« PreviousContinue »
But what relation could these things have to the future of a child born in a corner so remote and of parents so obscure?
A noted Illinois lawyer (Mr. U. F. Linder) said in 1865: “I was born within ten miles of the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, only a month later than he. I knew his father and his relatives in Kentucky. They were a good family. They were poor, - the very poorest people of the middle class, I might say,— but they were true.”
Of this home on the Nolin, young Abraham was to remember little or nothing, for in three or four years the family moved to another farm near the confluence of Knob Creek with Rolling Fork, several miles eastward. The latter stream, considerably larger than Nolin Creek, from which it is separated by highlands towered with a series of far-looking knobs, runs in an opposite direction, seeking Salt River and the Ohio. His parents still had like relations as before with Hodgenville and the Baptist Church organized there by the first settlers. In his second home he passed the more conscious years of his early childhood.
Almost his earliest recollections were of sitting with his sister at his mother's feet, listening as she read from a book or told tales of imagination or experience. Here his education began, and when still quite young he eagerly read Robinson Crusoe, Aesop's Fables, Pilgrim's Progress, and other books common at plain firesides in the older States, but then rare in Kentucky. No public instruction was then available. For a time he and his sister walked a great distance to attend the school kept by a Catholic priest named Zachariah Riney –
possibly a precursor of the Trappists, who founded the noted monastery at Gethsemane, in that region. Later, he in like manner became a pupil of Caleb Hazel, his mother's cousin-in-law, who occasionally exercised his gifts as a Baptist minister. Of both these teachers he always retained pleasant remembrance, though he was under their tuition but a few months in all. He was not yet eight years old when he left Kentucky. One of the last incidents he recalled of his life there was accompanying his mother in her parting visit to the grave of her youngest child, a son who died in infancy.
Hard times came with the War of 1812, and lasted long. As some relief, the Government offered its wild lands north of the Ohio to new settlers on credit. There were serious troubles, too, about land titles in Kentucky; nor was its labor system kind to people who labored. Slavery was now firmly established there, and the man of small means had less chance of rising than of lapsing into the scorner class of “poor whites." Thomas Lincoln chose to live in a free State. That this was one of his motives for a change was explicitly declared by his son.* In spite of this fact (or in ignorance of it) a Boston biographer has scornfully affirmed that " whatever poetic fitness there might be in such a motive, the suggestion is entirely gratuitous and without the slightest foundation.” † One of the authorities cited (Lamon) would have us believe there were very few slaves in that part of Kentucky, and no trouble whatever about slavery.
A different story was told by the noted Methodist
*See "Complete Works,” Nicolay and Hay, I., 639. Morse's “ Abraham Lincoln,” I., 10-11.
preacher, Rev. Peter Cartwright,- a native of Amherst County, Virginia, who removed near the same time from Kentucky to Illinois, avowedly because he was unwilling to bring up his children in the midst of slavery. He was Elder of the Salt River Circuit, Kentucky, in 1808, belonging to the old Western Conference, which met in that year at Liberty Hill, Tennessee, and at Cincinnati in 1809. In his Jubilee address at Lincoln, Illinois, September 24, 1869, he told of the refusal of the Conference in 1806 to admit to "the travelling connection" a South Carolina applicant, who owned two slaves, until he emancipated them, “which required expense additional to the loss of his slaves.” During the year 1808 he said “some feeling existed in the bounds of the Conference” in regard to slavery, “and several petitions were presented praying for the adoption of some more · specific rule upon the subject.” A rule was adopted that year requiring the expulsion of any member who bought or sold a slave or slaves “from speculative motives.” * It is known that the anti-slavery leaven was also at work in the denomination to which Thomas Lincoln and his wife belonged.
In the autumn of 1816 the family migrated a long distance westward across the Ohio. into the depths of the Indiana wilderness. A few weeks later the Territory, with but sixty-five thousand inhabitants, mostly on the southern border, became a State.
The quarter section already selected was sixteen miles from the nearest landing on the Ohio, and on this
*"Fifty Years a Presiding Elder.”—“I had been a preacher for several years," he said, "before I saw a shingle-roofed house of any description."
place, near Gentryville, there is now a station named Lincoln, twenty miles by railway from Rockport, on that river. The principal stream in the vicinity is Little Pigeon Creek. At first there were very few settlers within many miles. Years passed before a store was opened or the logs were hewn for the Little Pigeon Baptist meeting-house. Here, from his eighth year to his majority, Abraham Lincoln had his chief experience of pioneer life.
The subjugators of a continental wilderness had always to begin with a very simple domestic shelter, and to live under hard conditions, that improved but slowly at the best. A prolonged contest — with the pitiless elements, with resisting nature, often with the unrelenting savage,- alone made the building of our republic possible. The doers of this work are true kin of the old heroes and demi-gods. Hercules, “ by conquering the lawless powers of nature,” says Curtius,
prepared the soil for a rational order of life; he is the regular symbol of the pioneering agency of the earliest settlements." To descend from Hercules was a Grecian's glory.
Bishop Meade, of Virginia, whose father, impoverished by the Revolution, began life anew near Winchester, wrote: “The whole country was little less than a forest at that time. For a small sum he purchased a farm, with two unfinished log cabins, around which the wolves nightly howled. Laying aside the weapons of war, he took himself to hard labor with the axe, the maul, and other instruments, while my mother exchanged the luxuries of Lower Virginia for the economy and diligence of a Western housewife.”
The historian of early Kentucky, Humphrey Marshall, spoke from personal knowledge when he said: “Much use was made of the skins of deer for dress, while the buffalo and bear skins were consigned to the floor for beds and covering.” He describes pioneer furniture in general in almost the identical words which have been used to describe the interior of Thomas Lincoln's log cabin: “A like workmanship comprised the table and the stool — a slab hewn with an axe, and sticks of a similar manufacture set in for legs supported both. When the bed was by chance or refinement elevated above the floor and given a fixed place, it was often laid on slabs placed across poles supported on forks set in the earthen floor; or where the floor was puncheons, the bedstead was hewed pieces pinned on upright posts or let into them by auger-holes. Other utensils and furniture were of a corresponding description, applicable to the time.” Through all that was worst in this rough life he saw and admired "that sort of Spartan virtue" essential in founding new countries. Many of our American ancestors in the oldest States passed through an experience not widely different.
Gentryville is farther south than Louisville or St. Louis. Around its site the newcomers found a rich soil and much green turf beneath the forest trees, with sometimes a luxurious undergrowth, forming almost impenetrable thickets. Ferocious beasts prowled about; and there were deer, wild turkeys, and other game, furnishing an abundance of wholesome food. Young Abraham distinguished himself at an early day by a good rifle-shot, though he never acquired his father's zest for