Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The History of Abraham Lincoln's Father, Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851).

According to the date on his headstone, Thomas Lincoln was born on January 6, 1778, although there is evidence that he was born in 1776. His place of birth was in Rockingham County, Virginia, and he was the fourth of five children born to Abraham and Bathsheba Lincoln. 
Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851)
Thomas Lincoln moved to Kentucky in the 1780s with his family. In May of 1786, Thomas witnessed the murder of his father by Indians "...when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest." That fall, his mother moved the family to Washington County, Kentucky (near Springfield), where Thomas lived until he was eighteen. From 1795 to 1802, Thomas held various jobs in several locations—positions that increased his earnings and helped feed the Lincoln family. In 1802 he moved to Hardin County, Kentucky, where one year later, he purchased a 238-acre farm. Four years later, on June 12, 1806, he married Nancy Hanks. Their first child, a daughter named Sarah, was born a year later.

In 1808, Thomas bought a 300-acre farm on Nolin Creek. There, on February 12, 1809, his son Abraham was born. A third child, named Thomas, died in infancy.

Thomas was active in community and church affairs in Hardin County. He served as a jury member, a petitioner, and a guard for the county prison. He could read a little, was a skilled carpenter, and was a property owner. In 1815 he purchased—for cash—still another farm, the Knob Creek farm. This Knob Creek farm was the first home Abraham Lincoln could remember in later life. 
The Lincoln family lived on 30 acres of the 228-acre Knob Creek Farm when Abraham was 2½ until he was ne 8 years old. Replica Log Cabin. 
Dozens of Kentucky farmers and Thomas fell victim to Kentucky's chaotic land laws. The title to each of the three farms he had purchased proved to be defective, and he lost land or money in each case and, in disgust, moved to Indiana in December 1816. There, the land ordinance of 1785 ensured that land was retained once purchased and paid for. Abraham Lincoln claimed many years later that his father's move from Kentucky to Indiana was "partly on account of slavery, but chiefly on account of the difficulty of land titles in Kentucky."

Slavery was outlawed in Indiana. It is interesting to know that in Hardin County, Kentucky, there were 1007 slaves and only 1627 white males over 16 in 1811. The Little Mount Separate Baptist Church broke from the Regular Baptist Church over the issue of slave ownership. Thomas Lincoln, a carpenter, farmer, and laborer, was forced to compete against wageless workers.

In Indiana, the Lincolns settled near Little Pigeon Creek in Perry County, later part of Spencer County. Here, Thomas farmed and sold his skills as a carpenter. He put his strong, tall eight-year-old son to work planting, harvesting, cabin building, and wielding an ax.

The autumn frosts of 1818 had beautifully colored the leaves of mature oak, hickory, and walnut trees when Nancy Lincoln became critically ill. She was stricken with a milk sickness that was poisoned, caused by the plants White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) and Milkweed (Asclepias).

Cows occasionally ate this abundant weed and passed the poison on in their milk. People who drank this poisoned milk or ate its products faced death. 

Nancy Lincoln died on October 5, 1818.
NOTE: Dr. Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby (1812–1873) from the village of Rock Creek, Illinois, discovered that White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) or Milkweed was the cause of milk sickness from grazing cows eating the wild plant which fatally poisoned the cow's milk consumed by frontier settlers.
Left without a wife and mother for his children, the resourceful Thomas remarried on December 2, 1819. He chose a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Sarah Bush Johnston. These two hardy pioneers, Thomas and Sarah, united their two families. Sarah's three children—Elizabeth, Matilda, and John—joined Abraham, Sarah, and cousin Dennis Hanks to make a new family of eight. Besides trading his carpentry skills, managing a farm, and looking after his family, Thomas found time during the next few years of his life in Indiana to assist in building the Little Pigeon Baptist Church, become a member of the church, and serve as a church trustee. By 1827, Thomas realized his dream by becoming the outright owner of 100 acres of Indiana land.

