ABRAHAM LINCOLN NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, consisting of 110.5 acres of land, about 100 acres of which belonged to the original Thomas Lincoln farm, is situated 3 miles south of Hodgenville, Ky., and was acquired by the Federal Government in 1916. From that date until 1933 the area was administered by the War Department, when by Presidential proclamation the park was transferred to the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior for administration and development.
Prior to Federal ownership, the Lincoln birthplace had been acquired by a group of public-spirited citizens, organized as the Lincoln Farm Association. From 1904 to 1911 this association acquired not only a portion of the Thomas Lincoln farm, including the birth site, but the traditional Lincoln birthplace log cabin, which was placed within the beautiful Memorial Building constructed on or near the birthplace site.
Of special interest also is the "Sinking Spring," a clear, steady-flowing stream of water which gave its name to the place even before the arrival of the Lincolns. A few hundred feet from the Sinking Spring is a giant oak tree which was recognized as an outstanding feature of the landscape as far back as 1786.
THE LINCOLN FAMILY MIGRATES TO KENTUCKY
DURING the last third of the eighteenth century, Kentucky was the outpost of white advance into the American wilderness. Until 1794, the year the northwest Indians were defeated by "Mad Anthony" Wayne at Fallen Timbers, it was a bloody battleground for scattered white settlements and isolated white pioneer families situated within its borders and for foraging and raiding Indians from north of the Ohio River. Between the years 1783 and 1790, fifteen hundred Kentuckians were killed by Indians. In the midst of these conditions the family of Lincoln entered Kentucky. The father of Abraham Lincoln was Thomas Lincoln; his grandfather was Abraham Lincoln, for whom he was named; and his great-grandfather was John Lincoln. John Lincoln moved from the vicinity of Reading, Pa., to Virginia in the eighteenth century when the Shenandoah Valley was still on the fringe of the frontier. Here we find Abraham Lincoln, the grandfather, established in Rockingham County on a farm of about 262 acres that was probably equal in fertility to any to be found in what is now the United States. As early as 1776 this Abraham Lincoln had entered 1,000 acres of land in Kentucky. In 1780 the paternal grandfather of the future President sold his Virginia farm.
The Lincolns moved to Kentucky sometime between 1782 and 1784. It is not known definitely where they first made their home in the State. There is some evidence that it was on a tract of 800 acres of land on Green River in 1782, but, if true, they remained there only a short time. By 1784 the Lincoln family had moved to the northern part of the State near what is now Louisville and was living on a tract of land on Long Run of Floyd's Fork in Jefferson County, a short distance from what was then known as Hughes' Station, a blockhouse outpost for protection against the Indians. Shortly after moving to this place, Abraham Lincoln, the grandfather, was killed by an Indian from ambuscade while he and his three sons presumably were engaged in farming. This event probably occurred in the month of May 1786. Tradition and most of the evidence available indicate that the elder Lincoln, who at the time was about 42 years old, was killed immediately; that Mordecai, the eldest of his Sons, about 15, ran to a nearby cabin; while Josiah, the second, about 13, started for Hughes' Station to obtain help; and Thomas, the youngest, about 10, remained with his father. Mordecai seized a gun in the cabin and fired at the Indian who had come out from cover, presumably to scalp the dead man, and succeeded in killing him. Thomas Lincoln, the father of President Lincoln, was rescued, it would seem, literally from the uplifted blow of a tomahawk.
THE FATHER AND MOTHER OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
THE MAN and woman who are known to history as the father and mother of Abraham Lincoln and who took up their abode in the rude cabin on the edge of "the Barrens" are of continuing interest to all who strive to understand the forces that molded the man whose strides carried him awkwardly yet majestically over a path which began in common Kentucky clay and ended in immortality. Concerning Thomas Lincoln, his father, there is a wealth of information. Research has enabled scholars to construct a sharply defined picture of this physically strong hunter-carpenter farmer. Good-natured, honest, he seemed always to be retreating before the approach of the comforts, advantages, and arts of a developing community, as if they represented something incompatible with his rustic nature.
