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Nancy. Betsy married Thomas Sparrow; Polly married Jesse Friend, and Nancy, Levi Hall. Lucy became the wife of Henry Sparrow, and the mother of eight children. Nancy the younger was early sent to live with her uncle and aunt, Thomas and Betsy Sparrow. Nancy, another of the four sisters, was the mother of that Dennis F. Hanks whose name will be frequently met with in the course of this history. He also was brought up, or was permitted to come up, in the family of Thomas Sparrow, where Nancy found a shelter.
Little Nancy became so completely identified with Thomas and Betsy Sparrow that many supposed her to have been their child. They reared her to womanhood, followed her to Indiana, dwelt under the same roof, died of the same disease, at nearly the same time, and were buried close beside her. They were the only parents she ever knew; and she must have called them by names appropriate to that relationship, for several persons who saw them die, and carried them to their graves, believe to this day that they were, in fact, her father and mother. Dennis Hanks persists even now in the assertion that her name was Sparrow; but Dennis was pitiably weak on the cross-examination: and we shall have to accept the testimony of Mr. Lincoln himself, and some dozens of other persons, to the contrary.
All that can be learned of that generation of Hankses to which Nancy's mother belonged has now been recorded as fully as is compatible with circumstances. They claim that their ancestors came from England to Virginia, whence they migrated to Kentucky with the Lincolns, and settled near them in Mercer County. The same, precisely, is affirmed of the Sparrows. Branches of both families maintained a more or less intimate connection with the fortunes of Thomas Lincoln, and the early life of Abraham was closely interwoven with theirs.
Lincoln took Nancy to live in a shed on one of the alleys of Elizabethtown. It was a very sorry building, and nearly bare of furniture. It stands yet, or did stand in 1866, to
witness for itself the wretched poverty of its early inmates. It is about fourteen feet square, has been three times removed, twice used as a slaughter-house, and once as a stable. Here a daughter was born on the tenth day of February, 1807, who was called Nancy during the life of her mother, and after her death Sarah.
But Lincoln soon wearied of Elizabethtown and carpenterwork. He thought he could do better as a farmer; and, shortly after the birth of Nancy (or Sarah), removed to a piece of land on the south fork of Nolin Creek, three miles from Hodgensville, within the present county of La Rue, and about thirteen miles from Elizabethtown. What estate he had, or attempted to get, in this land, is not clear from the papers at hand. It is said he bought it, but was unable to pay for it. It was very poor, and the landscape of which it formed a part was extremely desolate. It was then nearly destitute of timber, though it is now partially covered in spots by a young and stunted growth of post-oak and hickory. On every side the eye rested only upon weeds and low bushes, and a kind of grass which the present owner of the farm describes as "barren grass." It was, on the whole, as bad a piece of ground as there was in the neighborhood, and would hardly have sold for a dollar an acre. The general appearance of the surrounding country was not much better. A few small but pleasant streams - Nolin Creek and its tributaries — wandered through the valleys. The land was generally what is called "rolling;" that is, dead levels interspersed by little hillocks. Nearly all of it was arable; but, except the margins of the watercourses, not much of it was sufficiently fertile to repay the labor of tillage. It had no grand, unviolated forests to allure the hunter, and no great bodies of deep and rich soils to tempt the husbandman. Here it was only by incessant labor and thrifty habits that an ordinary living could be wrung from the earth.
The family took up their residence in a miserable cabin, which stood on a little knoll in the midst of a barren glade.
A few stones tumbled down, and lying about loose, still indicate the site of the mean and narrow tenement which sheltered the infancy of one of the greatest political chieftains of modern times. Near by, a "romantic spring" gushed from beneath a rock, and sent forth a slender but silvery stream, meandering through those dull and unsightly plains. As it furnished almost the only pleasing feature in the melancholy desert through which it flowed, the place was called after it, "Rock Spring Farm." In addition to this single natural beauty, Lincoln began to think, in a little while, that a couple of trees would look well, and might even be useful, if judiciously planted in the vicinity of his bare house-yard. This enterprise he actually put into execution; and three decayed pear-trees, situated on the "edge" of what was lately a ryefield, constitute the only memorials of him or his family to be seen about the premises. They were his sole permanent improvement.
In that solitary cabin, on this desolate spot, the illustrious Abraham Lincoln was born on the twelfth day of February, 1809.
