The life of Elizabeth Keckley is getting renewed attention since she was featured in Stephen Spielberg's "Lincoln." This Black History Month, Dinwiddie residents are trying to piece together much of Keckley's unknown past.
The freed slave was Mary Lincoln's personal seamstress and confidant, made famous for her exquisite dresses, and staying beside the First Lady after the assassination that changed history.
Mystery surrounds Keckley's early life. Her roots are known to be in Dinwiddie County. But Tammi Collins and a group of historians want to pinpoint where exactly Keckley was born.
"We've had two major fires in Dinwiddie County," Collins said in an interview Thursday. "Both of them in the 1800s, which destroyed many of our official records."
Keckley's birthplace was narrowed down to the Southwestern part of the County, based on information found on 19th century property deeds.
"We know exactly who her parents were. We know some of the tracks of the owners, because she was born a slave," Collins said. "And so putting those names and places together help us identify where she was actually born."
Mary Lincoln's most trusted friend lived in Dinwiddie until she was 14, and had her first job at the age of four.
"But also at the age of four, she received her first whipping as a slave," Collins said. "Those types of heart-wrenching facts you find out when you start digging into the lives of some of the people of old."
Keckley moved to Petersburg, St. Louis and Baltimore before moving to Washington, D.C. before the Civil War. Her dress-making business became in demand after she made a gown for Robert E. Lee's wife.
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