Grey Bynum Fancher (1791-1876)

I had always heard that Gray Bynum Fancher had been a close friend of Abraham Lincoln.   I decided to find out whether this was the case, and I found that, yes, it is true.   Gray Bynum Fancher is believed to have been born in Stokes Co., NC and to have died 2 Jan 1876 in or near Hill Co., TX.

He was born about 1797 according to the 1850 census, about 1795 according to the 1860 census, and in 1791 according to an 1890s biography of his son Alexander R. Fancher.   That 1892 bio says the following about the ancestry of Gray Bynum Fancher’s son Alexander:   “Our subject’s grandfather, Richard Fancher, was a Frenchman, came to America with La Fayette, and was a Revolutionary soldier, as was also his two brothers.   His wife, nee Patsy Gray, was connected with the Bynum family of North Carolina.”  (No explanation is offered as to how they were “connected.”)

Gray Bynum Fancher served in the company led by Captain James P. Jones (later by Thomas B. Ross) in the Black Hawk War.   He is listed as private G.B. Fancher on the 18 Jun 1832 muster roll, but not on the mustering-out roll.   He transferred from this company to Jacob M. Early’s spy company.   He appears as “G.B. Fanchier” from Coles County, Illinois on a mustering-out roll for Capt. Jacob M. Early’s Company of Mounted Volunteers.   That document says that they were mustered out 10 Jul 1832 on “White Water River of Rock River.”  Listed with him is “A. Lincoln” of Sangamon County, Illinois.

Abraham Lincoln and Gray Bynum Fancher and several others were “messmates” during the Black Hawk War.  The other men were George M. Harrison, John D. Johnston, and Radford M. Wyatt.  Harrison received special privileges that I am assuming were also extended to Gray Bynum Fancher.  Harrison refers to this much later in a letter to William H. Herndon, who was Lincoln’s law partner.

The mustering-out roll for Captain Jacob M. Earley’s (or Early’s) Company in the Black Haw War lists ” G.B. Fanchier” from Coles Co., IL and states that he enrolled 16 Jun 1832.

The book The Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Lamon and Black, refers on p. 116 to Fancher and Lincoln as serving together as messmates in what was called the “Independent Spy Company.”   The book A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Nicolay and Hay, refers on p. 33 to their unit as having been sometimes called the “Independent Spy Battalion.”   That book also refers to the horses of Lincoln and Harrison being stolen.   The letter from George M. Harrison that I mentioned earlier (Harrison being one of the “messmates”) written to Lincoln’s law partner William H. Herndon and dated 29 Jan 1867 tells a story that has been copied in a number of different printed sources. Here is the gist of the story:

While Lincoln, Fancher, Harrison, and the others were camped at Turtle Village, which had been a Winnebago town before the war, the group was low on rations.   Gray Bynum Fancher, who Harrison refers to as an “old acquaintance” of Abraham Lincoln, then shot a dove and the group made one and a half gallons of soup in a tin bucket that had been left behind by the Winnebago Indians.   They shared this soup with some of the others who were even hungrier than they were.

This quote appears in at least a couple web pages and in various books, for example p. 88 of Herndon and Weik’s book titled Abraham Lincoln.   A web page says that Harrison returned from the war to Sangamon County, Illinois with Lincoln “by canoe and on foot.”  Although Fancher presumably returned to Coles County, the same description likely pertains.

Will Bagley, in his book Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (p. 56), refers to Gray Bynum Fancher sharing his horse with Abraham Lincoln on their return home from the Black Hawk War.

A web page about Lincoln notes in its 10 Jul 1832 entry that the night before leaving Black Hawk War service for home, Lincoln’s and Harrison’s horses were stolen.  This would explain the reference to Fancher and Lincoln sharing a horse.   The source again is Harrison’s correspondence to Herndon. Isaac Fancher and Alexander Fancher, who also served in the Black Hawk War, were noted as having “lost” their horses on the 7th of August.

Interestingly, in 1850 Lincoln represented the defendant, not the plaintiff, in the libel suit of Fanchier or Fancher v. Gallagher.   I do not know, however, whether the plaintiff was related to Gray Bynum Fancher.

Here is additional info about Gray Bynum Fancher:

  • 1802:  Moved to Overton Co., TN where he farmed until 1823.
  • 1823:  Moved to Coles Co., IL.
  • 1830:  1830 census, Clark Co., IL, listed as G.B. Fancher (according to Internet researcher).
  • 1833:  1 Oct 1833, Coles Co., IL, two land patents.
  • 1835:  16 Oct 1835, Coles Co., IL, land patent.
  • 1838:  10 Aug 1838, Coles Co., IL, land patent.
  • 1839:   1 Nov 1839, Cumberland Co., IL, land patent to “Bynum Fancher of Cole County, Illinois.”
  • 1840:  1840 census, Coles Co., IL, males: 1 under 5, 2 5-10, 2 10-15, 1 15-20, 1 40-50; females: 1 under 5, 2 5-10, 1 20-30, 1 30-40; 12 total, 5 in agriculture.
  • 1842:  Moved to eastern AR.
  • 1846:  Abt 1846, moved to TX.
  • 1850:   1850 census, Henderson Co., TX, 15 Sep 1850, listed as “G.B. Fancher,” farmer, $4,000 (real estate).
  • 1851:   1 Apr 851, Henderson Co., TX, G.B. Fancher acted as security when bond was posted in connection with the estate of James Duncan, deceased, late of Henderson Co.
  • 1852:   Jul 1852 (presumed date), G.B. Fancher signed petition from citizens of TX cos. of Navarro, McLennan, and Ellis asking for protection from “the Indians on the upper Brazos.”
  • 1853:   25 Aug 1853, Hill Co., TX, land donated by G.B. Fancher was among the parcels regarding which locals were to vote in order to establish a county seat.
  • 1860:   1860 census, “the Subdivision,” Hill Co., TX, PO Hillsboro, listed as Bynum Fancher, age 65, b. IL, with wife Sarah and children; farmer.

He is believed to have died in Palo Pinto Co. or Hill Co., Texas.

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