Mother of Abraham Lincoln

American Civil War Homepage

Mother of Abraham Lincoln: Sarah Bush Lincoln

Mother of Abraham Lincoln
Mother of Abraham Lincoln.jpg
Sarah Bush Lincoln, aka Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln (December 13, 1788 - April 12, 1869)

(Left) Rare photograph of Sarah Bush Johnston. Abraham had a close relationship with his stepmother Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln and considered her his role model. Abraham, however, remained in a strained relationship with his father Thomas.

Mother of Abraham Lincoln

Sarah Bush Lincoln

(December 13, 1788 - April 12, 1869)

Abraham Lincoln Inaugural Bible
Abraham Lincoln Inaugural Bible.jpg
Lincoln Inaugural Bible, 1861


Sarah Bush Lincoln, second wife of Thomas Lincoln, and stepmother of Abraham (when he was nine years old), was a real mother to the young boy during the hard years in Indiana and throughout his life. Abraham last saw his stepmother on January 31 and February 1, 1861, when he came to bid her farewell before going to the White House. When she later recalled the visit after her stepson's death in 1865, she wept. She died in 1869, and was buried next to her husband Thomas Lincoln in the Shiloh Cemetery in Coles County, Illinois.

(Right) Inaugural Bible, 1861. This 1853 Oxford Bible was used when Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered the oath of office to Abraham Lincoln with these brief words, "I, Abraham Lincoln, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" Lincoln was sworn in as the sixteenth president. The ceremony was witnessed by Clerk of the Supreme Court, William Thomas Carroll, who recorded the occasion in the back of this Bible. Gift of Mrs. Robert Todd Lincoln, 1928 Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.


Abraham Lincoln's stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky and came from a flourishing family. Her father, Christopher Bush, was "…a stirring, industrious man, and had a large family of sons and daughters." In March 1806, she married Daniel Johnston. Unfortunately, Johnston did not have the same kind of industriousness that his in-laws had and he was soon deeply in debt. When he died in 1816, Sarah was left with many of these obligations still outstanding. For the next several years she did her best to support herself and her three children.

In 1819, Thomas Lincoln returned to Elizabethtown, a widower himself by this time, with hopes of finding a new wife and mother for his children. Having known Sarah before he moved to Indiana, and knowing she was a widow, he paid her a visit and asked her to marry him. Sarah replied that she could not marry him until she had paid her debts. Upon hearing this, Thomas agreed to pay the debts himself. Once that was done, he and Sarah were married on December 2, 1819. Sarah and her three children, John, Matilda, and Elizabeth returned with Thomas to Indiana, where Sarah set about making the two families into one.

Nine people lived in the Lincoln cabin, two from Thomas' first marriage and three from Sarah's first marriage: Thomas and Sarah, their five children (Sarah Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Johnston, John D. Johnston, and Matilda Johnston.) Abraham's cousin -- Dennis Hanks -- also lived with them throughout most of their Indiana years.

She found the country to be "wild and desolate" but the log cabin that Thomas had built was "good, tolerably comfortable. "She soon discovered that her new stepson, Abraham, was very intelligent and had a passion for knowledge; he was especially fond of reading. Consequently, her gift to him of three books left an indelible impression on him. Not only was it a priceless treasure to a boy who loved to read on a frontier where books were scarce, but it was an indication to him that Sarah would pick up where his mother had left off in terms of encouraging his quest for knowledge. The two quickly developed a close, intimate, mother-son relationship that would continue for the rest of Abraham's life.

Even as an adult, Abraham remained close to his stepmother, whom he always referred to as "Mother." After the family moved to Illinois and he had gone out on his own he still found time to visit. Mrs. Lincoln reported that she "saw him every year or two." After the death of his father in 1851, Lincoln retained a 40-acre plot of land in his own name "for Mother while she lives," and otherwise tended to her welfare as best he could from a distance. Abraham saw his stepmother for the last time when he visited to bid her farewell before going to Washington for his inauguration. When she later recalled the visit after her stepson's death in 1865, she wept. Sarah died in 1869.

Lincoln said of his stepmother "she proved to be a good and kind mother" to him. By all reports their relationship was excellent, and Mrs. Lincoln considered her stepson a model child who was always honest, witty, and "diligent for knowledge." He never needed a "cross word." In all the vast literature of controversy over Lincoln's early years, there is hardly an unkind word about Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln.

A Stepmother's Recollection

Sarah Bush Lincoln, second wife of Thomas Lincoln, and stepmother of Abraham, was a real mother to the young boy during the hard years in Indiana and throughout his life. Each had genuine love and respect for the other. One of the last things Lincoln did before leaving Illinois for the White House to take up the responsibilities that lay ahead of him was to visit "mother," as he always called her. Her recollection of Abraham given below is from a statement she made to William Herndon on Friday, September 8, 1865, at her humble home 8 miles south of Charleston, Ill.

Abe slept upstairs, went up on pins stuck in the logs, like a ladder; our bedsteads were original creations, none such now, made of poles and clapboards. Abe was about nine years of age when I landed in Indiana. The country was wild, and desolate. Abe was a good boy; he didn't like physical labor, was diligent for knowledge, wished to know, and if pains and labor would get it, he was sure to get it. He was the best boy I ever saw. He read all the books he could lay his hands on. I can't remember dates nor names, am about seventy-five years of age; Abe read the Bible some, though not as much as said; he sought more congenial books suitable for his age. I think newspapers were had in Indiana as early as 1824 and up to 1830 when we moved to Illinois. Abe was a constant reader of them. I am sure of this for the years of 1827-28-29-30. The name of the Louisville Journal seems to sound like one. Abe read history papers and other books, can't name any one, have forgotten. . . . He duly reverenced old age, loved those best about his own age, played with those under his age; he listened to the aged, argued with his equals, but played with the children. He loved animals generally and treated them kindly; he loved children well, very well. There seemed to be nothing unusual in his love for animals or his own kind, though he treated everybody and everything kindly, humanely. Abe didn't care much for crowds of people; he chose his own company, which was always good. He was not very fond of girls, as he seemed to me. He sometimes attended church. He would repeat the sermon over again to the children. The sight of such a thing amused all and did especially tickle the children. When Abe was reading, my husband took particular care not to disturb him, would let him read on and on till Abe quit of his own accord. He was dutiful to me always; he loved me truly, I think.


See also Father of Abraham Lincoln: Thomas Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln Homepage

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


Return to American Civil War Homepage

Return to top