Thomas Lincoln presumably lived with his mother in Washington County until about 1798, when it is thought he made a trip to Tennessee and lived with an uncle for about 1 year, returning to Kentucky about 1800 and taking up residence in Elizabethtown, the county seat of the then Hardin County. There is every reason to believe that Thomas Lincoln was an industrious and reasonably hard-working man during the next few years. He had established accounts in at least one of the stores, and he performed various duties in connection with the local government which placed his name in the county records. He acquired a certain reputation as a carpenter and engaged in the construction of various buildings.
On June 10, 1806, Thomas Lincoln filed declaration of intention to marry Nancy Hanks, and 2 days later, on June 12, 1806, they were married by the Rev. Jesse Head in the cabin of Richard Berry, Jr., situated on the banks of Beech Fork, about 8 miles north of Springfield. The newly married couple settled down in Elizabethtown. Here their first child, Sarah, was born in 1807.
The picture of Nancy Hanks is as blurred and uncertain as that of her husband is fixed and definite. There is no agreement in the evidence that has come down to us concerning her physical appearance, even by those few people who saw her and left testimony. Although her physical features left no definite impression upon the minds of those who years later tried to recall her image, there is an almost unanimous agreement among these witnesses concerning her mental and spiritual attributes. That she was possessed of a fine native intelligence, of courage, and of a morality above reproach, that she was kind and affectionate, seems fairly clear. The precise time of Nancy Hanks' birth is unknown. The first reference to her in any official record appears incidentally in a court record of Mercer County, dated November 24, 1789, which chiefly concerned her mother, Lucy Hanks. It seems probable that the child, Nancy, came from Virginia with her mother sometime between 1785 and 1789. Mother and daughter may have come to Kentucky with the family of Joseph Hanks, which had arrived there by February 28, 1787. Herndon states that Nancy Hanks was 22 years old in 1806 when she was married. The oldest extant tombstone from the grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln at Lincoln City, Ind., erected in 1879 by a friend of her illustrious son, gives her age at the time of her death in 1818 as 35 years.
The mother of Lincoln lived a short life of toil in the wilderness frontier, and probably during no extended period of her life knew anything like reasonable comfort. Yet there is ample evidence that she bore her lot with courage and equanimity. She lived only about 2 years after the removal to Indiana. An epidemic came to the little settlement on Pigeon Creek and, while attending to the stricken, she herself was taken ill and died within a week, on October 5, 1818. The mother of Abraham Lincoln was buried in an unmarked grave in a little clearing in the midst of the deep woods.
Her infant son, Thomas, born on the Knob Creek farm in Kentucky, had preceded her in death. According to Dennis Hanks, the child died when only 3 days old. Even today it is not definitely known where this infant brother of Abraham Lincoln is buried. A simple stone slab with the initials "T. L." inscribed on it, recently discovered in the old George Redmon family burial ground, situated on the top of Muldraugh's Hill about a mile distant from the Knob Creek farm, and the nearest burial place to the Lincoln home at the time, may mark the site of the burial place of the child. Of her three children, only one, Abraham, lived beyond youth. Her oldest child, Sarah, born February 10, 1807, was married to Aaron Grigsby, of the Pigeon Creek settlement, August 2, 1826, and died in childbirth, January 20, 1828, in her 21st year. It is known that Abraham Lincoln was greatly saddened and shocked by this event, as he and his sister were very fond of each other.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S BIRTH
IN THE first reference to his age that has been found in his own handwriting Lincoln says, in a letter written April 2, 1848, "I am now in my 40th year." In 1851 he made an entry in the family Bible stating that he was born February 12, 1809. In data supplied to the artist Hicks in 1865, he states, "I was born February 12, 1809, in the then Hardin County, Kentucky, at a point within the now County of Larue, a mile or a mile and a half from where Hodgen's Mill now is. My parents being dead, and my own memory not serving, I know no means of identifying the precise locality. It was on Nolin." In a letter to Samuel Haycraft, Elizabethtown, written in 1860, in reply to an inquiry as to whether he was born on Knob Creek, Lincoln wrote, "The place on Knob Creek . . . I remember very well but I was not born there. As my parents have told me, I was born on Nolyn, very much nearer Hodgen's Mill than the Knob Creek place is." Indisputable evidence in the form of existing county court records proves that Thomas Lincoln bought the Sinking Spring farm, situated about 3 miles south of Hodgenville, December 12, 1808, and presumably moved there immediately thereafter, if he had not already been living there prior to its purchase. It was here in a one-room log cabin, near the Sinking Spring, that the child, Abraham, was born to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln on February 12, 1809.
