Indian Head Penny Family Lore Debunked

1859 Indian Head Penny
1859 Indian Head Penny

Every family has oral traditions, passed down through the generations. Little by little the story is enhanced or adjusted as it is retold. My previous post about Priscilla Estes "capture" and "rescue", I believe has some basis in true events.

However, another story gave me pause, the inspiration for the U.S. one-cent coin, the Indian head penny. According to our family lore, Cal Miller, my great grandfather's great aunt Sarah Longacre was the model for the face on the coin.

Cal Miller relation to Longacre

Unfortunately, even an amateur genealogist can easily debunk this story.

First: We are not related to the Longacre family, but do have the Longenecker family in our genealogy.

Further: The Longenecker and Longacre surnames do not appear to be interchangeable.

Darn, it was good while it lasted. However, the more I looked into the legend of Sarah Longenecker as the model for the penny, it doesn't stand the truth test either.

James B Longacre

The legend has it that the facial features of the coin, minted from 1859-1909, were based on the features of U.S. Mint engraver James B. Longacre's daughter Sarah. The story goes that she was at the Mint one day when she tried on the headdress of one of the Native Americans who were visiting, and her father sketched her. There was a competition for the design and James' sketch won by a single vote.

The story was reprinted in Sarah's 1906 obituary.

However, Sarah Longacre Keen was 30 years old and married in 1858, not 12 as in the tale. Longacre himself stated that the face was based on a statue of Crouching Venus in Philadelphia on loan from the Vatican, not his daughter.

What stories have been passed down your family line? Are they true? Maybe they contain a shred of truth. Or, like the Indian Head Cent, a tale that can be disproved with a little sleuthing?

If you'd like, Dig into More I Hunt Dead People Stories...

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