Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Ancestry and Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln

One of Lincoln's childhood homes.
       The ancestry of the Lincoln family may be traced to an English weaver named Samuel Lincoln, who emigrated to America in 1637 and settled in Hingham, Mass. His descendants moved southward until they reached Kentucky, where Thomas, the father of Abraham, learned the trade of carpenter. In 1806 he married a girl named Nancy Hanks, and in the course of a year or two they removed to Hardin (now La Rue) County, Kentucky. On February 12, 1809, a son was born to the couple, whom they named Abraham, after the father of Thomas. They were then living in a hut made of rough logs, floorless, and containing only the barest necessities of life. Thomas Lincoln was of a roving disposition, and after one removal in Kentucky, he took his family to a new farm in Spencer County, Indiana, where for a year they lived in a shed open to the weather on one side. Seven-year-old Abraham helped his shiftless father build a more suitable home, but even this was without doors,  windows or floor when they moved into it, and it remained half finished for months. In 1818 the mother died. In that lonely region there was no one to preach the funeral sermon, and the husband himself made the simple coffin and dug the grave.
       A year later, while on a visit to Kentucky, Mr. Lincoln married an old friend, Mrs. Sarah Bush Johnson. She was a widow with three children, a woman of considerable force of character, and her entrance into the family was the beginning of better things for Abraham and his sister. She made the cabin decent by comfortable furnishings, and forced her procrastinating husband to finish it without any more delay. Her stepson was encouraged to study at home, for the only schooling available in that neighborhood, which was still roamed by bears and other wild animals, was the instruction given occasionally by half-educated masters who could only read, write and "cipher to the rule of three." Abraham zealously practiced writing and ciphering at home, using in lieu of pencil and paper, a bit of chalk and the cabin walls, or a piece of wood which he whittled clean when he had covered
it with marks. 
       Such books as he could beg or borrow he read and reread, and his library included the Bible, Aesop's Fables, Pilgrim's Progress and Weems' Life of Washington. How much his reading influenced him is indicated by that clear and illuminating style that characterized all of his state utterances. As time passed he gained a local reputation as a humorist, for he could tell a funny story expertly, and he had, besides, a fund of original humor that made him very human and likable. Before he became of age he had reached his great height of six feet four inches, and his awkward appearance itself was certain to arouse the mirth of his hearers. 

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