THE SINKING SPRING FARMTHE BIRTHPLACE
THOMAS LINCOLN was the eighth owner of the tract of land he bought at the Sinking Spring farm in 1808. The land records of Kentucky relating to the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln go back at least to 1786, when a deed was issued for 30,000 acres of land which included the future birth site. In 1802 Richard Mather acquired 15,000 acres of the larger holding. By warranty bond, May 1, 1802, Mather entered into articles of agreement with David Vance to deed the latter a 300-acre tract of land when payment in full had been made. This encumbrance passed on to the successive purchasers, Bush and Lincoln. By endorsement of this warranty bond, Vance transferred his equity in the land to Isaac Bush, November 2, 1805, who in turn, by a second endorsement, December 12, 1808, transferred his equity to Thomas Lincoln, who purchased the tract for $200. This farm at the time was known variously as the "Sinking Spring," the "Cave Spring," and the "Rock Spring" farm, because of the existence there of a fine spring of water.
On September 1, 1813, Richard Mather, the holder of the trifling lien of $61.50 against the land, brought foreclosure proceedings for the unpaid balance of the sale in 1805 to Vance, who, in the meantime, had moved to Mississippi, and Thomas Lincoln as the owner bore the brunt of the action. Thomas Lincoln, then the owner of a large equity in the land, answered the complaint 6 days later, admitting that he had knowledge of the encumbrance, but apparently made no real effort to settle the claim. Some 3 years after the suit was instituted by Mather, the Sinking Spring farm was sold on December 19, 1816, at auction by court order for the sum of $87.74, which was the amount of the unpaid balance of $61.50, together with accrued interest and court costs. In this manner Thomas Lincoln lost the Sinking Spring farm as well as his original investment of $200. Although it was ordered that he should recover from Isaac Bush there is no evidence that he ever did so.
It is not definitely known how long the Lincolns lived at the "Sinking Spring" farm. The evidence indicates that Thomas Lincoln moved to the Knob Creek farm under Muldraugh's Hill, about 10 miles to the northeast, prior to midsummer in 1811. It was of the latter place that Abraham Lincoln had his earliest recollections. Apparently he had no remembrances at all of the place where he was born, nor did he ever visit it during his later life.
The residence at Knob Creek under the Muldraugh escarpment lasted only a few years, for in November or December of 1816, Thomas Lincoln, his wife, the two surviving children, Sarah and Abraham, departed from Kentucky and made a new home in the wilderness settlement of Little Pigeon Creek, about 16 miles north of the Ohio River, in Indiana.
PRESERVING THE LINCOLN BIRTHPLACE
WITHOUT making any attempt to trace the history of the entire original Thomas Lincoln farm, it may be useful to relate briefly certain facts concerning that portion which is now held by the United States Government, and which constitutes the Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park. The tract of 110.5 acres of land, of which the United States in 1916 became the twenty-fifth owner, was purchased November 23, 1894, by Alfred W. Dennett of New York City from the heirs of Richard Creal. From this time on there were notices in the press concerning the Lincoln birthplace farm and some sporadic suggestions were made that it be placed under Government control for perpetual maintenance as an historic shrine. About 10 years after the purchase of the place by Mr. Dennett, Richard Lloyd Jones, then managing editor of Collier's Weekly, made a visit to Hodgenville and the traditional site of Lincoln's birth. He had inherited a deep interest in Lincoln from his father, the Rev. Jenkins Lloyd Jones of Chicago, and while at the birthplace resolved that the great Civil War President should be appropriately honored there. As a result largely of his activities, the Lincoln Farm Association was formed to purchase the birthplace by popular contributions and make it a national memorial. In the meantime Mr. Jones interested Robert J. Collier, publisher of Collier's Weekly, in his proposals, and that magazine immediately became the leading protagonist in the Lincoln birthplace memorial movement. Other periodicals soon helped to arouse popular support for the acquisition of the Lincoln farm.
