« PreviousContinue »
was righted, and everything saved that it was found practicable to gather from the bottom of the river. Landing at Thompson's Ferry, he procured carriage for his goods about eighteen miles into Spencer County, Indiana, where, in almost an unbroken wilderness, he determined to settle. Leaving his goods in the care of a settler, he returned to Thompson's Ferry, and then, on foot, took as nearly as possible a bee-line for home, where he arrived in due time. It was probably during the absence of the father on his preliminary trip that the mother paid her last tribute of affection to the little one she had buried, by visiting its grave, in company with her living boy-an incident which he remembered with tender interest.
This voyage was made in the autumn of 1816, when Abraham was in his eighth year, and it was followed by the immediate removal of the whole family. The journey to the new home was made overland, upon three horses which carried in packs the bedding, wardrobe and all the lighter effects of the family. The humble cavalcade occupied seven days in the journey. At the end of it, the emigrants met with neighborly assistance in the erection of a dwelling, and were soon housed and ready to begin life anew.
It must not be inferred from the character of the material which Mr. Lincoln received, in principal, as the payment for his little homestead in Kentucky, and transferred to his new home in Indiana, that he was addicted to the vice of strong drink. In those days, alcoholic liquors were in general use among the settlers, not only as a beverage, but as a remedial agent in the treatment of the diseases peculiar to the new settlements of the West. The same liquors were used with the same freedom among all classes at the East, at that date, without a thought-of evil. Mr. Lincoln supposed he was receiving a commodity which would be of great value to him in the new regions of Indiana, where distillation had not been attempted; and he doubtless found a ready market for the fraction of the cargo which he had saved from the river.
The point at which the Lincoln family settled in Indiana was not far from the present town of Gentryville. The campaign biographers of Abraham attribute to him some valuable service with the ax, both in building the cabin and in clearing the forest around it; but, at the age of seven, he could hardly have rendered much assistance in these offices. We are told that he had an ax; and there is no doubt that he learned at an early age to use it effectually. Indeed, his muscles were formed and hardened by this exercise, continued through all the years of his young manhood. It has already been stated that he had no taste for the sports of the forest; but he made an early shot, with a result that must have surprised him and his family. While yet a child, he saw through a crack in the cabin a flock of wild turkeys, feeding. He ventured to take down his father's rifle, and, firing through the crack, killed one of them. This was the largest game upon which he ever pulled trigger, his brilliant success having no power to excite in him the passion for hunting
Among the most untoward circumstances, Thomas Lincoln embraced every opportunity to give Abraham an education. At different periods, all of them brief, he attended the neighborhood schools that were opened to him. Andrew Crawford taught one of these, a Mr. Sweeney another, and Azel W. Dorsey another, the last of whom lived to see his humble pupil a man of eminence, and to congratulate him upon his elevation. One year, however, would cover all the time spent by him with his two Kentucky teachers, and the three whose schools he attended in Indiana ; and all the school education of his life was embraced by the limits of this one year.
It is very difficult for any one bred in the older communities of the country to appreciate the extreme humility of border life, the meagerness and meanness of its household appointments, and the paucity of its stimulants to mental growth and social development. The bed in which the elder Lincolns, and, on very cold nights, the little Lincolns, slept, during their first years in Indiana, was one whose rudeness will give a key to the kind of life which they lived there. The head and one side of the bedstead were formed by an angle of the cabin itself. The bed-post standing out into the room was a single crotch, cut from the forest. Laid upon this crotch were the ends of two hickory sticks, whose other extremities were morticed into the logs, the two sides of the cabin and the two rails embracing a quadrilateral space of the required dimensions. This was bridged by slats “rived” from the forest log, and on the slats was laid a sack filled with dried leaves. This was, in reality, the bed of Thomas and Nancy. Lincoln ; and into it, when the skins hung at the cabin doorway did not keep out the cold, Abraham and his sister crept for the warmth which their still ruder couch upon the ground denied them.
