Saturday, February 11, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Hoosier

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 near Hodgensville Kentucky, and lived there until 1816 when the Lincoln family moved to Spencer county Indiana. There Thomas Lincoln, Abe's father, staked out a claim for his farm near Little Pigeon Creek and the town of Gentryville. It was there that the 16th President of the United States spent his formative years and would develop the physical strength that became legend, working as a ferryman, farmer, day laborer, flatboat man and as a carpenter, the trade of his father, and one that he never really cared for. His strength was attested to by a neighbor when the man related that Abe could “Sink his ax deeper in the wood than any man I ever saw.” On other occasions it is reported by neighbors that Abe once single handedly moved an old farmers chicken coop by carrying it on his back, and he carried a heavy log that three men could not lift. These may be parables intended to show Lincoln was a man of great physical strength.

He would come to love the written word during his years there and set out to read anything he could get his hands on from the Holy Bible to Shakespeare and everything in between. It was the book “The Life of Washington” that goes down in history as one of the memorable incidents in young Lincolns life. The book belonged to a neighbor, Josiah Crawford. Abe had borrowed the book and after reading it one night he placed it on a shelf in the loft where he slept, near at hand so he could begin reading again come morning. Unfortunately a storm blew through the area that night and drove rain through a crack between the logs of the cabin, soaking the book thoroughly. Abe would have to work the debt off by working for twenty-five cents a day for three days to cover the cost of the book which Crawford estimated at seventy-five cents.

His mother Nancy would begin his schooling and taught him the basics of reading, writing and “ciphering to the rule of three”. His stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln would continue his education and encouraged young Abe as he studied his books. By Lincolns own admission his formal education was sorely lacking and amounted to less than a year in Kentucky and Indiana combined.Thomas Lincoln would finally pull Abe out of school, considering the time consumed in the walk to and from the schoolhouse a waste and it could be better used on the farm.

Lincolns interest in the law also began while in Indiana. One of the books he had borrowed was “The Revised Statutes of Indiana” and he would often walk to either Boonville, in neighboring Warrick county, or to Rockport in southern Spencer county to attend court. These trips would surely lead him toward the path he would eventually take in Illinois, and also influence his gift of oratory as he watched and listened to the lawyers at their work. He would often “mount a stump” and preach a sermon or give a political speech that likely as not would get him in trouble with his father. It seemed that every time Abe would take off on a speech during the work day the other hands would stop working and listen. It is also said that if there was no audience, Abe would speak to the trees which provided him with a suitable substitute.
Abraham Lincoln would leave Indiana in the spring of 1830 at the age of twenty-one, the last time he would move with his father Thomas as a part of his clan. He would leave behind the graves of his mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who died of the “milk
sickness” in 1818 and sister Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, who died in childbirth along with the child January 20, 1828. From then on he would make his own way and grow to become the man the world knows today, built upon the foundation laid in that small community of Gentryville between the forks of Little Pigeon Creek.
These are mere gleanings from the memories of people that lived near the Lincoln during his time on the Little Pigeon. Some of them are no doubt true as verified in later conversations with his closest acquaintances. It is believable that he would become a favorite among the men gathering at Jones' store where his gift of gab was well received and polished, and it would serve him well in later years. Topics would run the gamut from religion to slavery and politics, or just plain coarse humor. The memories of those who contributed these fragments were no doubt dimmed by the distance of years or perhaps clouded by hopes of fame to be reflected back to themselves. They were in the most part taken from interviews of the remaining citizen of Gentryville who knew (or claimed to know) the Lincoln's 35 years after they had removed to Illinois. Sadly the world was never afforded the opportunity to receive the whole, unadulterated story from the man himself. That opportunity was lost when the assassins bullet struck but given what we do know of the man he would have almost certainly penned his memoirs and the natural storyteller in him would have given the ages one corker of a story!
Bibliography, Sources
1- Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume One, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, 1886
2- Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, Volume 1 William H. Herndon, Jesse W. Wiek, 1888, 1921
3- The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Ward Hill Lamon, Chauncey F. Black, 1872

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