Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: His First Satirical Writing

Reuben and Charles Grigsby were married in Spencer county, Indiana, on the same day to Elizabeth Ray and Matilda Hawkins, respectively. They met the next day at the home of Reuben Grigsby, Sr., and held a double infare, to which most of the county was invited, with the exception of the Lincolns. This Abraham duly resented, and it resulted in his first attempt at satirical writing, which he called “The Chronicles of Reuben.”

The manuscript was lost, and not recovered until 1865, when a house belonging to one of the Grigsbys was torn down. In the loft a boy found a roll of musty old papers, and was intently reading them, when he was asked what he was doing.

“Reading a portion of the Scriptures that haven’t been revealed yet,” was the response. This was Lincoln’s “Chronicles,” which is herewith given:


“Now, there was a man whose name was Reuben, and the same was very great in substance, in horses and cattle and swine, and a very great household.

“It came to pass when the sons of Reuben grew up that they were desirous of taking to themselves wives, and, being too well known as to honor in their own country, they took a journey into a far country and there procured for themselves wives.

“It came to pass also that when they were about to make the return home they sent a messenger before them to bear the tidings to their parents.

“These, inquiring of the messenger what time their sons and wives would come, made a great feast and called all their kinsmen and neighbors in, and made great preparation.

“When the time drew nigh, they sent out two men to meet the grooms and their brides, with a trumpet to welcome them, and to accompany them.

“When they came near unto the house of Reuben, the father, the messenger came before them and gave a shout, and the whole multitude ran out with shouts of joy and music, playing on all kinds of instruments.

“Some were playing on harps, some on viols, and some blowing on rams’ horns.

“Some also were casting dust and ashes toward Heaven, and chief among them all was Josiah, blowing his bugle and making sounds so great the neighboring hills and valleys echoed with the resounding acclamation.

“When they had played and their harps had sounded till the grooms and brides approached the gates, Reuben, the father, met them and welcomed them to his house.

“The wedding feast being now ready, they were all invited to sit down and eat, placing the bridegrooms and their brides at each end of the table.

“Waiters were then appointed to serve and wait on the guests. When all had eaten and were full and merry, they went out again and played and sung till night.

“And when they had made an end of feasting and rejoicing the multitude dispersed, each going to his own home.

“The family then took seats with their waiters to converse while preparations were being made in two upper chambers for the brides and grooms.

“This being done, the waiters took the two brides upstairs, placing one in a room at the right hand of the stairs and the other on the left.

“The waiters came down, and Nancy, the mother, then gave directions to the waiters of the bridegrooms, and they took them upstairs, but placed them in the wrong rooms.

“The waiters then all came downstairs.

“But the mother, being fearful of a mistake, made inquiry of the waiters, and learning the true facts, took the light and sprang upstairs.

“It came to pass she ran to one of the rooms and exclaimed, ‘O Lord, Reuben, you are with the wrong wife.’

“The young men, both alarmed at this, ran out with such violence against each other, they came near knocking each other down.

“The tumult gave evidence to those below that the mistake was certain.

“At last they all came down and had a long conversation about who made the mistake, but it could not be decided.

“So ended the chapter.”

The original manuscript of “The Chronicles of Reuben” was last in the possession of Redmond Grigsby, of Rockport, Indiana. A newspaper which had obtained a copy of the “Chronicles,” sent a reporter to interview Elizabeth Grigsby, or Aunt Betsy, as she was called, and asked her about the famous manuscript and the mistake made at the double wedding.

“Yes, they did have a joke on us,” said Aunt Betsy. “They said my man got into the wrong room and Charles got into my room. But it wasn’t so. Lincoln just wrote that for mischief. Abe and my man often laughed about that.”