The lot of the little family, already sadly dark, was rendered inexpressibly gloomy at an early day by an event which made a profound impression upon the mind of the boy--an impression that probably never wore away during all the eventful years that followed. His delicate mother bent to the dust under the burden of life which circumstances had imposed upon her. A quick consumption seized her, and her life went out in the flashing fevers of her disease. The boy and his sister were orphans, and the humble home in the wilderness was desolate. Her death occurred in 1818, scarcely two years after her removal to Indiana, and when Abraham was in his tenth year. They laid her to rest under the trees near the cabin, and, sitting on her grave, the little boy wept his irreparable loss. There were probably none but the simplest ceremonies at her burial, and neither father nor son was content to part with her without a formal Christian tribute to her worth and memory. Both thought of the good Parson Elkin whom they had left in Kentucky; and Abraham's skill in writing was brought into use in addressing to him a message. His imperfect penmanship had been acquired partly in the schools he had attende:', and partly by practice in the sand and on the barks of trees-on anything and with any
instrument by which letters might be formed.
Several months after Mrs. Lincoln died, Abraham wrote a letter to Parson Elkin, informing him of his mother's death, and begging him to come to Indiana, and preach her funeral sermon. It was a great favor that he thus asked of the poor preacher. It would require him to ride on horseback nearly a hundred miles through the wilderness; and it is something to be remembered to the humble itinerant's honor that he was willing to pay this tribute of respect to the woman who had 80 thoroughly honored him and his sacred office. He replied to Abraham's invitation, that he would preach the sermon on a certain future Sunday, and gave him liberty to notify the neighbors of the promised service.
As the appointed day approached, notice was given to the whole neighborhood, embracing every family within twenty miles. Neighbor carried the notice to neighbor. It was scattered from every little school. There was probably not a family that did not receive intelligence of the anxiously anticipated event.
On a bright Sabbath morning, the settlers of the region started for the cabin of the Lincolns; and; as they gathered in, they presented a picture worthy the pencil of the worthiest painter. Some came in carts of the rudest construction, their wheels consisting of sections of the huge boles of forest trees, and every other member the product of the ax and auger; some came on horseback, two or three upon a horse ; others came in
wagons drawn by oxen, and still others came on foot. Two hundred persons in all were assembled when Parson Elkin came out from the Lincoln cabin, accompanied by the little
family, and proceeded to the tree under which the precious dust of a wife and mother was buried. The congregation, seated upon stumps and logs around the grave, received the preacher and the mourning family in a silence broken only by the songs of birds, and the murmur of insects, or the creaking cart of some late comer. Taking his stand at the foot of the grave, Parson Elkin lifted his voice in prayer and sacred song, and then preached a sermon. The occasion, the eager faces around him, and all the sweet influences of the morning, inspired him with an unusual fluency and fervor; and the flickering sunlight, as it glanced through the wind-parted leaves, caught many a tear upon the bronzed cheeks of his auditors, while father and son were overcome by the revival of their great grief. He spoke of the precious Christian woman who had gone with the warm praise which she deserved, and held her up as an example of true womanhood.
Those who knew the tender and reverent spirit of Abraham Lincoln later in life, will not doubt that he returned to his cabin-home deeply impressed by all that he had heard. It was the rounding up for him of the influences of a Christian mother's life and teachings. It recalled her sweet and patient example, her assiduous efforts to inspire him with pure and noble motives, her simple instructions in divine truth, her devoted love for him, and the motherly offices she had rendered him during all his tender years. His character was planted in this Christian mother's life. Its roots were fed by this Christian mother's love; and those who have wondered at the truthfulness and earnestness of his mature character, have only to remember that the tree was true to the soil from which it sprang.
Abraham, at an early day, became a reader. Every book upon which he could lay his hands he read. He became a writer also. The majority of the settlers around him were entirely illiterate, and when it became known that Mr. Lincoln's boy could write, his services were in frequent request by them in sending epistolary messages to their friends. In the composition of these letters his carly habits of putting the thoughts of others as well as his own into language were