The farm eventually passed from Mr. Dennett into the possession of a Mr. Crear, of New York City. For several years no tax was paid on the property. In May 1905, the 110.5-acre tract at the Lincoln birthplace was sold at public auction for the second time in its history, and this time was purchased in the name of L. B. Handley, Commissioner. A few months later Robert J. Collier purchased the birthplace farm. He held it in his possession until November 9, 1907, when he transferred it to the Lincoln Farm Association, which in turn held it until April 16, 1916, when it was deeded to the United States of America.
AUTHENTICATING THE BIRTHPLACE FARM
In 1939 the United States Government undertook to obtain documentary proof of the authenticity of the Lincoln birthplace farm. This documentary proof previously had not been in its possession. With the cooperation of Dr. Louis A. Warren, a life-long student of the Lincoln family in Kentucky, who had discovered the original documents establishing the identity of the land, a representative of the National Park Service went to Kentucky for the purpose of examining the original papers which would prove Thomas Lincoln's ownership of this land at the time of the birth of his son, Abraham. The original papers in the legal action initiated by Richard Mather in 1813, marked Mather vs. Vance, Equity Bundle # 24, eventually were located in the courthouse at Elizabethtown, the old county seat of Hardin County.
The National Park Service made microfilm copy of over 450 exposures of original documents in Kentucky courthouses concerning the Lincoln birthplace farm and related matters. Four copies of this negative eventually were made and have been deposited in various offices concerned with maintaining records relating to the Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park. It now can be said that the ownership of this land by Thomas Lincoln at the time of the birth of his famous son has been established on a documentary basis.
THE LINCOLN BIRTHPLACE CABIN
THE LOG CABIN in the Memorial Building at the birthplace is the traditional birthplace cabin. It is impossible to say with certainty that it is the original birthplace cabin. From 1861 to the present time the history of the log cabin which is now displayed with the Memorial Building is fairly clear. Its history prior to 1861 is a matter of controversy and doubt.
Before 1858, when Lincoln's fame burst the bounds of Illinois as the result of his remarkable debates with Stephen A. Douglas, there probably was little incentive to consider the desirability of preserving the birthplace cabin. It was only after the events of the next few years had made Lincoln a conspicuous man that attention was directed to the place of his birth and to other sites associated with his career. In March 1861, Dr. George Rodman bought a log cabin then standing on the birthplace farm and moved it about a mile to the north toward Hodgenville and had it reerected on his own farm. Dr. Rodman, a practicing physician and an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, presumably was the first person to take an active interest in preserving the alleged birthplace cabin, and his action in this connection occurred after a visit he paid to President Lincoln in Washington early in 1861. Dr. Rodman bought the cabin from Richard Creal, who at the time owned the birthplace farm. One of the workmen engaged in moving the cabin to Dr. Rodman's farm in 1861 and of reerecting it there has stated that the material showed evidence of considerable age, that some of the logs had rotted away, and that new ones had to be added when it was reerected.
The Rodman farm eventually passed into the hands of the Davenport family. The Rev. W. T. Davenport stated that his wife taught a subscription school in the cabin during the winter of 1872-73, and that others taught school in the cabin after her. John Davenport, a brother of the Rev. W. T. Davenport, married in 1875 the young lady who was then teaching school in the cabin, and it appears that this event ended the use of the log cabin as a schoolhouse. Prior to 1872 the cabin had been used on the Davenport farm as a tenant house for a number of years.
