GENEVA — Few people may realize that Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law was a general in the Confederate Army.
And not many Genevans probably know that the general’s daughter — Mary Todd Lincoln’s niece — was a visitor here.
On Wednesday, a Confederate flag belonging to the first lady’s sister, Emilie Todd Harden Helm, will be auctioned off at Hessney’s Auction Center on Route 14. Auctioneer Joe Hessney said the flag has quite a history and an interesting connection to Geneva.
It will be sold as part of an estate auction of items from the former home of Harry and Fay Queener of 115 N. Main St.
The flag was once owned by Helm’s daughter, Elodie Todd Helm, who regularly visited Geneva. Known locally as “Miss Dee,” she was born in Kentucky about 1859 and died here in June 1953.
Her father was Gen. Ben Hardin Helm, commander of the Confederate 1st Kentucky “Orphan’s” Brigade, who died at the Battle of Chickamauga. After his death, Emilie Todd Helm and her children were granted safe passage to the White House to stay with Lincoln and his family.
It’s believed the flag — measuring 25 by 34 inches and bearing the words SIXTH KY ORPHAN BRIGADE REG’T — was given to Lincoln’s sister-in-law at a Confederate reunion in Kentucky. She was known as the “Mother of the Orphan Brigade.”
The Queeners found the flag in a trunk in the barn when they purchased the home in the early 1960s. They contacted the former owner, Fredericka Brown Parmelee, to see if it belonged to her.
Parmelee’s aunt, Bess Brown, and Elodie Todd Helm, had been friends. In a Feb. 9, 1964, letter, Parmelee told the Queeners that they should keep the flag.
“No doubt it was given to Mrs. Ben Hardin Helm because she was called ‘Mother of the Orphan Brigade.’ You all are just the right people to treasure the little flag,” she wrote.
The Queeners kept the flag in a safety deposit box until they recently decided to sell their home and move to Penn Yan.
According to Parmelee’s correspondence, her Aunt Bess and Miss Dee took many summer trips together to Vermont.
“It’s just part of our job to conduct research on an item and find out about it,” Hessney said.
He doesn’t know how much the flag will bring at auction, but he said Confederate items are popular with collectors across the country. The auction house has been e-mailing Confederate Civil War organizations and a Confederate museum in Kentucky to attract interest.
In recent years, Hessney has auctioned off three copies of the first edition of The Book of Mormon. The highest of the three went for $106,000, a record for an uninscribed copy. An 1829 Walker abolitionist pamphlet went for $43,000.
More pictures and information on the auction are available at www.Hessney.com.