Dennis Friend Hanks

May 15, 1799-
October 21, 1892

Dennis Friend Hanks was a cousin of Lincoln's mother.Hanks was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, the illegitimate son of Nancy Hanks, an aunt of the Nancy Hanks who was Lincoln's mother. In 1817 he came to southern Indiana with the Sparrow family, who also were relatives of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Despite their difference in age, the loneliness of the wilderness made young Abraham and Dennis close companions. When Lincoln's mother and the Sparrows died of "milk sickness" in 1818, Dennis moved in with the Lincolns and slept in the loft of the cabin with Abraham. In 1821 he married Sarah Elizabeth Johnston, daughter of Thomas Lincoln's second wife, Sarah Bush Johnston. Hanks moved with the Lincoln party to Illinois in 1830, but thereafter he parted ways from Abraham.

Hanks settled in Charleston, Coles County. In 1836 he was a codefendant with Thomas Lincoln in a suit brought against him, Thomas Lincoln and others for failure to pay debts incurred in the lease of a saw and grist mill. From 1844 to 1846 his daughter Harriet apparently boarded with Abraham and Mary Lincoln in Springfield to better her education. In 1851 Lincoln represented Hanks in a suit against William B. White.

While Lincoln was President, Hanks and John J. Hall, the son of Lincoln's stepsister, Matilda Johnston Hall, argued over the responsibility for caring for Lincoln's aged and ill stepmother. Lincoln sent Hanks $50 for her use. In acknowledging the money Hanks said that Sarah was a "mity childish heep of truble to us." In May he visited Lincoln in Washington, in part to discuss the President's stepmother and in part to plead for the release of men arrested for rioting against Union soldiers in Charleston on March 28. Lincoln released the prisoners much later during the summer, and Hanks's pleas were probably not decisive. Since his wife was dying, Hanks tried to get care for Sarah. Hall claimed that he had cared for her all along and that Dennis pocketed the money Lincoln sent for her use. After Lincoln's death, Hanks joined others in purchasing and displaying publicly a cabin near Decatur in which Lincoln had lived briefly.

Hanks was a cobbler. Tradition has it that all the Hankses were Democrats, but in 1843 Dennis voted for Whig Justin Harlan over Democrat Orlando B. Ficklin for Congress. Hanks himself ran for Recorder in the same contest and was probably a Whig like Thomas Lincoln, who voted for him. He may have turned Republican later. His wife sought an appointment for him as postmaster from President Lincoln, and this sort of request was rarely made by members of the opposite party. He died in 1892, run down by a carriage while he returned from a celebration of the anniversary of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.


Last updated: April 10, 2015

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