obscure and humble, his early struggle as unremitting and his career as picturesque as Abraham Lincoln's. While the spotlight has been turned upon every ascertainable fact or fiction concerning the birth of a son to Nancy Hanks, the circumstances surrounding the nativity of this boy born to Mary McDonough, the wife of Jacob Johnson, in Raleigh, N. C., on December 29, 1808, are even yet somewhat shrouded in obscurity and doubt.
In 1808, Raleigh had outgrown being a backwoods settlement; it had almost a thousand inhabitants, and to it, as the capital of the State, flocked the great and the near-great of North Carolina: politicians and lawmakers, lawyers and clients, and travellers commercial and uncommercial. Raleigh's courtrooms rang with the battle of giants, especially when John Marshall held circuit court there. Socially, Raleigh was a miniature Charleston or Richmond, with evening teas at the homes of the Haywoods, Boylans and Polks; during the season, fox and deer hunts amused the notables. The taverns likewise played their parts in the Capital's social life. They were the scenes of many a cotillion, ball and levee, their well- stocked bars lending zest to jollifications which sometimes ended on the duelling ground.1
Peter Casso's Tavern, on the main North and South road, and immediately to the southeast of the Capitol, was the leading inn of that day and generation, its bars being unexcelled for imported and domestic brands of liquor, its stable equal to any on the Continent and able to accommodate forty head of horses at a time. The inn-yard contained a modest two- story house, almost a cottage. In 1808 it was occupied by the family of Jacob Johnson, handy man of the tavern.
Jacob's origin and early life are not authentically recorded, but recently discovered evidence inclines one to the conclusion that he probably was a native of the North of England. Under