« PreviousContinue »
Removal to Illinois - A Second Voyage to New Orleans Captain in Black Hawk War - Surveyor, Post
master, Legislator — Menard Legends.
To dwell in a frame house was not beyond the ambition of Thomas Lincoln. Before the year 1829 was ended he had gathered the needed boards, sawn by hand — the saw-pit still awaiting the belated mill. But the house was never to be for him. Times were hard as ever. President Jackson implored Congress to relieve settlers who had taken lands under the credit system; but his voice was unheeded. Many had to sell improved lands at a loss or to abandon them altogether. And, besides, the Pigeon Creek community had another visitation this autumn from its old enemy, milk sickness. Finally, allured by favorable reports from his friend, John Hanks, who had gone to the Sangamon River country, in Illinois, Thomas Lincoln determined to fol
low him. The boards went to another farmer of the . Gentryville neighborhood and made the Crawford house famous. What remained of the Lincoln farm (one-half had already reverted to the Government) passed into the possession of the more fortunate James Gentry.
Sangamon County was organized in 1821, and Springfield, while as yet having little more than a paper
existence, became the county seat. Farther up the Sangamon River, in Macon County, ten miles west of Decatur, the Lincoln family temporarily settled, early in the spring of 1830. The son assisted in building a cabin and fencing in a field of ten acres — probably his chief experience as a “rail-splitter.” The few months that he spent in Macon County are otherwise of little interest, save as to the manner in which the sojourn ended. Afterward he never visited the place, (near which John Hanks, a successful farmer, remained for life,) nor did the rest of the family continue here long.
The winter of 1830-31 was ever memorable to the early settlers of the State for its marvelous “ deep snow.” Before the immense floods of the following spring had fairly set in, “there came a man to that part of Macon County,” said Lincoln in 1860, “ looking for hands to run a flatboat to New Orleans.” It may not have been quite by chance that he there met one who was entirely competent for the service who had no previous engagement. A bargain was closed with Lincoln, to be assisted by John Johnston, his step-brother, and John Hanks. At the time appointed for meeting their employer (Denton Offutt) near Springfield, the waters spread far and wide, like a great sea, over which Lincoln voyaged, by canoe, gaining his "introduction to Sangamon County.”
A flatboat was built from timber which they cut in the woods and sawed at a mill; and after the launch all went well until the craft stuck fast on a dam at New Salem, twenty miles down the river. That was on the 18th of April, 1831. The gathered people watched the vain efforts made, as the day wore on, until finally
Lincoln's ingenuity prevailed. The cargo having been removed, holes were bored in that part of the boat projecting over the dam; the water ran out as the rear was elevated, and a combination of main strength did the rest. Offutt was delighted, bystanders applauded, and the re-loaded vessel resumed its course. The scene of this adventure was to have a more lasting relation to his life. Here Offutt saw what seemed an inviting opportunity for business, in which young Lincoln, to whom he took a great liking, would be serviceable on his return from New Orleans, which happened in due time.
In making two such voyages, Lincoln came to see, as would otherwise not have happened in his early experience, what trouble had befallen the nation from the introduction of a race of men stolen from the midst of a barbarism that was dark and cruel, to serve as labor machines. Their presence as bondmen — indeed, their presence at all
had become a continued source of disturbance. One side of the case he had seen
one to excite his antipathy — when forced to an unwilling conflict at Baton Rouge two years before. On his second trip he encountered enough of the worst visible features of slavery, beyond doubt, to excite a resentful sympathy for its victims. It is less certain that, as alleged, he vowed to “hit that thing if he ever got a chance, and hit it hard," or that a fortune-telling negress told him he would one day be President, and then all the negroes would be free.
New Salem village was of very recent birth, having less than a score of cheap buildings, on a bluff overhanging the Sangamon on the west. Two miles north,
down the valley, is the present town of Petersburg, not then existing or even platted, but which was ere long to absorb the very life-blood of the older settlement and to become the seat of a new county, Menard. In Lincoln's memory this valley as far as Concord, four miles farther on, had a secure place. His busy hours must have been haunted by visions of these bluffs and bottom lands; in solitary revery he must often have heard the roar of Sangamon Falls making monotonous lament while the ghosts of hopes and sorrows, of cares and joys, flitted in the thickening darkness of his spirit. He had floated down on the “deep snow" flood, he once said, and landed here like a piece of driftwood.
Just before the State election, then occurring in August, he returned from a visit to his father (who had finally settled in Coles County), and was pressed into service as a clerk at the polls. It was here, in Clary's Grove precinct, that he cast his first vote. The viva voce method, according to the Kentucky code which Illinois had copied, was still in use. The poll-sheet discloses that Lincoln voted for James Turney, Whig, for Representative in Congress, as against Joseph Duncan, Democrat, who was re-elected; for John ("Jack") Armstrong for Constable; and for Boling Green, later his warm friend, for Magistrate. Both the last were elected. Armstrong, as the champion wrestler, was soon after put forward to test the value of Offutt's bragging over the athletic powers of his clerk. Lincoln accepted the challenge of the constable; stakes were put up by the backers of each, and the entire community was astir over the contest. The wrestlers proved to be nearly equally matched. Both kept stoutly on their feet
during a long struggle. Then there was an alleged foul and a dispute, with angry excitement among the friends of each and stormy signs all around. But respectable Mr. Rutledge counseled peace; and under like circumstances peace was probably never more easily secured. In truth, the newcomer had triumphed, as his competitor conceded with an amicable shake of the hand. Ever afterward Lincoln had the respect and good will of these people and a restraining influence over the most refractory spirits.
The new store was hardly opened before bustling Offutt also took possession of the mill at the foot of the bluff, rented from Cameron and Rutledge, two of the earliest adventurers here; and the business was further enlarged, if it was here that Lincoln was employed for a time in "a still at the head of a valley," as he once stated in debate. Young William G. Greene, * to whom the world is indebted for recollections of those days, was employed to help in these complicated affairs, the two clerks becoming firm friends, fellow-lodgers at the store, and fellow-boarders at Rutledge's tavern. Another acquaintance was a bright and genial, yet shortlived young fellow of bibulous habits, John Kelso, whose enthusiasm over Burns and Shakespeare was caught by his new associate. Boling Green, who lived a mile or two from the mill, had readable books, and gave Lincoln cordial welcome to his fireside. Farther away on the same river road was the farm of Bennett Abell, whose wife was a well-educated Kentuckian and among Lincoln's most esteemed acquaintances here.
*Later of Tallula, Menard County—a wealthy farmer and banker. He died in 1894.