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FIRST YEARS IN ILLINOIS.-1830-82,
The French Settlements.-The North-west.-The Advance of Emigration.-Four Great States Founded in the Lifetime of Mr. Lincoln's Father.-North and South Meeting in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.Sentiments of Southern Emigrants.-The First Emigrations.-A Coincidence of Dates.-Mordecai and Josiah Lincoln.-Removal to Illinois. Settlement on the Sangamon, in Macon County.-The Locality Described.-Abraham Lincoln Engaged in Splitting Rails.-Another Removal of his Father.--He Settles in Coles County.-Abraham Lincoln makes Another Trip as a Flatboatman.--Becomes Clerk in a Store on his Return.-Postmaster at New Salem.
THE early French settlements of Illinois, at Kaskaskia and Cahokia, had proved as little successful or permanent as those. of Indiana around Vincennes. The territory had come into the possession of the British Government just before the Revolution, and emigration from Virginia had commenced almost simultaneously to that quarter and to Kentucky. In 1787, as is well known, the settlements here, in common with those scattered throughout the great expanse of United States territory, north-west of the Ohio river, were brought under a territorial government, as wide in its local scope as it was apparently insignificant in the extent of its population and power. Time speedily demonstrated the error of such an estimate of the remarkable region between the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Lakes, yet, even to this day, the people of the East accept the idea of this greatness and coming power rather as an abstract proposition than as a living reality, deeply affecting their own relative interests and the common resources and grandeur of the country.
The rapid growth of Kentucky on the one side, and of Ohio and Indiana on the other, we have incidentally seen in these pages. The birth of Mr: Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln, was anterior to, or nearly coeval with, the very first settlements in all those States, excepting only the lifeless French colonies of Indiana. The State of Illinois may be added to those of which it may be said, in like manner, his own life was the measure of their age, dating from the first substantial and growing existence of their colonial settlements. In Illinois, as in Indiana, the earliest waves of a healthful emigration had come from Kentucky and Virginia, and in both cases alike, the Southern portion was the earliest to be occupied. Between these early outflowings of free labor from the land of slavery, and those later ones from the free States of the East, on more northern parallels, there is a marked difference, still traceable-creating, in a certain sense, in all the States of the North-west which touch the imaginary line of Mason and Dixon, a division of North and South. Experience and increased commingling between these localities are fast abating the distinctness of this somewhat indefinite separating line, but for years to come it can not be wholly obliterated. These two elements, combined and consolidated, growing into unity instead of being arrayed against each other in widening separation, will go to constitute the strongest of States. The Southern emigration gave character to the earlier legislation of Indiana and Illinois especially. With evidences of a lurking attachment to the peculiar institution of the States on the other side of the Ohio river, the general tenor of public sentiment and action was as positive and distinct, as were the opinions of the more Northern multitudes who came in to fill up these new commonwealths. And yet, the views of slavery prevalent in southern Indiana and Illinois, were at that time not much diverse from those which were entertained in the communities from which these settlers had come. They regarded slavery as an evil to be rid of; and to make sure of this, those who were not already too much entangled with it, left in large numbers for a region which, by request of Virginia herself, was "forever" protected from the inroads of this moral and social mischief.
As we have seen, Indiana had more than 100,000 people concentrated in the south, before any real advance had been made in the central and northern parts. Nearly the same thing was true of Illinois. The territory had been separately organized in the same year with the birth of Abraham Lincoln-1809. The next year's census showed its entire white population to be only 11,501. These were almost exclusively located south of the National Road, which crosses the Kaskaskia river at Vandalia, extending nearly due west to Alton. Notwithstanding the severe labors of opening the forests on the rich western soil, and the long period that must necessarily elapse between the first clearing therein and the perfect subjugation of the selected lands into cultivated farms, there seems to have been a general avoidance, even down to comparatively a late period, of the open prairie, which is now thought to offer such pre-eminent facilities for cultivation, with almost immediate re-payment for the toil bestowed. The settlers who had gone into Illinois, evidently placed a low estimate upon the prairie lands, and always settled on the banks of some stream, on which there was plenty of timber, seeking the forest by preference for their homes. The open character of the country undoubtedly repelled emigration, and caused it to be concentrated on the chief streams, for a long time, when at last it commenced in earnest.
