« PreviousContinue »
land, under the auspices of William Penn, or a pioneer offshoot from the Lincolns of New England, does not appear. There is the strongest presumptive evidence that the Pennsylvania and New England Lincolns were identical in their family blood. The argument for this identity rests mainly. upon the coincidences which the Christian names of the two. families present. Three Lincolns who came from Hingham, in England, and settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, between 1633 and 1637, bore the Christian name of Thomas. Another bore the name of Samuel, and he had three sons: Daniel, Mordecai and Thomas. Mordecai was the father of Mordecai, who was born in 1686. He was also the father of Abraham, born in 1689. About 1750, there were two Mordecai Lincolns in the town of Taunton.* Here we have the three names: Mordecai, Thomas and Abraham, in frequent and familiar family use. Passing to the Pennsylvania family, we find that among the taxable inhabitants of Exeter, Berks County, Pennsylvania, there were, soon after 1752, Mordecai and Abraham Lincoln; that Thomas Lincoln was living in Reading as early as 1757, and that Abraham Lincoln, of Berks County, was in various public offices in the state from 1782 to 1790.†
It has already been seen that these names have been perpetuated among the later generations of the Pennsylvania Lincolns, and that the three names-Abraham, Mordecai and Thomas-were all embraced in the family out of which the President sprang. The argument thus based upon the identity of favorite family names (and one of those quite an unusual name,) is very strong in establishing identity of blood, though, of course, it is not entirely conclusive. It is sufficient, certainly, in the absence of a reliable record, to make the theory plausible which transfers a Quaker from the unfriendly soil of Massachusetts to the paradise of Quakers in Pennsylvania. It is highly probable that an exceptional
*Rev. Elias Nason's Eulogy before the N. E. Historic-Geneological Society, at Boston, May 3, 1865.
+Rupp's History of Berks and Lebanon Counties, Pennsylvania.
Quaker among the Massachusetts Puritan family went, with other New Englanders, to Berks County in Pennsylvania, and that the blood which has given to New England a considerable number of most honorable names, has given to the nation one of the noblest that adorn its annals.
Thomas Lincoln, the father of the President, was made, by the early death of his father and the straitened circumstances of his mother, a wandering, laboring, ignorant boy. He grew up without any education. He really never learned anything of letters except those which composed his own name. This he could write clumsily, but legibly, and this he did write without any knowledge of the names and powers of the letters which composed it. While a lad not fully grown, he passed a year as a hired field hand on Wataga, a branch of the Holston River, in the employ of his Uncle Isaac. Withcut money or the opportunity to acquire it, all the early years of his life were passed in labor for others, at such wages as he could command, or in hunting the game with which the region abounded. It was not until he had reached his twentyeighth year that he found it practicable to settle in life, and make for himself a home. He married Nancy Hanks, in 1806. She was born in Virginia, and was probably a relative of one of the early immigrants into Kentucky. He took her to the humble cabin he had prepared for her, already alluded to as the birth-place of the President, and within the first few years. of her married life, she bore him three children. The first was a daughter named Sarah, who married when a child, and died many years ago, leaving no issue. The third was a son, (Thomas,) who died in infancy. The second was Abraham, who, born into the humblest abode, under the humblest circumstances, raised himself by the force of native gifts of heart and brain, and by the culture and power achieved by his own will and industry, under the blessing of a Providence which he always recognized, to sit in the highest place in the land, and to preside over the destinies of thirty millions of people.
From such materials as are readily accessible, let us paint a picture of the little family. Thomas Lincoln, the father,
was a well built, sinewy man, about five feet ten and a half inches high, dressed in the humble garb which his poverty compelled and the rude art of the time and locality produced. Though a rover by habit and native tastes, he was not a man of enterprise. He was a good-natured man, a man of undoubted integrity, but inefficient in making his way in the world, and improvident of the slender means at his command. He was a man, however, whom everybody loved, and who held the warm affection of his eminent son throughout his life. He attributed much of his hard fortune to his lack of education, and in one thing, at least, showed himself more wisely provident than the majority of his neighbors. He determined, at any possible sacrifice, to give his children the best education that the schools of the locality afforded.
