Friday, May 22, 2015

Lincoln's Barber and Friend: William de Fleurville (1807-1868)

via The Lehrman Institute:

William de Fleurville (also known as "Florville") was a Haitian-born businessman who met Mr. Lincoln in New Salem in 1831. After Mr. Lincoln helped him attract clients in that community, Fleurville moved to Springfield where he eventually opened barbershop across from the State House and served as Mr. Lincoln's barber for 24 years. One White House employee, "Aunt Rosetta" Wells, recalled that back in Illinois there had been a black "man who used to cut Lincoln's hair off, and beat him telling fish stories and knew more jokes than you could shake a stick at. He had a shop for the boys to hang around and listen to 'Old Abe' tell jokes. This man was honest too, and he saved his pennies to make dollars."1 Fleurville had moved from the Carribean to Baltimore around 1820, where he met future Lincoln friend Dr. Elias H. Merriman. He then relocated to New Orleans before he went to Illinois to reconnect with Merriman, who helped set him up in the barber business and attract a clientele. 

 According to Lincoln scholar Lloyd Ostendorf, "A local newspaper editor claimed only two men in Springfield understood Lincoln, his law partner William H. Herndon, and his barber, William Florville."2 Historian Benjamin Quarles noted: "Fleurville's shop was the informal social center for the men of the community; it was 'Lincoln's second home,' before his marriage in 1842. Frequently he would leave his law books there; he would have nobody in Springfield shave him except Billy."3 On one occasion Billy nursed Lincoln back to health. Sometime before Mr. Lincoln was married to Mary Todd he was taken quite ill and was staying at Dr. Anson G. Henry's home in Springfield. The doctor sent for Fleurville to have him stay for a time with his patient and administer the medicine he had prescribed for him. Lincoln scholar Lloyd Ostendorf wrote that when Lincoln married shortly thereafter, Fleurville "had the pleasant task of giving the prospective [bridegroom] Lincoln his special dollar shave for his wedding day.

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