Symbolic Birth Cabin

drawing of symbolic birth cabin
Drawing of the symbolic birth cabin


In December 1808, Thomas Lincoln, the father of Abraham, received from one Isaac Bush an assignment of a parcel of land in central Kentucky, on the "waters of the South Fork of Nolin. Containing 300 acres beginning at or near a spring called the Sinking Spring to be twice as long as wide including as much of a grove called the Little Turkey Grove as will fall within the Boundary aforesaid." On this land, somewhere in the vicinity of a knoll by the Sinking Spring, he build a rough cabin in which his son Abraham was born, in February, 1809

LarueCounty, in which the tract is presently located, was not organized until 1843. At the time of Lincoln's birth, as he later stated in some brief autobiographical notes, the land lay within HardinCounty. It was fourteen miles from Elizabethtown, the county seat, and approximately three mile south of Hodgenville the present seat of LaRueCounty.

In February of 1786 a 60,000 acre land grand was issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia to Joseph James and William Greenough (or Greenveigh). Richard Mather, a land speculator from New York, bought James' 15,000 acres and an added 30,000 acres of the same patent from William Weymouth. A few years later he began to sell tracts to incoming settlers. One of those to purchase property from Mather was David Vance, who entered into an agreement with him on May 1, 1805, to the effect that Vance would hold a bond of 300 acres from Mather, but Mather would hold a lien on it until the entire sum of the purchase price was paid. In November of the same year, Vance signed the bond over to Isaac Bush, who signed it over to Thomas Lincoln in December 1808. Time passed, and none of the three paid the debt on the land to Mather. In September 1813, Mather reappeared to claim his lien and filed suit against Vance, Bush, and Lincoln. Vance having disappeared, Bush and Lincoln answered the bill. Lincoln stated that he knew of the lien at the time of the purchase, but thought part of it had been paid off. Nevertheless, he offered to make up the difference. For some reason, the court decided in favor of Mather, and the land was offered for sale by a commissioner in March 1814. In December 1816 it was sold to John Welsh for $87.74.

As the years passed, after Thomas Lincoln lost the farm, portions of the original Sinking Spring Farm were sold to various persons. The area immediately around the spring, where the birthplace cabin traditionally stood, contained about 110 acres and ended up in the hands of the Creal family.

In November of 1894, Alfred W. Dennett, restaurant chain owner and patron of missionary organizations, bought the 110 acres of the "old Creal place" for $3,000 on three installment notes due in six, twelve and eighteen months.

Dennett and his sometime partner, the Rev. James W. Bigham, had often engaged in money-making enterprises for the benefit of the missionary cause. It is certain that the preservation and improvement of the "Lincoln Spring Farm," as it now came to be called, was intended for promotional purposes. A short while after the sale, Dennett made Bigham his agent and assigned him the management and development of the property designated in the contract as the "Lincoln Birthplace." The Louisville Courier-Journal article announcing the sale mentions no cabin standing on the site or elsewhere, nor does it intimate that the location of a "birthplace cabin" was a part of Dennett's plans. He admitted that it was to be a profit-making enterprise and that he would turn it into a public park and build a large hotel on the grounds.

In August 29, 1895, Bigham was instructed by the owner of the farm, Dennett, to "have built at once a log cabin on the Lincoln Farm exactly where stood the cabin in which Lincoln was born, and the cabin is to be built of the identical logs that were in the original cabin." With no further ado, Bigham purchased the logs of an old cabin standing on the nearby property of John A. Davenport and had the cabin re-erected at the Sinking Spring Farm.

Dennett began almost immediately after the purchase of the farm and cabin to seek their sale to the United States Government. He was perennially in debt, and apparently was unable to raise the capital necessary to improve and administer his acquisitions himself.

The birthplace cabin, however, was proving a better investment. It was dismantled and moved from its place at the spring for display at the Tennessee Centennial at Nashville in May 1897. There it stood on the midway alongside another Bigham purchase, the "original birthplace cabin of Jefferson Davis," illustrating, no doubt, the humble beginnings of the two Civil War leaders.

In 1895 the logs of both cabins were transported by Dennett, to New York, where they remained in storage until May 1901. At that time they were rented to a pair of showmen who took them to Buffalo for the Pan American Exposition. At the end of the Exposition the logs were stored in the basement of an old mansion in Long Island, NY. In 1906 they were rediscovered by the Lincoln Farm Association and brought back to Kentucky as the original Lincoln birth cabin and to the Sinking Spring Farm in 1909 for the cornerstone laying. After the ceremonies the cabin was immediately taken back to Louisville and remained there until the completion of the MemorialBuilding in 1911.

In 1916 the Lincoln Farm Association made a gift of the Memorial and land to the American people. In 1933 the control of AbrahamLincolnNational Park was turned over to the National Park Service. The authenticity of the birth cabin was questioned almost immediately by the Park Service and later, in 1949, by an article printed in a Washington, D. C. newspaper. Over the years the questions of the cabin’s authenticity would grow until the History Channel, in 2004, decided to do a TV program entitled the Mysteries of Lincoln. One of the mysteries they wanted to solve was the question about authenticity of the birth cabin. After gaining government approval they would prove the “old” cabin to be but yet another symbol of our collective heritage and of Lincoln’s myth.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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