Place

Grave Site of Nancy Hanks Lincoln

Cemetery with iron fence. Dappled light through trees.
The grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln is located in the Pioneer Cemetery.

NPS/Alexander

Quick Facts

Benches/Seating, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits

Within the boundaries of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial lie the gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln' mother. The impact of her life, and her death, did much to shape the character of the boy who grew up to become President.  The desire to commemorate her life has done much to shape the development of the national memorial.

On October 5, 1818, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died from milk sickness.  The disease resulted when cows ate the white snakeroot plant and the poison from the plant contaminated the milk.  Nancy became ill when she went to help care for her sick neighbors.

Thomas and nine-year-old Abraham whipsawed logs into planks, and with wooden pegs they fastened the boards together into a coffin.  Nancy was buried on the hill just south of the family's farm.  Thomas probably followed pioneer custom and placed fieldstones at the head and foot of the grave and may have carved the letters, N.L., into the headstone. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries efforts began to preserve Nancy's final resting place, as both a tribute to her and her son.  Those efforts began with a desire to permanently mark her grave and led, ultimately, to the creation of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  Abraham Lincoln, the man, was the sum total of all the experiences and people that had been a part of his life. Understanding and appreciating how his mother helped shape him can help us better understand who he was.

History Highlights for Reflection Tour:
In early September 1818, some residents started coming down with milk sickness. It was caused by the settlers' consuming dairy products or meat of cows that ate the white snakeroot plant, which had the toxin temetrol. Cows often roamed in woods and underbrush, where the white snakeroot grew. Most of those in the Little Pigeon Creek community with milk sickness became deathly ill, but they had no idea what was causing the fatal disease. Nancy Hanks Lincoln was the mother of Abraham Lincoln. She died when she was 35 of milk sickness on October 5, 1818. Abraham Lincoln was just 9 years old when his mother died. Nancy Lincoln was buried next to their closest neighbor, Nancy Rusher Brooner. Nancy Brooner had also become ill and died from milk sickness. Nancy Lincoln, took care of Nancy Brooner, but Nancy Brooner died two weeks before Nancy Lincoln died. Nancy's maternal aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow, with whom she had grown up, also died of the illness and were buried nearby. The area became known as Pioneer Cemetery.

Reflection Questions

  • Photographers and Videographers capture still photos and/or video of the site
  • Journalist ask an Interview Question while On The Move to the next stop: “Where are your ancestors buried?” “What famous burial sites or national cemeteries have you visited?” “Have you visited Lincoln’s tomb in Illinois?”

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Last updated: January 21, 2021