Page images

maidens, thinking possibly quite as much of their charming countenances as of the heads of the preacher's sermon.

Abraham Lincoln, five years old, was not unmindful of what he saw and heard in Little Mound meeting - house, for usually, after reaching home, he mounted a stool and preached a sermon of his own, shouting in imitation of the minister, and pounding the table with his little fist. He especially liked the Rev. David Elkin. The preacher may have seen something in Thomas Lincoln's boy that attracted his particular attention. It may have been the purity, earnestness, and sadness of the mother's countenance reproduced in the face of the son; perchance the boy asked him questions when he stepped down from the pulpit to shake hands with the father and mother. Whatever the mutual attraction may have been, David Elkin and Abraham Lincoln became fast friends.

It is plain that the settlers of Hodgensville had no very exalted ideas concerning the education of their children. No school-house had been provided when Zachariah Riney proposed to open a school. He was a Roman Catholic priest, who travelled through the settlements teaching a few weeks in a place. The people were too poor to pay him much money, nor was it much that he could teach. The children of Hodgensville and along Nolin's Creek, those living at Little Mound, boys and girls verging upon manhood and womanhood, flocked to the cabin which served for a school-house. The teacher had only a spelling-book containing easy lessons for reading. Quite likely the young men were somewhat chagrined when Abraham Lincoln, five years old, marched to the head of the class. His mother had been his teacher.

Thomas Lincoln made no headway in paying for his farm. He tried to better his fortune by bargaining for 200 acres of land on Knob Creek, seven miles from Nolin's. He built a cabin, but it was little bet

1814. ter than the one he abandoned. (') Another teacher came— George Hazel-who, like Riney, had only a spelling-book. When the most advanced pupils finished it, he started them once more in words of one syllable. (2) No other book was studied. He did not teach writing.

We have seen Thomas Lincoln's oldest brother inheriting all the property of their father's estate. The law of entail was no longer in force, but the titles of land which had been granted by Virginia to individuals before Kentucky became a State were not always clear. Settlers, after building their houses and improving the land, frequently found they were not the legal owners of the property. Under such a condition of affairs people were moving to Indiana, where they could buy land for $2 an acre, and obtain an unclouded title from the United States. Slavery

existed in Kentucky. Poor men were conscious of an assumed superiority on the part of those who owned slaves. The lands in Indiana were fertile. It was a free State, in which rich and poor alike were respected. Thomas Lincoln, in common with many others in Ken

[graphic][merged small]

tucky, resolved to live where there would be no distinction between rich and poor, and where he would have a better chance to get on in the world. He had bargained for the Knob Creek farm, built a cabin, dug a well, and cleared a portion of the land. He was fortunate enough to find a settler who would purchase the improvements. He took in payment 400 gallons of whiskey, which was everywhere a marketable commodity. () Nearly everybody drank spirituous liquors, in accordance with the custom of the times. Instead of being disreputable to drink, it was regarded as ungracious not to drink, especially when invited to do so. Only when people became senseless or quarrelsome was the drinking regarded as harmful. Next to silver coin, whiskey came nearest to being legal tender in business.

At the junction of Knob Creek with Rolling Fork, Mr. Lincoln constructed a boat. The barrels of liquor were placed on board, togeth

er with his carpenter's tools. Without any mishap he floated down Rolling Fork to Salt River, and with the current of that stream to the Ohio, which had overflowed its banks. Suddenly his frail craft was capsized in the swirling water, and whiskey and tools went to the bottom of the river. He swam to the shore and stood penniless upon the bank; but when the water receded, a few days later, he regained his property, obtained another boat, and floated down the Ohio to Thompson's Landing. Leaving his property in a storehouse, he went northward twenty miles through the forest to Pigeon Creek. He was charmed with the country. The soil was fertile. Mr. Gentry had built a cabin; other settlers were selecting lands. He made choice of a quarter section, and travelled seventy miles to Vincennes to enter his claim, and returned to Kentucky.

The November winds were rattling the acorns and walnuts to the ground, and the ripened leaves were falling, when the family moved to Indiana. The nights were cold. No shelter had been provided. 1817. The late autumn rains were setting in. It was only a "camp" that the carpenter could build, one side of which was open to the weather. () The hard-working wife, as in the floorless cabin at Nolin's Creek, baked the corn-bread and went on with the making and mending. It seems probable that while occupying this camp she taught writing to Abraham. We know that George Hazel did not teach it, but further on we shall see Abraham writing a letter to a friend in Kentucky.



[From a photograph taken by the author, October, 1891. The well dug by Thomas Lincoln is seen
in the centre of the picture.]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Through the winter carpenter Lincoln was hewing timber for his future home, which was to be something more than a cabin. Although there would be but one room on the ground, he would build the walls high enough for a loft, which would give sleeping accommodations to Sarah and Abraham. Built of hewn logs, it would be palatial in comparison with his former homes. Picture it as we may, we shall not be able to portray the desolateness of the winter passed in the Pigeon Creek camp, and the weariness of spirit on the part of one endowed as was the mother to adorn a palace. We are not to think that Thomas Lincoln was idle, nor that he was altogether shiftless. He was in poverty. The family must have food. A home must be built. The ground must be cleared for planting corn. There is no evidence that he was idle. Other settlers, more industrious than he, could not accumulate much property in a section of country covered by a dense forest. Many sturdy blows must be given with the axe before he could complete his house and clear the ground for raising corn.

The new home was not finished when the family moved into it-the floor not laid, no boards provided for a door. The moving was hastened by the arrival of Thomas Sparrow, whose wife was Mrs. Lincoln's sister. Dennis Hanks, a nephew, came with them. Without doubt it was a glad day when they arrived, but the joy was quickly changed to mourning. A few weeks later Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow were borne to their graves. Sickness, which became epidemic, appeared throughout southern Indiana, attacking cattle and human beings alike, caused, as is supposed, by herbs which poisoned the milk of the cows. The physician had no counteracting medicine. The illness was brief; the result, in most cases, fatal.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln was thirty-three years old. Life as found by

her had presented few attractions. It seems probable that not much sunshine fell across her path, even during her girlhood, in Virginia. She had been dependent upon friends for a home. By circumstances beyond her control she had been compelled to accept uncongenial life on the frontier. Her aspirations were far different from those of her kind-hearted husband. She heard voices which he could not hear. Her discerning eyes beheld what he never would be able to see. Shall we wonder that the sadness deepened upon her countenance? Seemingly it was not much she could do to lift her offspring to a better life than her own had been; but human vision does not reach down to the springs which underlie character. The world never will know the greatness of its debt to her for doing what she could in stamping her own lofty conception of duty and obligation upon the hearts and consciences of her children.

October had come. The forest was arrayed in glory. The harvest was at hand. There had ever been loving intimacy and sympathy be




[From a photograph taken by the author, 1890.]

« PreviousContinue »