Father of Abraham Lincoln

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Father of Abraham Lincoln: Thomas Lincoln

Father of Abraham Lincoln

Father of Abraham Lincoln
Thomas Lincoln.jpg
Thomas Lincoln (January 6, 1778 - January 17, 1851)

(Left) Rare photograph of Thomas Lincoln. Although Thomas was father of Abraham Lincoln, the two remained in a strained relationship. Abraham, however, had a close relationship with his stepmother Sarah Bush Johnston.

Thomas Lincoln
(January 6, 1778 - January 17, 1851)


Thomas Lincoln was an American farmer and father of President Abraham Lincoln. Historical documents indicate that Thomas was a responsible citizen and community leader, but he repeatedly fell victim to Kentucky's chaotic land laws and was constantly frustrated by the presence of slavery. In 1816, Thomas and his family crossed the Ohio River and purchased a farm directly from the Federal government in what is now present-day Spencer County, Indiana. Two years later his wife died due to milk sickness, and Thomas married a widow, Sarah Bush Johnston. Although Lincoln developed a close relationship with his stepmother, his relationship with his father was strained. In 1830, he moved with his father for the last time when they traveled to Illinois. A year later, he set out on his own. His father continued farming in Coles County, Illinois, until his death in 1851. The father of Abraham Lincoln was buried in the Shiloh Cemetery, near his Illinois farm.


Lincoln Family Bible
Abraham Lincoln Bible.jpg
The Lincoln Family Bible

Born in Rockingham County, Virginia, Thomas Lincoln was the fourth of five children born to Abraham and Bathsheba Lincoln. Thomas Lincoln moved to the state of Kentucky in the 1780's with his family. In May, 1786, Thomas witnessed the murder of his father by Indians "...when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest." That fall, his mother moved the family to Washington County, Kentucky (near Springfield), where Thomas lived until the age of eighteen. From 1795 to 1802, Thomas held a variety of jobs in several locations --jobs that increased his earning power and helped to feed the Lincoln family. In 1802 he moved to Hardin County, Kentucky, where one year later, he purchased a 238-acre farm. Four years later, on June 12, 1806, he married Nancy Hanks. Their first child, a daughter named Sarah, was born a year later. In 1808, Thomas bought a 300-acre farm on Nolin Creek. There, on February 12, 1809, his son Abraham was born. A third child, named Thomas, died in infancy.

(Right) The Lincoln Family Bible. The frontispiece of the Bible of Thomas Lincoln, the father of Abraham Lincoln. Known as The Lincoln Family Bible, this photo was reproduced from the original in the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, Hodgenville, Ky.

Thomas was active in community and church affairs in Hardin County. He served as a jury member, a petitioner for a road, and as a guard for county prisoners. He could read a little, was a skilled carpenter, and was a property owner. In 1815 he purchased, with cash, another farm, the Knob Creek farm. This Knob Creek farm was the first home Abraham Lincoln could remember in later life. Dozens of Kentucky farmers, along with Thomas, fell victim to Kentucky's chaotic land laws. The title to each of the three farms he had purchased proved to be defective. He lost land or money in each case and in disgust moved to Indiana in December 1816. There, the land ordinance of 1785 ensured that land once purchased and paid for was retained. Abraham Lincoln claimed many years later that his father's move from Kentucky to Indiana was "partly on account of slavery, but chiefly on account of the difficulty of land titles in Kentucky."

Slavery was outlawed in Indiana. It is interesting to know that in Hardin County, Kentucky, there were 1007 slaves and only 1627 white males over the age of 16 in the year 1811. The Little Mount Separate Baptist Church separated with the Regular Baptist Church over the issue of slave ownership. Thomas Lincoln, a carpenter, farmer, and laborer was forced to compete for wages against wageless workers.

In Indiana, the Lincolns settled near Little Pigeon Creek in what was then Perry County, later part of Spencer County. Here, Thomas farmed and sold his skills as a carpenter. He put his unusually strong and tall eight-year-old son to work –planting, harvesting, cabin building, and wielding an axe. Autumn frosts of 1818 had already colored the foliage of the huge trees of oak, hickory, and walnut when Nancy Lincoln became desperately ill. She was stricken with milk sickness, a poisoning caused by the plant, white snakeroot. Cows occasionally ate this abundant weed and passed the poison on in their milk. People who drank this poisoned milk or ate its products faced death. On October 5, 1818, Nancy died.

Left without a wife and mother for his children, the resourceful Thomas remarried on December 2, 1819. He chose a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Sarah Bush Johnston. These two hardy pioneers, Thomas and Sarah, united their two families. Sarah's three children – Elizabeth, Matilda, and John -- joined Abraham, Sarah, and cousin Dennis Hanks to make a new family of eight. Besides trading his carpentry skills, managing a farm, and looking after his family, Thomas found time during the next few years of his life in Indiana to assist in building the Little Pigeon Baptist Church, become a member of the church, and serve as church trustee. By 1827, Thomas realized his dream by becoming the outright owner of 100 acres of Indiana land.

The fear of white snakeroot poisoning, news of the fertile Illinois soil, and the possible breakup of his family, lured Thomas westward in March 1830. Thomas sold his Indiana land and moved first to Macon County, Illinois, and eventually to Coles County in 1831. His son Abraham left home to "make his way in the world" during the family's move to Coles County. Thomas Lincoln remained a resident of the county for the rest of his life.

Thomas Lincoln's status as a respectable, responsible, and talented citizen is now secure from his detractors. He, no doubt, did leave a mark on his famous son. Thomas was by all accounts well-liked by his neighbors and he was a good storyteller, as was his son. Thomas's evident dislike of slavery created an atmosphere in Lincoln's youth that would allow Abraham to say many years later that he could not remember a time when he was not antislavery in sentiment. The house where Thomas Lincoln died in 1851, and where his widow died in 1869, stood three miles from Shiloh Cemetery where they are buried. Thomas Lincoln had reached the age of 73 years. He and his family had lived in the states of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. He had paid his taxes regularly, and "left no unpaid debts behind him". He was a good man, a good husband, and a good father.

See also Mother of Abraham Lincoln: Sarah Bush Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln History Homepage.

Sources: National Park Service; Library of Congress; National Archives.


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