Lincoln Boyhood
Administrative History
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It was autumn 1816. For the third time since moving to Kentucky fourteen years earlier, a frustrated Thomas Lincoln found himself a victim of the state's chaotic land laws; defective titles cost Lincoln land or money in each of the three cases. Thomas Lincoln struggled eighteen miles into the Indiana wilderness and chose a site for his new home. In Indiana, he could purchase land directly from the government; his title to the land would be clear. After marking his claim, Thomas returned to Kentucky to gather his wife, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and their children, nine-year-old Sarah and seven-year-old Abraham. By December, the Lincolns were settled in a half-faced camp on the Indiana property. The winter passed and the family survived on game and the food they brought with them from Kentucky.

As early as possible in the spring, the Lincolns built the log cabin which served as their residence, prepared the land and planted the first year's crops. The initial hardships of establishing the new farm were just over when "milk sickness" ravaged the small but growing Pigeon Creek community in September and October 1818. Several died, including Thomas and Betsy Sparrow, Nancy Brooner, and Nancy Lincoln. They were buried in a new cemetery on a wooded knoll one-quarter mile south of the Lincoln cabin.

The year following Nancy's death was trying for all her family. Thirteen-year-old Sarah assumed management of the household, and somehow the family got by. In December 1819, Thomas returned to Kentucky to marry widow Sarah Bush Johnston. Before long, Thomas' new wife and her three children moved into the Lincoln cabin. The combined family grew to maturity on Thomas Lincoln's Indiana homestead.

Formal education was an occasional instance for young Abraham, as it was for most pioneer children. His first teacher was Andrew Crawford, who operated an A-B-C school in the area for one year. Crawford introduced his students to "reading, writing, arithmetic, and the meaning of birch rods." [2] At age fourteen, Abraham was taught by James Swaney. Swaney stressed reading and writing skills, and Lincoln was quoted as saying that, under Sweeney's tutelage, "he had read every book within fifty miles* of his home." [3] Perhaps his best teacher was Azel Dorsey, a local office-holder who probably encouraged Lincoln's interest in politics and math.

*Another source cites the radius of Lincoln's reading sources as thirty miles. Note, Jerry Sanders to author, May 5, 1987.

The bulk of Lincoln's education was acquired outside the classroom, however. As a boy, he traveled to all the surrounding communities, enjoying the story-telling and social life. For a time, he operated a ferry boat crossing Anderson Creek. In 1828, James Gentry hired Abraham as a bow-hand on a flatboat trip to New Orleans. What Abraham didn't learn from experience, he learned from books. Young Abraham loved to read, and was familiar with Aesop's Fables, histories, adventures like Robinson Crusoe, the Revised Laws of Indiana, Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, and Parson Weems' Life of Washington. In sum, Abraham Lincoln's education was as good or better than that of the average pioneer boy.

The Lincoln family remained in Spencer County, Indiana, until March 1830. In the interim, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln's daughters, Elizabeth and Matilda, married and started families of their own. Prompted by reports of productive farmland in Illinois, Dennis and Elizabeth Hanks and Squire and Matilda Hall decided to relocate with their children. In order to preserve the extended family, Thomas, Sarah, and Abraham determined to move with the Hanks and Halls to Illinois.

Abraham was twenty-one when he moved from Indiana. There he had known his first great sorrows. There he matured into an intelligent and compassionate man.

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Last Updated: 25-Jan-2003