Scanned by Dianne Bean of Phoenix, Arizona.
The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln
by Helen Nicolay
I. A PRESIDENT'S CHILDHOOD
Abraham Lincoln's forefathers were pioneers--men who left their
homes to open up the wilderness and make the way plain for others
to follow them. For one hundred and seventy years, ever since the
first American Lincoln came from England to Massachusetts in
1638, they had been moving slowly westward as new settlements
were made in the forest. They faced solitude, privation, and all
the dangers and hardships that beset men who take up their homes
where only beasts and wild men have had homes before; but they
continued to press steadily forward, though they lost fortune and
sometimes even life itself, in their westward progress. Back in
Pennsylvania and New Jersey some of the Lincolns had been men of
wealth and influence. In Kentucky, where the future President was
born on February 12, 1809, his parents lived in deep poverty
Their home was a small log cabin of the rudest kind, and nothing
seemed more unlikely than that their child, coming into the world
in such humble surroundings, was destined to be the greatest man
of his time. True to his race, he also was to be a pioneer--not
indeed, like his ancestors, a leader into new woods and
unexplored fields, but a pioneer of a nobler and grander sort,
directing the thoughts of men ever toward the right, and leading
the American people, through difficulties and dangers and a
mighty war, to peace and freedom.
The story of this wonderful man begins and ends with a tragedy,
for his grandfather, also named Abraham, was killed by a shot
from an Indian's rifle while peaceably at work with his three
sons on the edge of their frontier clearing. Eighty-one years
later the President himself met death by an assassin's bullet.
The murderer of one was a savage of the forest; the murderer of
the other that far more cruel thing, a savage of civilization.
When the Indian's shot laid the pioneer farmer low, his second
son, Josiah, ran to a neighboring fort for help, and Mordecai,
the eldest, hurried to the cabin for his rifle. Thomas, a child
of six years, was left alone beside the dead body of his father;
and as Mordecai snatched the gun from its resting-place over the
door of the cabin, he saw, to his horror, an Indian in his
war-paint, just stooping to seize the child. Taking quick aim at
a medal on the breast of the savage, he fired, and the Indian
fell dead. The little boy, thus released, ran to the house, where
Mordecai, firing through the loopholes, kept the Indians at bay
until help arrived from the fort.
It was this child Thomas who grew up to be the father of
President Abraham Lincoln. After the murder of his father the
fortunes of the little family grew rapidly worse, and doubtless
because of poverty, as well as by reason of the marriage of his
older brothers and sisters, their home was broken up, and Thomas
found himself, long before he was grown, a wandering laboring
boy. He lived for a time with an uncle as his hired servant, and
later he learned the trade of carpenter. He grew to manhood
entirely without education, and when he was twenty-eight years
old could neither read nor write. At that time he married Nancy
Hanks, a good-looking young woman of twenty-three, as poor as
himself, but so much better off as to learning that she was able
to teach her husband to sign his own name. Neither of them had
any money, but living cost little on the frontier in those days,
and they felt that his trade would suffice to earn all that they
should need. Thomas took his bride to a tiny house in
Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where they lived for about a year, and
where a daughter was born to them.
Then they moved to a small farm thirteen miles from
Elizabethtown, which they bought on credit, the country being yet
so new that there were places to be had for mere promises to pay.
Farms obtained on such terms were usually of very poor quality,
and this one of Thomas Lincoln's was no exception to the rule. A
cabin ready to be occupied stood on it, however; and not far
away, hidden in a pretty clump of trees and bushes, was a fine
spring of water, because of which the place was known as Rock
Spring Farm. In the cabin on this farm the future President of
the United States was born on February 12, 1809, and here the
first four years of his life were spent. Then the Lincolns moved
to a much bigger and better farm on Knob Creek, six miles from
Hodgensville, which Thomas Lincoln bought, again on credit,
selling the larger part of it soon afterward to another
purchaser. Here they remained until Abraham was seven years old.
About this early part of his childhood almost nothing is known.
He never talked of these days, even to his most intimate friends.
To the pioneer child a farm offered much that a town lot could