ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S LIFE and FOOTSTEPS THROUGH HIS FATHER
from the article from the State Journal Register (Sringfield, IL
"The Sad Tale of THOMAS LINCOLN
There was no love lost between this father and
his famous son" by Doug Pokorski
Thomas Lincoln was born in Virginia in 1778 (some scholars say 1776)
and moved with his family to Kentucky in the 1780s. His father, also
named Abraham, was a prosperous landowner who held more than 5,000
acres in one of the richest parts of Kentucky. Did
Abraham Lincoln (Abe's grandfather) have money and land? Where
did this Abraham come from?
But in 1786, while Abraham, Thomas and his two older brothers,
Mordecai and Josiah, were planting corn, they were attacked by
Indians. Abraham was killed instantly, Josiah ran for help and
Mordecai hid in a nearby cabin.
Looking out of a crack between the logs, Mordecai saw an Indian
sneaking up on Thomas, who was sitting beside his father's body.
Mordecai grabbed a rifle and killed the Indian before he could reach
the younger boy.
Mordecai had saved Thomas's life, but that life would be one of hard
work and struggle. Under the laws of the time, when a father died
without a will, the oldest son inherited his entire estate.
Thus, Mordecai would become a wealthy landowner, and Thomas would
have to live by the sweat of his brow.
Thomas became a "wandering laboring boy," as Abraham Lincoln would
later characterize the situation, and he never had a chance to get
any kind of education. A farmer and carpenter, Thomas worked hard
and saved his money.
In 1802, he bought a 238-acre farm in Hardin County, Ky. Four years
later, he married Nancy Hanks, and the couple's first child, a
daughter named Sarah, was born in 1807. Abraham was born in 1809, on
a new farm Thomas bought on Nolan Creek. A third child, a boy, died
Records indicate that in his early manhood Thomas was a reasonably
respectable citizen, according to Mark Neely's "Abraham Lincoln
Encyclopedia." The records indicate that he was a wage earner, jury
member, petitioner for a road and a guard for a county prison.
Strong and powerfully built, Thomas was average or a little above
average in height with a shock of black hair and a prominent nose.
He was respected in his community - "honest" was the word most often
used to describe him, Donald wrote.
The land title system in Kentucky was a mess in the early 1800s, and
Thomas continuously had trouble with the titles to the farms that he
owned. He was often forced to sell property for less than the price
he paid for it.
As a result, and because he opposed slavery, which was legal in
Kentucky, Thomas moved his family to Indiana, where they lived a
hard frontier life.
In 1818, Nancy Lincoln died from drinking contaminated milk from
cows that had eaten poisonous weeds. Thomas quickly realized his
household needed a mother's touch, and within a year he had married
a widow from Kentucky named Sarah Bush Johnston, to whom young Abe
would grow quite close.
At this point the household was a large one. There was Thomas and
his two children, Sarah and her three children and Dennis Hanks, who
was Abe's cousin on his birth mother's side.
Abe's difficulties with his father had probably already begun by
this time. His mother's death had hit him hard, and Thomas did
little to console him.
Abe craved education and was especially fond of reading. His father
encouraged his education but was vexed by the boy reading when he
was supposed to be doing chores. Thomas was said to have hidden
Abe's books and even destroyed some to put an end to that problem,
but all that accomplished was to widen the distance between father
Corporal punishment was the order of the day, and Thomas was not one
to spare the rod. He was said to sometimes "slash" Abe for reading
when he was supposed to be doing chores, and Thomas also was known
to knock the boy down for speaking before his father could when
strangers rode up to the family farm.
Abe also got slapped in the face for daring to correct his father's
version of a story and was whipped or beaten for other acts of
impropriety. While a common practice in America at the time, such
beatings did nothing to endear Thomas to his son.
As Abe got older, the situation only got worse. When Abe was old
enough, Thomas hired him out to other farmers to help them with
their work. Abe did the work, but Thomas claimed all the pay of his
This aggravated Abe - Burlingame even writes that Abe's hatred of
slavery was strengthened by this treatment that he felt was his own
enslavement. It was made worse by the fact that the neighbors Abe
worked for sometimes complained to Thomas that Abe was reading or
telling jokes and stories to other workers when he should be doing
chores. For this, again, Thomas punished Abe.
Thomas also seems to have given preferential treatment to his
stepson, John Johnston, over Abe, a fact that would rankle Abe until
his father's death.
In 1830, Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Illinois, first to Macon
County and then to Coles. Because Abe had not yet reached his 21st
birthday, he came along, all the while thinking of the day when he
would be free to strike out on his own.
When the time came, Abe was more than ready to leave. He headed out
with no goal in his mind other than to avoid winding up like his
In later years, when he was a practicing lawyer, Abe visited his
parents at their farm when business brought him to the area. But it
was his affection for his stepmother that brought him, not any
concern for Thomas.
On a couple of occasions he even bailed Thomas out of financial
troubles, although he did so grudgingly and probably with the
suspicion that the troubles were caused by his ne'er do well
stepbrother, John Johnston.
It is not known whether he gave even a moment's thought to Thomas
when he learned that the old man had died at the age of 73, in 1851.
But Abe did take one last, possibly unconscious shot at Thomas two
years later. Now that it was too late for the old man to get any
satisfaction out of it, the Lincolns named their fourth son
never spoke that name, however. He always called the boy Tad.