Page images
PDF
EPUB

equally insignificant. He was satisfied with indifferent shelter, and a diet of “corn-bread and milk” was all he asked. John Hanks naively observes, that “happiness was the end of life with him.” The land he now lived upon (two hundred and thirty-eight acres) he had pretended to buy from a Mr. Slater. The deed mentions a consideration of one hundred and eighteen pounds. The purchase must have been a mere speculation, with all the payments deferred, for the title remained in Lincoln but a single year. The deed was made to him Sept. 2, 1813; and Oct. 27, 1814, he conveyed two hundred acres to Charles Milton for one hundred pounds, leaving thirty-eight acres of the tract unsold. No public record discloses what he did with the remainder. If he retained any interest in it for the time, it was probably permitted to be sold for taxes. The last of his voluntary transactions, in regard to this land, took place two years before his removal to Indiana; after which, he seems to have continued in possession as the tenant of Milton.

In the mean time, Dennis Hanks endeavored to initiate young Abraham, now approaching his eighth year, in the mysteries of fishing, and led him on numerous tramps up and down the picturesque branch, – the branch whose waters were so pure that a white pebble could be seen in a depth of ten feet. On Nolin he had hunted ground-hogs with an older boy, who has since become the Rev. John Duncan, and betrayed a precocious zest in the sport. On Knob Creek, he dabbled in the water, or roved the hills and climbed the trees, with a little companion named Gallaher. On one occasion, when attempting to “coon ” across the stream, by swinging over on a sycamore-tree, Abraham lost his hold, and, tumbling into deep water, was saved only by the utmost exertions of the other boy. But, with all this play, the child was often serious and sad. With the earliest dawn of reason, he began to suffer and endure; and it was that peculiar moral training which developed both his heart and his intellect with such singular and astonishing rapidity. It is not likely that Tom Lincoln cared a straw about his education. He had none himself, and is said to have admired “ muscle” more than mind. Nevertheless, as Abraham's sister was going to school for a few days at a time, he was sent along, as Dennis Hanks remarks, more to bear her company than with any expectation or desire that he would learn much himself. One of the masters, Zachariah Riney, taught near the Lincoln cabin. The other, Caleb Hazel, kept his school nearly four miles away, on the “ Friend” farm; and the hapless children were compelled to trudge that long and weary distance with spelling-book and “ dinner,” — the latter a lunch of corn-bread, Tom Lincoln's favorite dish. Hazel could teach reading and writing, after a fashion, and a little arithmetic. But his great qualification for his office lay in the strength of his arm, and his power and readiness to “whip the big boys.”

But, as time wore on, the infelicities of Lincoln's life in this neighborhood became insupportable. He was gaining neither riches nor credit; and, being a wanderer by natural inclination, began to long for a change. His decision, however, was hastened by certain troubles which culminated in a desperate combat between him and one Abraham Enlow. They fought like savages; but Lincoln obtained a signal and permanent advantage by biting off the nose of his antagonist, so that he went bereft all the days of his life, and published his audacity and its punishment wherever he showed his face. But the affray, and the fame of it, made Lincoln more anxious than ever to escape from Kentucky. He resolved, therefore, to leave these scenes forever, and seek a roof-tree beyond the Ohio.

It has pleased some of Mr. Lincoln's biographers to represent this removal of his father as a flight from the taint of slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were not at the time more than fifty slaves in all Hardin County, which then composed a vast area of territory.

It was practically a free community. Lincoln's more fortunate relatives in other parts of the State were slaveholders; and

rows.

there is not the slightest evidence that he ever disclosed any conscientious scruples concerning the “ institution."

The lives of his father and mother, and the history and character of the family before their settlement in Indiana, were topics upon which Mr. Lincoln never spoke but with great reluctance and significant reserve.

In his family Bible he kept a register of births, marriages, and deaths, every entry being carefully made in his own handwriting. It contains the date of his sister's birth and his own; of the marriage and death of his sister; of the death of his mother; and of the birth and death of Thomas Lincoln. The rest of the record is almost wholly devoted to the Johnstons and their numerous descendants and connections. It has not a word about the Hankses or the Spar

It shows the marriage of Sally Bush, first with Daniel Johnston, and then with Thomas Lincoln; but it is entirely silent as to the marriage of his own mother. It does not even give the date of her birth, but barely recognizes her existence and demise, to make the vacancy which was speedily filled by Sarah Johnston.

An artist was painting his portrait, and asked him for a sketch of his early life. He gave him this brief memorandum: "I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in the then Hardin County, Kentucky, at a point within the now county of La Rue, a mile or a mile and a half from where Hodgens Mill now is. My parents being dead, and my own memory not serving, I know of no means of identifying the precise locality. It was on Nolin Creek.”

To the compiler of the “ Dictionary of Congress” he gave the following: “Born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. Education defective. Profession, a lawyer. Have been a captain of volunteers in the Black-Hawk War. Postmaster at a very small office. Four times a member of the Illinois Legislature, and was a member of the Lower House of Congress.”

1

1 The leaf of the Bible which contains these entries is in the possession of Col. Chapman.

To a campaign biographer who applied for particulars of his early history, he replied that they could be of no interest; that they were but

“ The short and simple annals of the poor."

“ The chief difficulty I had to encounter," writes this latter gentleman, " was to induce him to communicate the homely facts and incidents of his early life. He seemed to be painfully impressed with the extreme poverty of his early surroundings, the utter absence of all romantic and heroic elements; and I know he thought poorly of the idea of attempting a biographical sketch for campaign purposes. Mr. Lincoln communicated some facts to me about his ancestry, which he did not wish published, and which I have never spoken of or alluded to before. I do not think, however, that Dennis Hanks, if he knows any thing about these matters, would be very likely to say any thing about them."

CHAPTER II.

In the frequent changes of occupation, which had hitherto made his life so barren of good results, he could not resist the temptation to the career of a flat-boatman. He had accordingly made one, or perhaps two trips to New Orleans, in the company and employment of Isaac Bush, who was probably a near relative of Sally Bush. It was therefore very natural, that when, in the fall of 1816, he finally determined to emigrate, he should attempt to transport. his goods by water. He built himself a boat, which seems to have been none of the best, and launched it on the Rolling Fork, at the mouth of Knob Creek, a half-mile from his cabin. Some of his personal property, including carpenter's tools, he put on board, and the rest he traded for four hundred gallons of whiskey. With this crazy boat and this singular cargo, he put out into the stream alone, and floating with the current down the Rolling Fork, and then down Salt River, reached the Ohio without any mishap. Here his craft proved somewhat rickety when contending with the difficulties of the larger stream, or perhaps there was a lack of force in the management of her, or perhaps the single navigator had consoled himself during the lonely voyage by too frequent applications to a portion of his cargo: at all events, the boat capsized, and the lading went to the bottom. He fished up a few of the tools " and most of the whiskey, and, righting the little boat, again floated down to a landing at Thompson's Ferry, two and a half miles west of Troy, in

« PreviousContinue »