How Life in Kentucky Shaped Our Sixteenth American President
A visit to two sights in Kentucky, only miles apart, provide a glimpse into the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Born at Sinking Springs Farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky, Abraham lived here for two years before his family moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm, where Lincoln resided for the next five years of his life.
Abraham Lincoln’s Ancestors
Samuel Lincoln came to Hingham Massachusetts from England in 1637. The Lincoln descendants moved to New Jersey, then Pennsylvania, and finally in 1768 John Lincoln (Abraham’s great grandfather) and his family of ten settled in Virginia. In 1782 John’s son Abraham, his wife Bersheba, and their five children headed for Kentucky. It is believed that their family friend, Daniel Boone, who had pioneered the first trail into this region only seven years earlier, encouraged the Lincolns to settle the area. In 1786, as Abraham and his boys were planting the fields, Indians attacked and Abraham was killed. [Abraham’s grave bears the name “Abraham Linkhorn”; there is debate over whether the spelling is a mistake, or if the Lincolns did indeed begin as Linkhorns, changing their name along the way.] The Lincolns then moved to present day Washington County and then Hardin County in 1803, where son Thomas (our future president’s father) married Nancy Hanks in 1806, and in 1807 they had their first child, Sarah. Nancy Hanks was born in Virginia; after her father James’ death, Nancy’s mother, Lucy Shipley Hanks, moved them to Kentucky to live with her sister and brother-in-law Rachel and Richard Berry. Lucy later remarried, leaving Nancy with the Berrys until her wedding with Thomas.
Sinking Springs Farm
In 1808, Thomas, Nancy and Sarah Lincoln moved to 348 acre Sinking Springs Farm on Nolin Creek near Hodgenville, Kentucky, for which they paid $200. It was here on February 12, 1809 that Abraham Lincoln, the seventh generation of his family in America, was born, making him the first president born outside the thirteen original colonies in America. The Lincolns were forced off the farm in 1811 due to a property ownership dispute, when they moved ten miles northeast to Knob Creek Kentucky. Today a memorial stands at Lincoln’s birthplace. President Theodore Roosevelt layed the cornerstone in 1909, and President Taft dedicated it in 1911. Its 56 granite steps represent the 56 years of Abraham Lincoln’s life, and inside is a cabin representative of Lincoln’s (although not his, it was built locally in the 1840s, then disassembled and moved inside the memorial building). The memorial receives about 200,000 visitors a year.
Knob Creek Farm
Lincoln’s earliest memory was helping his father plant pumpkin seeds on this farm. Thomas and Nancy leased this farm of 30 acres along the Cumberland Trail, a main travel artery between Louisville, KY and Nashville, TN (now Highway 31E). It was thought that slave dealers transported slaves past the Lincoln’s farm to markets in the south, which likely Abraham witnessed. In 1811 the county had 1,007 slaves compared to 1,627 white males aged 16 and older. Lincoln’s school teacher, Caleb Hazel, was an emancipationist, and his parents belonged to an antislavery church- Little Mount Baptist.
In 1816, due in part to slavery issues and in part to land title disputes, the Lincolns moved out of KY to Indiana when Abraham was seven. Likely his life experiences here helped to shape our sixteenth president. In addition to forming his ideas regarding slavery, his humble beginnings led him to state “Any father’s child can live in the white house”. His little brother Thomas was born and died as an infant at Knob Creek. Abraham himself almost drowned in the creek and was rescued by a friend, Austin Gollaher. There is a cabin on the property today built with logs from the Gollaher’s cabin. Although Abraham received less than two years of formal education, walking two miles through the hills to school, he loved to write and friends touted him as a great storyteller.
These sites, along with the Lincoln Homestead State Park in Springfield Kentucky, are a must for anyone interested in the history of Abraham Lincoln.
Information was taken from pamphlets and displays at the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site and the Knob Creek Farm.