The log cabin was still on the Davenport farm, about 2 miles south of Hodgenville and 1 mile from the Lincoln birthplace, when the Rev. J. W. Bigham, a Methodist circuit rider in central Kentucky and a representative of A. W. Dennett, bought the cabin in 1894 and had it taken back to the Lincoln farm, where 110.5 acres of land had been purchased about this time by Mr. Dennett. From this time on, there was considerable publicity concerning the birthplace farm and the cabin. In 1897 the cabin was dismantled and taken to Nashville where it was placed on exhibit at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Mr. John M. Cissell, for 30 years associated with the administration of the Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park, and its present superintendent, has stated that he assisted in dismantling the cabin prior to its removal to Nashville, and that every log was numbered in order that there would be no mistake in its reassembly in the future. Roman numerals were carved in each log. A close examination of the interior of the log cabin today will show Roman numerals cut into a majority of the logs comprising the present cabin. From Nashville the log cabin was taken to New York City where it was reerected and placed on exhibit in Central Park. From there, in 1901, it went to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. About this time it was purchased by David Crear, and from Buffalo it was transported to and stored in the basement of the old Poffenhausen mansion at College Point, Long Island. It remained there until it was purchased by the Lincoln Farm Association in 1906, when it was sent to Louisville, Ky., and reerected there as a feature of the Louisville Homecoming celebration. Following this event it was stored in a warehouse in the city. It was taken temporarily to the birthplace farm in 1909 for the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the Memorial Building. It was then once again taken to Louisville and stored until the Memorial Building was completed in 1911, whereupon the cabin was transported for the last time to the birthplace farm and erected in the Memorial Building. At this time, due to the deterioration of some of the old logs, it was necessary to replace 11 of them.
The present log cabin is 13 by 17 feet in size. Dr. Louis A. Warren, student of Lincoln's early life, is of the belief that the cabin originally was 16 by 18 feet in size. He bases this opinion upon the measurement of a frame building which was erected by Mr. John Davenport upon the very foundations on which the cabin had rested previous to its purchase in 1894 by Mr. Dennett and removal from the Davenport place back to the birthplace farm. This frame building measured exactly 16 by 18 feet in size. A sunken pit still marks the site of this spot and its dimensions are approximately of that size. An early list found by Thomas Haycraft of Elizabethtown, giving the dimensions of 50 log cabins in central Kentucky constructed prior to Abraham Lincoln's birth, shows that most of them were 16 feet deep and 18 feet wide. Apparently this was a standard size for the single-room log cabin for the period and place. There is little doubt that the cabin now shown as the Lincoln birthplace cabin was originally about 16 by 18 feet in size.
Opposed to the large amount of testimony and some circumstantial evidence to the effect that the cabin as it now stands contains material originally in the birthplace cabin, there is evidence tending to prove that the original cabin did not long survive. In 1903, in his 84th year, Jacob S. Brothers told Mr. J. T. Hobson that his father purchased the Lincoln farm in 1827 and that after living in the house for a few years an entirely new log house almost like the first one was built and that the logs of the original cabin were burned for firewood. He stated that the pictures usually seen of the alleged Lincoln cabin were of the first of a series of cabins his father built on the Lincoln farm. This testimony of Mr. Brothers must not be taken without some criticism. It should be noted that it was given by a very old man about 70 years after the event he describes, and if the events were as he related, he would have been only 8 years old in 1827 when he said the Brothers family acquired the old Lincoln farm. The records of Larue County show that Brothers did not purchase the Sinking Spring farm until 1835. This discrepancy in dates may be evidence of a faulty memory or it simply may mean that the Brothers family was living on the farm several years previous to its purchase and the recording of the deed of ownership in the county records.
In 1906, John C. Creal, County Judge of Larue County, who was born and reared on that portion of the Lincoln farm containing the site of the birthplace, said that the log house bought for Mr. Dennett and removed to the birthplace farm was a comparatively new house when he first remembered anything about it. He stated further that in April 1893, when there was discussion in the community concerning the cabin, his mother, then about 70 years old, told him that the logs in the cabin had no connection whatever with the original cabin. She said that a man by the name of Jackson had built the so-called Lincoln cabin.
