In the fall of 1816, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln packed their belongings and their two children, Sarah, 9, and Abraham, 7, and left their Kentucky home bound for the new frontier of southern Indiana. Arriving at his 160-acre claim near the Little Pigeon Creek in December, Thomas quickly set about building a cabin for his family and carving a new life out of the largely unsettled wilderness. In time, he cleared the fields, improved the cabin and outbuildings, and utilized his carpentry skills to establish himself within the community.
In much of the work his young and capable son assisted Thomas. As he grew older, Abraham increased in his skill with the plow and, especially, the axe. In fact, in later life he described how he “…was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument…” to combat the “…trees and bogs and grubs…” of the “unbroken wilderness” that was Indiana in the early 19 th century.
The demands of life on the frontier left little time for young Abraham to attend school. As he later recalled, his education was acquired “by littles” and the total “…did not amount to one year.” But despite the limitations he faced, his parents encouraged him in very way possible. Soon, his eyes were opened to the joy of books and the wonders of reading and he became a voracious reader. At the age of 11 he read Parson Weems' Life of Washington . He followed it with Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography , Robinson Crusoe , and The Arabian Nights . He could often be seen carrying a book, as well as his axe. For Abraham Lincoln, to get books and read them was “the main thing.”
Life was generally good for the Lincoln 's during their first couple of years in Indiana , but like many pioneer families they did not escape their share of tragedy. In October 1818, when Abraham was nine years old, his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of the milk sickness. The scourge of the frontier, milk sickness resulted when a person drank the contaminated milk of a cow infected with the...