Excerpt 1: Abraham Lincoln

What you are about to see is an excerpt from an e-book that I wrote on the life of Abraham Lincoln. 

Chapter 1: His Birth and Early Life.

As is the norm when looking at the life of a remarkable individual, it makes sense to begin with his birth and the start that Abraham Lincoln had in life. As you will see, he was hardly born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

His story begins in what can only be described as humble surroundings on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. His place of birth was a cabin with only one room and dirt floors, with this ‘home’ situated in Sinking Spring close to modern-day Hodgenville, hardly a place of birth from which you would expect a former President of the United States to come from. 

His family life was one of abject poverty, with his childhood merely lurching from one struggle to the next. His father, Thomas Lincoln, had also been born to poor parents, and even though he worked as both a carpenter and a farmer, he was not educated; he reported that he was unable to read and could only sign his name and barely at that.1 His early problems were exacerbated by the fact that he became fatherless at an early age and he was forced into growing up without any form of education and with little skills with which he would be able to obtain any work.2

His father struggled sporadically throughout his early life at work as a carpenter, and the pay was relatively poor. However, his father was a hard worker who sought to make the best possible life for his family even under these most difficult circumstances.

Things were not any better for Lincoln on the other side of his family either. The mother of Abe Lincoln was Nancy Hanks. She was an illegitimate child, leading to several problems in her early life due to the stigma attached to being illegitimate. She too came from a poor background, and unfortunately for Lincoln, she died when he was just nine years old. However, according to his account of his early years, Lincoln said that she did play a significant role in his life even though his time with her was so short. 

Indeed, the reason why we know so much about his early life comes from Lincoln himself, with him being quoted just before his inauguration as President.

I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families – second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks. My father…removed from Kentucky to…Indiana in my eighth year…It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up…Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher…but that was all.”3

Even though his father was poor, he was still an individual that held a certain amount of sway in the local community, where he commanded a reasonable amount of respect. Indeed, he is known to have served on a jury on several occasions and was regarded by many as being an excellent carpenter with a wonderful reputation.

However, early life was not easy for Lincoln. His family life was made even worse due to the uncertainty surrounding land ownership in and around Kentucky. This issue is believed to have contributed to the Lincoln family moving to another farm when Abe Lincoln was just four or five years old, followed by the move to Indiana described in the quote by Lincoln himself.

This uncertainty would undoubtedly work against Thomas Lincoln, who had worked hard to build up a good life for his young family. He may have had rather humble beginnings and continued to do so. Still, he had been able to build up some sign of wealth and own a small piece of land, living in similar conditions to his closest neighbors. 

This ability to build up something that he could call his own would ultimately prove insufficient, leading to him deciding to sell up and move to Indiana just as Lincoln described. However, the amount of money he received for his cabin and land also gives us an insight into life at the time, with him receiving the equivalent of $300. This in itself was a considerable sum of money, but it is also known that only $20 was in actual cash, with the rest consisting of whiskey in barrels. 4

The Move to Indiana.

Initially, the move to Indiana involved his father packing up a number of their belongings on a flatboat and sailing along the Ohio River until he could go no further. However, what amounts to being close to tragedy, then struck with the flatboat becoming entangled in debris in the water and sinking. Luckily for the Lincoln family, most of their belongings were saved before Thomas Lincoln pushed on further into Indiana, eventually stopping at Thompson’s Ferry, located in Perry County.

After arriving at this destination, Thomas Lincoln returned to Kentucky to reunite with his family before they all made a move to Indiana. Packing up the remainder of their belongings, the Lincoln family eventually settled near Gentryville in Spencer County. Once settled, they then paid the relevant fee to the government for their land, which amounted to 160 acres.

Upon their arrival in Indiana, Thomas set about building them a new cabin, which he could do with a crude log cabin of 360 square feet, complete with an earth floor. In this relatively small space lived both Thomas and Nancy and Abe and his older sister, Sarah. The family could have been even larger had tragedy not befallen them while his father was making his way to Indiana as a young brother died and was buried close to their farm back in Kentucky. 

However, as was mentioned earlier, the life of Abe was about to change with his mother dying of ‘milk sickness’ only two years after arriving in Indiana. Her death would have undoubtedly come as a shock as this particular disease was extremely rare. It only came from drinking a cow’s milk that had eaten a poisonous root with the poison entering its milk. Even though relatively little is known about his reaction, it is fair for one to assume that Lincoln was left devastated since his mother essentially brought him up due to the need for his father to work as much as possible.

However, his time without a mother would be relatively short-lived, as his father would go on to meet another woman by the name of Sarah Bush Johnston. By all accounts, the young Abe formed quite a strong bond with his new stepmother relatively quickly, and he also referred to her as ‘mother’ relatively early on in their relationship. In addition, Lincoln also saw his family grow as Sarah brought with her own three children from a previous relationship resulting in a brother and a further two sisters. These new siblings would remain close to Lincoln throughout the rest of his life, with him forming a solid bond from the get-go.

What we know about her is that she felt very strongly about the importance of education, and through this, she certainly helped shape the life of the young Abe. Indeed, we will look closer at his education and how she influenced it in the next chapter. 

1This point comes from various sources although it is difficult to find exact quotes but considering his lack of education it is undoubtedly possible that this is the case.

2Chapter 3 of Life of Abraham Lincoln by Ketcham.

3The quote is taken from the official White House page about Abraham Lincoln.

4The value of property is taken from Ketcham.

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