In the light of the inconclusive evidence available at the present time, it is impossible to make any definite and accurate statement concerning the origin of the alleged Lincoln birthplace cabin now preserved in the Lincoln Memorial Building.
Also, the evidence is not conclusive as to the precise spot on which the birthplace cabin stood during the time of its occupancy by the Lincolns. The affidavits and testimony assembled in the years following 1900 do not agree as to the original location of the cabin. Some indicated that it was on top of the knoll at the site now occupied by the Memorial Building. Others contended that the original cabin stood under the hill, a short distance from the Sinking Spring, and about on a level with it, directly facing the old road which curved around the hill at this point.
THE MEMORIAL BUILDING
THE PURCHASE in 1905 of the birthplace portion of the old Thomas Lincoln farm was followed in the next year by the Lincoln Farm Association's purchase of the alleged birthplace cabin. Under the leadership of Collier's Weekly and the Lincoln Farm Association, a movement had been instituted to raise funds by private contribution to finance the construction of a Memorial Building. More than 100,000 citizens contributed to this fund, and more than $350,000 was raised. About $250,000 of this sum was used in the construction of the Memorial Building and in the development of the surrounding terrace and landscape treatment. In 1916 when the Lincoln Farm Association deeded to the United States its holding of 110.5 acres, together with improvements, it also left an endowment fund of approximately $48,000 the income from which was to be used in the maintenance of the area and its improvements.
THE MAN BORN HERE
THERE are few men of eminence in American history who so well illustrate in their life story the hardship and vicissitude that were the lot of the pioneer family of another day as does Abraham Lincoln. It is hardly possible that there was much happiness, joy, or comfort in his boyhood and early manhood, nor indeed, as we know now, at any extended period during his life.
Lincoln, the grown man, was 6 feet 4 inches tall, with long legs out of proportion to the rest of his body. He weighed about 180 pounds and his large rough-hewn head was crowned with a mass of black hair. His complexion was dark; his skin yellow and leathery. William Herndon, his law partner and a man intimately acquainted with him from 1834 until his death in 1865, has described him as a "thin, tall, wiry, sinewy, grisly, rawboned man . . . looking woe-struck" and adding that "melancholy dripped from him as he walked."
In the closing years of his life Abraham Lincoln at times reached supreme eloquence, and his words carried noble imagery and distinction of phrase. There was little rhetoric in his utterances. His words were in keeping with the simplicity of his nature. He was reticent, and although it may truly be said that "he did not wear his heart on his sleeve," he did "let it slip out in a witticism."
In thinking of Lincoln, one likes to remember the enduring words of the Gettysburg Address. They were spoken by a man who had little formal education yet who, with imperishable eloquence, presented the fundamental principles for which the war was fought. The people of that generation pondered the words of Lincoln and found in them a true representation of the spirit that animated the men who were buried at Gettysburg.
On the evening of Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot by an assassin and died the following morning without having regained consciousness. In prophetic words, James Russell Lowell foretold the future fame of Lincoln:
"Great captains, with their guns and drums,
HOW TO REACH THE PARK
THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN birthplace is situated approximately 3 miles south of Hodgenville, Ky., on U. S. Highways Nos. 31E and 68. This is the main traveled road running from south to north through Tennessee and Kentucky, from Nashville to Louisville, to Bardstown, and on into the heart of the Bluegrass at Lexington. Transcontinental U. S. Highway No. 60 intercepts U. S. Highway No. 31W at Fort Knox, about 30 miles north of Hodgenville.
SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC
THE BIRTHPLACE farm and Memorial Building are open to visitors daily, and attendants are on duty to give information to the public. All communications relative to the park should be addressed to the Superintendent, Abraham Lincoln National Historical Park, Hodgenville, Ky.
Last Updated: 20-Jun-2010