Lincoln's Family Relocates to Indiana

Abraham Lincoln spent 14 of his most formative years-from age 7 to 21-in Southern Indiana.

Today, Indiana's Lincoln attractions include his boyhood home and some of the most extensive collections found anywhere in the world. In addition, communities statewide are planning special bicentennial events and projects.

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 toxin from the white snakeroot plant. Nancy had gone to nurse and comfort her ill neighbors and became herself a victim of the dreaded disease. For young Abraham it was a tragic blow. His mother had been a guiding force in his life, encouraging him to read and explore the world through books. His feelings for her were still strong some 40 years later when he said, “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

Sadly, Thomas and Abraham whipsawed logs into planks, and with wooden pegs, they fastened the boards together into a coffin for the beloved with and mother. She was buried on a wooded hill south of the cabin.

The family keenly felt Nancy 's absence as young Sarah and Abraham were now without a mother and Thomas without a wife. This loneliness led Thomas in 1819 to return to Kentucky in search of a new wife. He found her in Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children. Thomas chose well for the cheerful and orderly Sarah proved to be a kind stepmother who reared Abraham and Sarah as her own. Under her guidance, the two families became one.

The remainder of his years in Indiana were adventurous ones for Abraham Lincoln . He continued to grow and by the time he was 19, he stood six foot four. He could wrestle with the best and local people remembered that he could lift more weight and drive an axe deeper than any man around.

In 1828, he was hired by James Gentry, the richest man in the community, to accompany his son Allen to New Orleans in a flatboat loaded with produce. While there, Lincoln witnessed a slave auction on the docks. It was a sight that greatly disturbed him and the impression it made was a strong and lasting one.

Abraham continued to work intermittently for Gentry at his store. He also began to take an interest in politics. The Gentry store was often a gathering place for local residents and the