Fear of white snakeroot poisoning, news of the fertile Illinois soil, and the possible breakup of his family lured Thomas Westward in March 1830. Thomas sold his Indiana land and moved first to Macon County, Illinois, and eventually to Coles County in 1831. His son Abraham left home to make his way in the world during the family's move to Coles County. Thomas Lincoln remained a county resident for the rest of his life.

Thomas Lincoln's status as a respectable, responsible, and talented citizen is now secure from his detractors. He, no doubt, did leave a mark on his famous son. Thomas was by all accounts well-liked by his neighbors and a good storyteller, as was his son. Thomas's evident dislike of slavery created an atmosphere in Lincoln's youth that would allow Abraham to say many years later that he could not remember a time when he was not antislavery in sentiment. 

Thomas Lincoln died in his house in 1851 (at 73 years old), and where his widow died in 1869 stood three miles from Shiloh Cemetery, where they are buried. Thomas had lived in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, paid his taxes regularly and left no unpaid debts behind him. 

During Lincoln's youth, and particularly after the death of his mother, Abraham's relationship with his father changed and became increasingly strained. Due to his failing eyesight and likely declining health, Lincoln relied on Abraham to perform the work needed to run the farm. He also sent Abraham to work for neighbors, generating money for Thomas. 
Michael Burlingame's book, "The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln," classified Abe's subservience, "Abraham Lincoln was like a slave to his father," he penned in his personal biography.

Thomas was a stern disciplinarian who would cane, slap, or knock Abraham down for minor infractions and innocent mistakes, like forgetting a chore or speaking to strangers who approached the family farm before his father did. As Abraham got older, he eagerly awaited coming of age to move away and have as little to do with his father as possible.

Although the degree to which it impacted their relationship is unclear, there was a struggle between Abraham's yearning for knowledge and Thomas' lack of understanding about the importance of studying in Abraham's life. Abraham seemed particularly critical of his father's lack of education and lack of an earnest drive to see that his children received a good education. Historian Ronald C. White wrote that negative portraits of Thomas Lincoln come "from a son who said his father 'grew up literally without education,' the very value Abraham would come to prize the most." Abe was unaware of his father's early struggles, particularly how the death of his grandfather forced Thomas to become a laborer.

Abraham never fully understood how hard his father struggled during his early years. It required an immense effort from Thomas, who earned three shillings a day for manual labor or made a little more when he did carpentry or cabinetmaking. To accumulate enough money to buy his first farm." Father and son also differed in their religious beliefs; Thomas was a conventional Baptist. Growing up in a nonconformist household, Abe developed independently as a free-thinker. Lastly, some say that Thomas favored John Johnston, his stepson, over Abraham. Their relationship had become strained after Abraham left his father's house and even more so after Abraham reluctantly bailed Thomas out of financial situations. His stepbrother, John D. Johnston, also made repeated requests for money.

Although Abraham provided financial assistance on a few occasions and once visited Thomas during a bout of ill health, when he was on his deathbed Abraham sent word to a stepbrother: "Say to him that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant; but that if it is his lot to go now, he will soon have a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before; and where the rest of us, through the help of God, hope before long to join them." Abraham preferred not to attend his father's funeral and would not pay for a headstone for his father's grave. Aside from the strained and distant relationship between father and son, Abraham's actions may have been influenced by a "painful midlife crisis" and depression.

During Thomas Lincoln's lifetime, he and his wife were not invited to Abraham's wedding and never met Abraham's wife or children. In his book Lincoln, David Herbert Donald stated, "In all his published writings, and indeed, even in reports of hundreds of stories and conversations, he had not one favorable word to say about his father." However, Abraham did name his fourth son Thomas, the choice of which, Donald said, "suggested that Abraham Lincoln's memories of his father were not all unpleasant, and perhaps hinted at guilt for not having attended his funeral."

In response to his unhappy relationship with his stern, demanding father, Abraham was caring and indulgent with his children, particularly Willie and Tad, with whom he had more in common than Robert.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to read this. I had heard he was a slave catcher at some point. Is this true?


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