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BRAHAM LINCOLN was born on the twelfth day of
February, 1809. His father's name was Thomas Lincoln, and his mother's maiden name was Nancy Hanks. At the time of his birth, they are supposed to have been married about three years. Although there appears to have been but little sympathy or affection between Thomas and Abraham Lincoln, they were nevertheless connected by ties and associations which make the previous history of Thomas Lincoln and his family a necessary part of any reasonably full biography of the great man who immortalized the name by wear
Thomas Lincoln's ancestors were among the early settlers of Rockingham County in Virginia ; but exactly whence they came, or the precise time of their settlement there, it is impossible to tell. They were manifestly of English descent; but whether emigrants directly from England to Virginia, or an offshoot of the historic Lincoln family in Massachusetts, or of the highly-respectable Lincoln family in Pennsylvania, are questions left entirely to conjecture. We have absolutely no evidence by which to determine them. Thomas Lincoln himself stoutly denied that his progenitors were either
Quakers or Puritans; but he furnished nothing except his own word to sustain his denial: on the contrary, some of the family (distant relatives of Thomas Lincoln) who remain in Virginia believe themselves to have sprung from the NewEngland stock. They found their opinion solely on the fact that the Christian names given to the sons of the two families were the same, though only in a few cases, and at different times. But this might have arisen merely from that common religious sentiment which induces parents of a devotional turn to confer scriptural names on their children, or it might have been purely accidental. Abrahams, Isaacs, and Jacobs abound in many other families who claim no kindred on that account. In England, during the ascendency of the Puritans, in times of fanatical religious excitement, the children were almost universally baptized by the names of the patriarchs and Old - Testament heroes, or by names of their own pious invention, signifying what the infant was expected to do and to suffer in the cause of the Lord. The progenitors of all the American Lincolns were Englishmen, and they may have been Puritans. There is, therefore, nothing unreasonable in the supposition that they began the practice of conferring such names before the emigration of any of them; and the names, becoming matters of family pride and family tradition, have continued to be given ever since. But, if the fact that Christian names of a particular class prevailed among the Lincolns of Massachusetts and the Lincolns of Virginia at the same time is no proof of consanguinity, the identity of the surname is entitled to even less consideration. It is barely possible that they may have had a common ancestor; but, if they had, he must have lived and died so obscurely, and so long ago, that no trace of him can be discovered. It would be as difficult to prove a blood relationship between all the American Lincolns, as it would be to prove a general cousinship among all the Smiths or all the Joneses. A patronymic so common as Lincoln, derived from a large geographical division of the old country, would almost certainly be taken by many who had no claim to it by reason of descent from its original possessors.
1 At the end of this volume will be found a very interesting account of the family, given by Mr. Lincoln himself. The original is in his own handwriting, and is here reproduced in fac-simile.
Dr. Holland, who, of all Mr. Lincoln's biographers, has entered most extensively into the genealogy of the family, says that the father of Thomas was named Abraham; but he gives no authority for his statement, and it is as likely to be wrong as to be right. The Hankses - John and Dennis — who passed a great part of their lives in the company of Thomas Lincoln, tell us that the name of his father was Mordecai; and so also does Col. Chapman, who married Thomas Lincoln's step-daughter. The rest of those who ought to know are unable to assign him any name at all.
Dr. Holland says further, that this Abraham (or Mordecai) had four brothers, – Jacob, John, Isaac, and Thomas; that Isaac went to Tennessee, where his descendants are now; that Thomas went to Kentucky after his brother Abraham ; but that Jacob and John
are supposed to have” remained in Virginia. This is doubtless true, at least so far as it relates to Jacob and John; for there are at this day numerous Lincolns residing in Rockingham County, - the place from which the Kentucky Lincolns emigrated. One of their ancestors, Jacob, - who seems to be the brother referred to, was a lieutenant in the army of the Revolution, and present at the siege of Yorktown. His military services were made the ground of a claim against the government, and Abraham Lincoln, whilst a representative in Congress from Illinois, was applied to by the family to assist them in prosecuting it. A correspondence of some length ensued, by which the presumed relationship of the parties was fully acknowledged on both sides. But, unfortunately, no copy of it is now in existence. The one preserved by the Virginians was lost or destroyed during the late war. The family, with perfect unanimity, espoused the cause of the Confederate States, and suffered many losses in consequence. of which these interesting papers may have been one.
1 The Life of Abraham Lincoln, by J. G. Holland, p. 20.
Abraham (or Mordecai) the father of Thomas Lincoln, was the owner of a large and fertile tract of land on the waters of Linnville's Creek, about eight miles north of Harrisonburg, the court-house town of Rockingham County. It is difficult to ascertain the precise extent of this plantation, or the history of the title to it, inasmuch as all the records of the county were burnt by Gen. Hunter in 1864. It is clear, however, that it had been inherited by Lincoln, the emigrant to Kentucky, and that four, if not all, of his children were born upon it
it. At the time Gen. Sheridan received the order “ to make the Valley of the Shenandoah a barren waste," this land was well improved and in a state of high cultivation; but under the operation of that order it was ravaged and desolated like the region around it.
Lincoln, the emigrant, had three sons and two daughters. Thomas was the third son and the fourth child. He was born in 1778; and in 1780, or a little later, his father removed with his entire family to Kentucky.
Kentucky was then the paradise of the borderer's dreams. Fabulous tales of its sylvan charms and pastoral beauties had for years been floating about, not only along the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, but farther back in the older settlements. For a while it had been known as the “Cane Country," and then as the “Country of Kentucky.” Many expeditions were undertaken to explore it; two or three adventurers, and occasionally only one at a time, passing down the Ohio in canoes. But they all stopped short of the Kentucky River. The Indians were terrible; and it was known that they would surrender any other spot of earth in preference to Kentucky. The canes that were supposed to indicate the promised land — those canes of wondrous dimensions, that shot up, as thick as they could stand, from a soil of inestimalle fertility — were forever receding before those who sought them. One party after another returned to report, that, after incredible dangers and hardships, they had met with no better fortune than that which had attended the efforts of their predecessors, and that they had utterly