Page images
PDF
EPUB

hunting. Large of his age and strong, he did good service with the axe almost from the beginning of his Hoosier life. With young David Turnham for a companion, he watched for deer coming to the licks on the neighboring prairie, and made long trips on horseback to the nearest mill (save of hand-power) for grinding corn. On one of the latter occasions, when he was in his tenth year, as he said in 1860, he met with an accident serious enough to be lastingly remembered. When urging his horse, which furnished the power at the mill for his own grist, a kick of the animal rendered him unconscious, and for some time he was thought to be dead. On reviving, he finished the interrupted word of command to the horse as though nothing had intervened — a mental phenomenon which he made the subject of philosophical comment in later life.

During the first two years here, new settlers were gradually coming. The great event of the year 1818 was the appearance of an epidemic known as “milk sickness," of which several persons died. The disease, still occasionally heard of, seems to have no recognized place in systems of pathology. Malarious poison enough was certainly inhaled or imbibed in these woods, but some evil power besides must have aggravated its effects.

Mrs. Lincoln died on the 5th of October in this year, aged nearly thirty-five. It is not quite certain whether the mysterious malady was the cause, for there is a local tradition that she died of consumption. It is further noticeable that her son once spoke of “milk sickness” as being very much like quick consumption. There was no doctor within calling distance, and there was no professional diagnosis of the case. An old resident of Spencer County, who knew her well during the two years she lived in Indiana, said, in 1862, that Mrs. Nancy Lincoln was a woman of superior mind, though she had but little education; that she had “great amiability and kindness of heart," was “quick-witted,” with a "humorous turn" in her talk; and was “more energetic than her husband.” The loss of his mother was the first great grief of young Abraham, then not quite ten years old. The love of reading acquired through her inspiration and help was of itself enough, in his condition, to justify his saying: “I owe all that I am or hope to be to my angel mother." His recollection of her seemed always to be quite clear and vivid, and he ever spoke of her with tenderness and reverence.

What could be done as housekeeper by a girl of twelve, Sarah did for more than a year; but a matron's care was too visibly lacking, and the father decided to ask the help and hand of one he had early known as Sally Bush, now living in widowhood at Elizabethtown. She had married Daniel Johnston, the jailor, who died, leaving three children and little property. Evidently Thomas Lincoln was quite unconscious of any stain on his reputation where he was best known. All the gossip to the contrary, of which more than enough has been repeated by some writers, is plainly of later invention. In 1874 Samuel Haycraft, the veteran clerk of the court of Hardin County, said of this courtship and marriage:

“I was born in this town on the 14th of August, 1795, and have a good memory of persons and things as they existed in ‘auld lang syne.' I knew Thomas Lincoln well. * ... His second wife was originally Miss Sally Bush, daughter of Christopher and Hannah Bush, and was raised in Hardin County, half a mile from Elizabethtown. She was married to Daniel Johnston on the 13th of March, 1806, and lived in Elizabethtown, where he died early in April, 1814, of what was called 'cold plague.' . . . His widow continued to live here until the ad of December, 1819. Thomas Lincoln returned to this place on the ist day of December, and inquired for the residence of Widow Johnston. She lived near the clerk's office. I was the clerk, and informed him how to find her. He was not slow to present himself before her, when the following courtship occurred. He said to her:

“'I am a lone man, and you are a lone woman. I have knowed you from a girl, and you have knowed me from a boy; and I have come all the way from Indiana to ask if you'll marry me right off, as I've no time to lose.'

“ To which she replied: Tommy Lincoln, I have no objection to marrying you, but I can not do it right off, for I owe several little debts which must first be paid.'

"The gallant man promptly said: 'Give me a list of your debts.'

“ The list was furnished, and the debts were paid the same evening. The next morning, December 2d, 1819, I issued the license, and the same day they were married, bundled up, and started for home."

*For Mr. Haycraft's personal description of Thomas Lincoln (the passage omitted here), see ante, p. 8.

Surely this man could be very energetic whenever he would!

“Mrs. Johnston, formerly Sally Bush ” (continued the venerable clerk) “was tall, slender, very good looking, and was taken in those days to be quite a graceful and gay lady. She was very neat, and thought to have been a good match for Thomas Lincoln. His new wife added much to the comfort of his Indiana home, and she took great interest in the training and education of her stepson, Abraham.”

Dennis Hanks, who had moved to Indiana with relatives of Abraham's mother, lived in the family until he married one of the Johnston daughters; and the other became the wife of Levi Hall, whose mother was also a Hanks. The stepmother was indeed a very kind one, and for the lad especially she had an affection like that of an actual mother, as he fully appreciated then and after.

The Baptist meeting-house and the school-house, both log structures, were presently built, not far away. It happened that two highways — one extended westward from Corydon through Spencer County in 1820, the other northwestward from Rockport a year or two later — crossed each other a mile and a half from Thomas Lincoln's cabin. A store was opened at the corners, and the Gentryville postoffice was established in 1824. William Jones soon became the leading storekeeper, succeeding James Gentry, after whom the place was named, and who continued to be its most prominent citizen. Some one else started a grocery there “saloon " being a refinement as yet unknown in the West. The blacksmith had earlier arrived; conveniences were steadily increasing; and the settlement had now an assured position in the world.

At the Gentryville school in the winter of 1823-4 the teacher, in addition to the usual course, gave instruction in “manners ” — more rudimentary than the lessons of Chesterfield. Whether due to this training or not, young Abraham, while lacking in personal graces, was politely deferential when speaking to a lady, it is said, touching his hat or cap — sometimes lifting it outright, we may suppose, if his head-gear at the time happened to be promptly manageable. In Indiana, however, as in Kentucky, his school days were few. They ended altogether before he was seventeen.

Except in reading, he found no greater delight as a boy than in going to have a talk with John Baldwin, the blacksmith, a famous story-teller. He also liked to listen to people who lounged at the store. He had a good friend in Mr. Jones, who lent him newspapers, and occasionally gave him something to do. At huskings and merry-makings he was not only noticeable for his figure,- very tall for his years, lank and sallow-faced,but also for his humor and spirit. If he had just done a hard day's work, it made little difference. He had great physical strength and wonderful endurance. One of his pastimes was to attend the 'Squire's courts at Gentryville, and he would walk the long distance to the county court-house to witness a more stately trial. In 1825 he was employed for some months by a farmer and ferryman at the mouth of Anderson's Creek. This brought him into familiarity with the Ohio River and with new scenes of life and business. In the next year his sister, at the age of eighteen, was married to Aaron

« PreviousContinue »