Mrs. Lincoln, the mother, was evidently a woman out of place among those primitive surroundings. She was five feet, five inches high, a slender, pale, sad and sensitive woman, with much in her nature that was truly heroic, and much that shrank from the rude life around her. A great man never drew his infant life from a purer or more womanly bosom than her own; and Mr. Lincoln always looked back to her with an unspeakable affection. Long after her sensitive heart and weary hands had crumbled into dust, and had climbed to life again in forest flowers, he said to a friend, with tears in his eyes: "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother-blessings on her memory!
Here was the home and here were its occupants, all humble, all miserably poor; yet it was a home of love and of virtue. Both father and mother were religious persons, and sought at the earliest moment to impress the minds of their children with religious truth. The mother, though not a ready writer, could read. Books were scarce, but occasionally an estray was caught and eagerly devoured. Abraham and his sister often sat at her feet to hear of scenes and deeds that roused their young imaginations, and fed their hungry minds.
Schools in Kentucky were, in those days, scarce and very
poor. Nothing more than instruction in the rudiments of education was attempted. Zachariah Riney was Abraham's first teacher. Riney was a Catholic, and though the Protestant children in his charge were commanded, or permitted, to retire when any of his peculiar religious ceremonies or exercises were in progress, Mr. Lincoln always entertained a pleasant and grateful memory of him. He began his attendance upon Mr. Riney's school when he was in his seventh year, but could hardly have continued it beyond a period of two or three months. His next teacher was Caleb Hazel, a fine young man, whose school he attended for about three months. The boy was diligent, and actually learned to write an intelligible letter during this period.
If the schools of the region were rude and irregular, its religious institutions were still more so. Public religious worship was observed in the neighborhood only at long intervals, and then under the charge of roving preachers, who, ranging over immense tracts of territory, and living on their horses and in the huts of the settlers, called the people together under trees or cabin-roofs, and spoke to them simply of the great truths of Christianity. The preachers themselves were peculiar persons, made so by the peculiarity of their circumstances and pursuits. For many years, Abraham Lincoln never saw a church; but he heard Parson Elkin preach. At intervals of several months, the good parson held meetings in the neighborhood. He was a Baptist, and Thomas and Nancy Lincoln were members of that communion. Abraham's first ideas of public speech were gathered from the simple addresses of this humble and devoted itinerant, and the boy gave evidence afterwards, as we shall see, that he remembered him with interest and affection.
When inefficient men become very uncomfortable, they are quite likely to try emigration as a remedy. A good deal of what is called “the pioneer spirit" is simply a spirit of shiftless discontent. Possibly there was something of this spirit in Thomas Lincoln. It is true, at least, that when Abraham was about seven years old, his father became possessed with
the desire to sell his little home, and remove to another, in some fairer wilderness. It is probable, also, that he did not like to rear his children in Kentucky. He had been wise enough to appreciate the advantages of education to his children, and it is quite likely that he shrank from seeing them grow up in a community cursed with slavery. The state having outgrown, with marvelous rapidity, its ruder conditions, and become populous and powerful, was already the home of an institution which branded labor with disgrace, and made the position of the poor whites a hopeless one. He could see nothing in the future, for himself or his boy, but labor by the side of the negro, and degradation in his presence and companionship.
Mr. Lincoln himself never attributed his father's desire to remove from Kentucky to his dislike of slavery, as a principal motive. Kentucky, more than most of the new states, was cursed with defective land-titles. Daniel Boone himself, with hundreds of others who had shared with him the dangers of pioneer life, was dispossessed of nearly all his lands, after having lived upon them for years, and rendered them very valuable by improvements. It was mainly to this difficulty, of getting a valid title to land, that Abraham Lincoln attributed his father's desire and determination to remove to another state.
Thomas Lincoln found a purchaser, at last, for his home. He bartered it away for ten barrels of whisky and twenty dollars in money, the whole representing the sum of three hundred dollars, his price for the place.* After building a flat-boat and launching it upon the Rolling Fork, he loaded it with his stock of whisky, and all the heavier household wares of which he was possessed, pushed off alone, and floated safely down to the Ohio River. Here he met with an accident-a wreck, indeed. The flat-boat was upset, and two-thirds of his whisky and many of his housekeeping utensils and farming and other tools were lost. Meeting with assistance, his boat
*William M. Thayer's "Pioneer Boy," a singularly faithful statement of the early experiences of Abraham Lincoln.