In 1820, two years after admission into the Union, the entire population, still almost entirely confined to the same region, and to similar localities as ten years before, amounted to only 55,211. From that time to 1830, there was some extension of the settlements northward, toward the center of the State, and up the Mississippi to Galena, where the mines were already worked. The rivers along which the principal settlements had been made, aside from the great boundary rivers-the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Wabash-were the Kaskaskia, the Embarras, the Sangamon, and their branches. There were a few settlements, also, in the Rock-river country, and on the range of Peoria. The population, thus chiefly distributed, had now (1830) reached 157,445.
The brothers of Thomas Lincoln had previously removed
to a more northern location in Indiana, than that which he had occupied. Both settled in the Blue river country-Mordecai in Hancock county, where he not long after died, and Josiah in Harrison county. Their example, perhaps, had its influence upon Thomas, who, however, took a course of his own. Whatever the immediate or remote occasion, he left Indiana in the spring of 1830, to seek another place of abode, in the State of Illinois. He had seen the growth of Kentucky from almost the very start, to a population of nearly 700,000 and he had lived in Indiana from the time its inhabitants numbered only 65,000, until they had reached nearly 350,000. As he first set his foot within the limits of Illinois, its vast territory had, comparatively, but just begun to be occupied, scarcely at all, as we have seen, except in the extreme southern portion, and here almost exclusively along the principal streams. In a country so poorly supplied with wood and water, as Illinois, such sites would naturally be the first to be taken up, and, with a prairie addition, they suited the tastes even of those to whom the level, open country was forbidding in appearance.
Mr. Lincoln's father pushed forward to the central part of the State, where such locations were abundant. A more beautiful country than that of the Sangamon valley, could not easily have been anywhere discovered by an explorer. It was not strange that the report of such lands, if he heard it in his Southern Indiana home, should have attracted even so far one who was bred to pioneer life, and inherited a migratory disposition. He first settled on the Sangamon "bottom," in Macon county.
Passing over the Illinois Central Railroad, as you approach Decatur, the county-seat of Macon, from the south, a slightly broken country is reached two or three miles from that place, and presently the North Fork of the Sangamon, over which you pass, a mile from the town. This stream flows westwardly, uniting with the South Fork, near Jamestown, ten miles from Springfield. Following down this North Fork for a distance of about ten miles from Decatur, you come to the immediate vicinity of the first residence of Abraham Lincoln (with his father's family), in Illinois.
Here, for the first season of his abode in the new State he continued to assist the father in his farm-work. One of the first duties was to fence in a field on the rich bottom-lands, which had been selected for cultivation. For this purpose, with the help of one laborer, Abraham Lincoln, it is said split three thousand rails*-the crowning work of a long laborious period of his life. The band who aided him in this exploit, named John Hanks, a distant relative of his mother, bears earnest testimony to the strength and skill with with which the maul and the wedge were employed on this occasion.
For some unexplained reason, the family did not remain on this place but a single year. Abraham was now of age, and when, in the spring of 1831, his father set out for Coles county, sixty or seventy miles to the eastward, on the upper waters of the Kaskaskia and Embarras, a separation took place, the son for the first time, assuming his independence, and commencing life on his own account. The scene of these labors he never again visited. His father was soon after comfortably settled in the place to which he had turned his course, and spent the remainder of his adventurous days there, arriving at a good old age. He died in Coles county, on the 17th day of January, 1851, being in his seventy-third year. The farm on the Sangamon subsequently came into the possession of a Mr. Whitley, who erected a mill in the vicinity.
While there was snow on the ground, at the close of the year 1830, or early in 1831, a man came to that part of Macon county where young Lincoln was living, in pursuit of hands to aid him in a flatboat voyage down the Mississippi. The fact was known that the youth had once made such a trip, and his services were sought for the occasion. As one who had his own subsistence to earn, with no capital but his hands, and with no immediate opportunities for commencing professional study, if his thoughts had as yet been turned in that direction, he accepted the proposition made him. Perhaps there was something of his inherited and acquired fondness for exciting adventure, impelling him to this decision. With him, were
*The number is uncertain, but the main fact rests on the best suthority.