• Memorial Visitor Center

    Lincoln Boyhood

    National Memorial Indiana

Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln

Abraham's stepmother

Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln

December 13, 1788-
December 10, 1869

Abraham Lincoln's stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky and came from a flourishing family. Her father, Christopher Bush, was "…a stirring, industrious man, and had a large family of sons and daughters."

In March 1806, she married Daniel Johnston. Unfortunately, Johnston did not have the same kind of industriousness that his in-laws had and he was soon deeply in debt. When he died in 1816, Sarah was left with many of these obligations still outstanding. For the next several years she did her best to support herself and her three children.

In 1819, Thomas Lincoln returned to Elizabethtown, a widower himself by this time, with hopes of finding a new wife and mother for his children. Having known Sarah before he moved to Indiana, and knowing she was a widow, he paid her a visit and asked her to marry him. Sarah replied that she could not marry him until she had paid her debts. Upon hearing this, Thomas agreed to pay the debts himself.

Once that was done, he and Sarah were married on December 2, 1819. Sarah and her three children, John, Matilda, and Elizabeth returned with Thomas to Indiana, where Sarah set about making the two families into one.

She found the country to be "wild and desolate" but the log cabin that Thomas had built was "good, tolerably comfortable."She soon discovered that her new stepson was very intelligent and had a passion for knowledge; he was especially fond of reading. Consequently, her gift to him of three books left an indelible impression on him. Not only was it a priceless treasure to a boy who loved to read on a frontier where books were scarce, but it was an indication to him that Sarah would pick up where his mother had left off in terms of encouraging his quest for knowledge. The two quickly developed a close, intimate,mother-son relationship that would continue for the rest of Abraham's life.

Even as an adult, Abraham remained close to his stepmother, whom he always referred to as "Mother." After the family moved to Illinois and he had gone out on his own he still found time to visit. Mrs. Lincoln reported that she "saw him every year or two." After the death of his father in 1851, Lincoln retained a 40-acre plot of land in his own name "for Mother while she lives," and otherwise tended to her welfare as best he could from a distance. Abraham saw his stepmother for the last time when he visited to bid her farewell before
going to Washington for his inauguration. When she later recalled the visit after her stepson's death in 1865, she wept. Sarah died in 1869.

Lincoln said of his stepmother "she proved to be a good and kind mother" to him. By all reports their relationship was excellent, and Mrs. Lincoln considered her stepson a model child who was always honest, witty, and "diligent for knowledge." He never needed a "cross word." In all the vast literature of controversy over Lincoln's early years, there is hardly an unkind word about Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln.

Did You Know?

Civil War Veteran visiting the gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln

In 1868, a Civil War veteran named William Q. Corbin visited the boyhood home of his former commander-in-chief. Corbin was dismayed by the unkempt appearance of Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s gravesite and wrote a poem. It was among the first known public accounts of the grave’s condition.