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SATIRES AND SERMONS
studious habits and his extraordinarily retentive memory, he quickly became the best story-teller among his companions. Even the slight training he gained from his studies greatly quickened his perceptions and broadened and steadied the strong reasoning faculty with which nature had endowed him.
As the years of his youth passed by, his less gifted comrades learned to accept his judgments and to welcome his power to entertain and instruct them. On his own part, he gradually learned to write not merely with the hand, but also with the mind-to think. It was an easy transition for him from remembering the jingle of a commonplace rhyme to the constructing of a doggerel verse, and he did not neglect the opportunity of practising his penmanship in such impromptus. Tradition also relates that he added to his list of stories and jokes humorous imitations from the sermons of eccentric preachers. But tradition has very likely both magnified and distorted these alleged exploits of his satire and mimicry. All that can be said of them is that his youth was marked by intellectual activity far beyond that of his companions.
It is an interesting coincidence that nine days before the birth of Abraham Lincoln Congress passed the act to organize the Territory of Illinois, which his future life and career were destined to render so illustrious. Another interesting coincidence may be found in the fact that in the same year (1818) in which Congress definitely fixed the number of stars and stripes in the national flag, Illinois was admitted as a State to the Union. The Star of Empire was moving westward at an accelerating speed. Alabama was admitted in 1819, Maine in 1820, Missouri in 1821. Little by little the line of frontier settlement was pushing itself toward the Mississippi. No sooner had the pioneer built him
a cabin and opened his little farm, than during every summer canvas-covered wagons wound their toilsome way over the new-made roads into the newer wilderness, while his eyes followed them with wistful eagerness. Thomas Lincoln and his Pigeon Creek relatives and neighbors could not forever withstand the contagion of this example, and at length they yielded to the irrepressible longing by a common impulse. Mr. Lincoln writes:
"March 1, 1830, Abraham having just completed his twenty-first year, his father and family, with the families of the two daughters and sons-in-law of his stepmother, left the old homestead in Indiana and came to Illinois. Their mode of conveyance was wagons drawn by ox-teams, and Abraham drove one of the teams. They reached the county of Macon, and stopped there some time within the same month of March. His father and family settled a new place on the north side of the Sangamon River, at the junction of the timber land and prairie, about ten miles westerly from Decatur. Here they built a log cabin, into which they removed, and made sufficient of rails to fence ten acres of ground, fenced and broke the ground, and raised a crop of sown corn upon it the same year. The sons-in-law were temporarily settled in other places in the county. In the autumn all hands were greatly afflicted with ague and fever, to which they had not been used, and by which they were greatly discouraged, so much so that they determined on leaving the county. They remained, however, through the succeeding winter, which was the winter of the very celebrated 'deep snow' of Illinois."
Flatboat-New Salem-Election Clerk-Store and Mill
HE life of Abraham Lincoln, or that part of it
readers all time,
properly begins in March, 1831, after the winter of the "deep snow." According to frontier custom, being then twenty-one years old, he left his father's cabin to make his own fortune in the world. A man named Denton Offutt, one of a class of local traders and speculators usually found about early Western settlements, had probably heard something of young Lincoln's Indiana history, particularly that he had made a voyage on a flatboat from Indiana to New Orleans, and that he was strong, active, honest, and generally, as would be expressed in Western phrase, "a smart young fellow." He was therefore just the sort of man Offutt needed for one of his trading enterprises, and Mr. Lincoln himself relates somewhat in detail how Offutt engaged him and the beginning of the
"Abraham, together with his stepmother's son, John
D. Johnston, and John Hanks, yet residing in Macon County, hired themselves to Denton Offutt to take a flatboat from Beardstown, Illinois [on the Illinois River], to New Orleans; and for that purpose were to join him-Offutt-at Springfield, Illinois, so soon as the snow should go off. When it did go off, which was about the first of March, 1831, the county was so flooded as to make traveling by land impracticable, to obviate which difficulty they purchased a large canoe, and came down the Sangamon River in it. This is the time and the manner of Abraham's first entrance into Sangamon County. They found Offutt at Springfield, but learned from him that he had failed in getting a boat at Beardstown. This led to their hiring themselves to him for twelve dollars per month each, and getting the timber out of the trees and building a boat at Old Sangamon town on the Sangamon River, seven miles northwest of Springfield, which boat they took to New Orleans, substantially upon the old contract."
It needs here to be recalled that Lincoln's father was a carpenter, and that Abraham had no doubt acquired considerable skill in the use of tools during his boyhood, and a practical knowledge of the construction of flatboats during his previous New Orleans trip, sufficient to enable him with confidence to undertake this task in shipbuilding. From the after history of both Johnston and Hanks, we know that neither of them was gifted with skill or industry, and it becomes clear that Lincoln was from the first leader of the party, master of construction, and captain of the craft.
It took some time to build the boat, and before it was finished the Sangamon River had fallen so that the new craft stuck midway across the dam at Rutledge's Mill, at New Salem, a village of fifteen or twenty houses. The inhabitants came down to the
bank, and exhibited great interest in the fate of the
This exploit of naval engineering fully established Lincoln's fame at New Salem, and grounded him so firmly in the esteem of his employer Offutt that the latter, already looking forward to his future usefulness, at once engaged him to come back to New Salem, after his New Orleans voyage, to act as his clerk in
Once over the dam and her cargo reloaded, partly there and partly at Beardstown, the boat safely made the remainder of her voyage to New Orleans; and, returning by steamer to St. Louis, Lincoln and Johnston (Hanks had turned back from St. Louis) continued on foot to Illinois, Johnston remaining at the family home, which had meanwhile been removed from Macon to Coles County, and Lincoln going to his employer and friends at New Salem. This was in July or August, 1831. Neither Offutt nor his goods had yet arrived, and during his waiting he had a chance to show the New Salemites another accomplishment. An election. was to be held, and one of the clerks was sick and failed to come. Scribes were not plenty on the frontier, and Mentor Graham, the clerk who was present,