The Lincolns remained on Nolin Creek until Abraham was four years old. They then removed to a place much more picturesque, and of far greater fertility. It was situated about six miles from Hodgensville, on Knob Creek, a very clear stream, which took its rise in the gorges of Muldrews Hill, and fell into the Rolling Fork two miles above the present town of New Haven. The Rolling Fork emptied into Salt River, and Salt River into the Ohio, twenty-four miles below Louisville. This farm was well timbered, and more hilly than the one on Nolin Creek. It contained some rich valleys, which promised such excellent yields, that Lincoln bestirred himself most vigorously, and actually got into cultivation the whole of six acres, lying advantageously up and down the branch. This, however, was not all the work he did, for he still continued to pother occasionally at his trade; but, no matter what he turned his hand to, his gains were
equally insignificant. He was satisfied with indifferent shelter, and a diet of "corn-bread and milk" was all he asked. John Hanks naively observes, that "happiness was the end of life with him." The land he now lived upon (two hundred and thirty-eight acres) he had pretended to buy from a Mr. Slater. The deed mentions a consideration of one hundred and eighteen pounds. The purchase must have been a mere speculation, with all the payments deferred, for the title remained in Lincoln but a single year. The deed was made to him Sept. 2, 1813; and Oct. 27, 1814, he conveyed two hundred acres to Charles Milton for one hundred pounds, leaving thirty-eight acres of the tract unsold. No public record discloses what he did with the remainder. If he retained any interest in it for the time, it was probably permitted to be sold for taxes. The last of his voluntary transactions, in regard to this land, took place two years before his removal to Indiana; after which, he seems to have continued in possession as the tenant of Milton.
In the mean time, Dennis Hanks endeavored to initiate young Abraham, now approaching his eighth year, in the mysteries of fishing, and led him on numerous tramps up and down the picturesque branch, - the branch whose waters were so pure that a white pebble could be seen in a depth of ten feet. On Nolin he had hunted ground-hogs with an older boy, who has since become the Rev. John Duncan, and betrayed a precocious zest in the sport. On Knob Creek, he dabbled in the water, or roved the hills and climbed the trees, with a little companion named Gallaher. On one occasion, when attempting to "coon" across the stream, by swinging over on a sycamore-tree, Abraham lost his hold, and, tumbling into deep water, was saved only by the utmost exertions of the other boy. But, with all this play, the child was often serious and sad. With the earliest dawn of reason, he began to suffer and endure; and it was that peculiar moral training which developed both his heart and his intellect with such singular and astonishing rapidity. It is not likely that Tom
Lincoln cared a straw about his education. He had none himself, and is said to have admired "muscle" more than mind. Nevertheless, as Abraham's sister was going to school レ for a few days at a time, he was sent along, as Dennis Hanks remarks, more to bear her company than with any expectation or desire that he would learn much himself. One of the masters, Zachariah Riney, taught near the Lincoln cabin. The other, Caleb Hazel, kept his school nearly four miles away, on the "Friend" farm; and the hapless children were compelled to trudge that long and weary distance with spelling-book and "dinner," the latter a lunch of corn-bread, Tom Lincoln's favorite dish. Hazel could teach reading and writing, after a fashion, and a little arithmetic. But his great qualification for his office lay in the strength of his arm, and his power and readiness to "whip the big boys."
But, as time wore on, the infelicities of Lincoln's life in this neighborhood became insupportable. He was gaining neither riches nor credit; and, being a wanderer by natural inclination, began to long for a change. His decision, however, was hastened by certain troubles which culminated in a desperate combat between him and one Abraham Enlow. They fought like savages; but Lincoln obtained a signal and permanent advantage by biting off the nose of his antagonist, so that he went bereft all the days of his life, and published his audacity and its punishment wherever he showed his face. But the affray, and the fame of it, made Lincoln more anxious than ever to escape from Kentucky. He resolved, therefore, to leave these scenes forever, and seek a roof-tree beyond the Ohio.
It has pleased some of Mr. Lincoln's biographers to represent this removal of his father as a flight from the taint of slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were not at the time more than fifty slaves in all Hardin County, which then composed a vast area of territory. It was practically a free community. Lincoln's more fortunate relatives in other parts of the State were slaveholders; and