• Memorial Visitor Center

    Lincoln Boyhood

    National Memorial Indiana

A Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln spent 14 formative years of his life, from the ages of 7 to 21, in Indiana . During this period, he grew physically and intellectually into a man. The people he knew here and the things he experienced had a profound influence on his life. His sense of honesty, his belief in the importance of education and learning, his respect for hard work, his compassion for his fellow man, and his moral convictions about right and wrong were all born of this place and this time. The time he spent here helped shape the man that went on to lead the country.

Learning by Littles
"The aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in a college or academy as a student. What he has in the way of education he had picked up. After he was twenty-three and he had separated from his father, he had studied English grammar - imperfectly of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does. He regrets his want of education and does what he can to supply the want." Abraham wrote these word on the subject of his education in his autobiographal statement.

It was an education acquired, as he put it, "by littles." Opportunities for attending school were scarce on the frontier of the early 19th century, since few people were literate enough to teach. Education was, however, something that Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln wanted for their children, so when it was possible to do so, they sent Abraham and Sarah to attend whatever school was available. As a result, Abraham studied under five different schoolmasters during his childhood in Kentucky and Indiana. Each of these sessions lasted approximately two months and spelling, reading, writing, and ciphering to the Rule of Three were taught.

In Kentucky, Abraham "acquired the alphabet and other rudiments of education" from Zachariah Riney. Samples of Riney's handwriting indicated that he was able and qualifed to teach the three R's. Neighbor and friend Caleb Hazel was Lincoln's second schoolmaster. Evidence indicated that he was a trained scribe and a good teacher of English grammar. Hazel possessed many fine books and his teaching contributed much to the education of young Abraham.

In Indiana, where schools were attended chiefly in the winter when the outdoor work was less pressing, Lincoln attended terms of school when he was 11, 14 and 17 years old. In his eleventh year, he studied under Andrew Crawford, a stern yet capable teacher. Crawford loaned Abraham a copy of Weems' Life of Washington, a book that profoundly influenced the young student. During his fourteenth year, Abraham very briefly attended the school taught by James Swaney. Later at the age of seventeen, Lincoln attended a school taught by Azel W. Dorsey. Dorsey was the best educated of his Indiana teachers and probably was responsible for helping him acquire his excellent grasp of mathematics.

Raised to Farm Work
In much of the work, Abraham assisted Thomas. As he grew older, Abraham increased in his
skill with the plow and especially, the axe. In fact, in later life he described how he "was
almost constantly handling that most useful instrument..." to combat the "...trees and bogs
and grubs..." of the "unbroken wilderness" that was Indiana in the early 19th century.

River Adventures
When young Abraham Lincoln was working along the river, he was living on the main street of western transportation and travel. This education was as important as any he received in the schoolroom. His eyes were opened to the world that lay outside the wilderness of Pigeon Creek.

Beginning at age seventeen, Abraham Lincoln obtained jobs working on the Ohio and Anderson Rivers. His first job, with Dennis Hanks, and Squire Hall, was cutting wood for passing steamboats. He received twenty-five cents per cord. Later that year James Taylor offered Abraham a job of running the Anderson Ferry, earning six dollars a month.

The ferry landing became an interesting place to gather. Abraham, with a wealth of stories, attracted listeners to hear his stories and recitations. While working at the ferry landing, during his spare time, Abraham built a small row boat.

"As he [Lincoln] stood at the landing, a steamer approached, coming down the river. At the same time two passengers came to the river's bank that wished to be taken out to the packet with their luggage. Looking among the boats at the landing, they singled out Abraham's, and asked him to scull them to the steamer. This he did, and after seeing them and their trunks on board, he had the pleasure of receiving upon the bottom of his boat, before he shoved off, a silver half dollar from each of his passengers." In his 1866 Lincoln biography, J.G. Holland relates the story Abraham Lincoln told Secretary of State William Steward

Nineteen year old Abraham was hired by James Gentry to accompany his son Allen on a three month long flat boat trip to New Orleans to sell goods from Gentry's Store. Abraham Lincoln earned $24 dollars for this three month journey.

Did You Know?

Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr. (center)

The memorial landscape design was conceived of by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. He envisioned a memorial of strength and simplicity, sentiment and reason. He wanted the memorial to remain simple, so as not to overwhelm the "familiar associations" of the area with the Lincolns.