|16 ABRAHAM LINCOLN
chap. i. of this commonwealth," to quote the language of the philosophic Legislature, " always to encourage and promote every design which may tend to the improvement of the mind and the diffusion of useful knowledge even among its remote citizens, whose situation in a barbarous neighborhood and a savage intercourse might otherwise render them unfriendly to science." This was the origin of the Transylvania University of Lexington, which rose and flourished for many years on the utmost verge of civilization.
The " barbarous neighborhood" and the " savage intercourse " undoubtedly had their effect upon the manners and morals of the settlers'; but we should fall into error if we took it for granted that the pioneers were all of one piece. The ruling motive which led most of them to the wilds was that Anglo-Saxon lust of land which seems inseparable from the race. The prospect of possessing a four-hundred-acre farm by merely occupying it, and the privilege of exchanging a basketful of almost worthless continental currency for an unlimited estate at the nominal value of forty cents per acre, were irresistible to thousands of land-loving Virginians and Carolinians whose ambition of proprietorship was larger than their means. Accompanying this flood of emigrants of good faith was the usual froth and scum of shiftless idlers and adventurers, who were either drifting with a current they were too worthless to withstand, or in pursuit of dishonest gains in fresher and simpler regions. The vices and virtues of the pioneers were such as proceeded from their environment. They were careless of human life because life was worth comparatively
HOUSE HEAB BEECHLAKD, KENTUCKY, IN WHICH THOMAS LINCOLN AND NANCY HANKS WERE MARRIED,
little in that hard struggle for existence; but they chap. i. had a remarkably clear idea of the value of property, and visited theft not only with condign punishment, but also with the severest social proscription. Stealing a horse was punished more swiftly and with more feeling than homicide. A man might be replaced more easily than the other animal. Sloth was the worst of weaknesses. An habitual drunkard was more welcome at'• raisings " and " logrollings" than a known faineant. The man who did not do a man's share where work was to be done was christened " Lazy Lawrence," and that was the end of him socially. Cowardice was punished by inexorable disgrace. The point of honor was as strictly observed as it ever has been in the idlest and most artificial society. If a man accused another of falsehood, the ordeal by fisticuffs was instantly resorted to. Weapons were rarely employed in these chivalrous encounters, being kept for more serious use with Indians and wild beasts; nevertheless fists, teeth, and the gouging thumb were often employed with fatal effect. Yet among this rude and uncouth people there was a genuine and remarkable respect for law. They seemed to recognize it as an absolute necessity of their existence. In the territory of Kentucky, and afterwards in that of Illinois, it occurred at several periods in the transition from counties to territories and states, that the country was without any organized authority. But the people were a law unto themselves. Their improvised courts and councils administered law and equity; contracts were enforced, debts were collected, and a sort of order was maintained. It may be said, generally, that the character of vol. I—2
18 ABRAHAM LINCOLN
chap. i. this people was far above their circumstances. In all the accessories of life, by which we are accustomed to rate communities and races in the scale of civilization, they were little removed from primitive barbarism. They dressed in the skins of wild beasts killed by themselves, and in linen stuffs woven by themselves. They hardly knew the use of iron except in their firearms and knives. Their food consisted almost exclusively of game, fish, and roughly ground corn-meal. Their exchanges were made by barter; many a child grew up without ever seeing a piece of money. Their habitations were hardly superior to those of the savages with whom they waged constant war. Large families lived in log huts, put together without iron, and far more open to the inclemencies of the skies than the pig-styes of the careful farmer of to-day. An early schoolmaster says that the first place where he went to board was the house of one Lucas, consisting of a single room, sixteen feet square, and tenanted by Mr. and Mrs. Lucas, ten children, three dogs, two cats, and himself. There were many who lived in hovels so cold that they had to sleep on their shoes to keep them from freezing too stiff to be put on. The children grew inured to misery like this, and played barefoot in the snow. It is an error to suppose that all this could be undergone with impunity. They suffered terribly from malarial and rheumatic complaints, and the instances of vigorous and painless age were rare among them. The lack of moral and mental sustenance was still more marked. They were inclined to be a religious people, but a sermon was an unusual luxury, only to be enjoyed at long
intervals and by great expense of time. There chap. i. were few books or none, and there was little opportunity for the exchange of opinion. Any variation in the dreary course of events was welcome. A murder was not without its advantages as a stimulus to conversation; a criminal trial was a kind of holiday to a county. It was this poverty of life, this famine of social gratification, from which sprang their fondness for the grosser forms of excitement, and their tendency to rough and brutal practical joking. In a life like theirs a laugh seemed worth having at any expense.
But near as they were to barbarism in all the circumstances of their daily existence, they were far from it politically. They were the children of a race which had been trained in government for centuries in the best school the world has ever seen, and wherever they went they formed the town, the county, the court, and the legislative power with the ease and certainty of nature evolving its results. And this they accomplished in the face of a savage foe surrounding their feeble settlements, always alert and hostile, invisible and dreadful as the visionary powers of the air. Until the treaty of Greenville, in 1795, closed the long and sanguinary history of the old Indian wars, there was no day in which the pioneer could leave his cabin with the certainty of not finding it in ashes when he returned, and his little flock murdered on his threshold, or carried into a captivity worse than death. Whenever nightfall came with the man of the house away from home, the anxiety and care of the women and children were none the less bitter because so common*
MAP SHOWING VARIOUS LOCALITIES CONNECTED WITH EARLY EVENTS IN THE LINCOLN FAMILY.
The life of the pioneer Abraham Lincoln soon chap. i.
] came to a disastrous close. He had settled in
1 Jefferson County, on the land he had bought from
: the Government, and cleared a small farm in the
; forest.1 One morning in the year 1784, he started 1734.
• with his three sons, Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas,
-i to the edge of the clearing, and began the day's work.
< A shot from the brush killed the father; Mordecai,
; the eldest son, ran instinctively to the house,
\ Josiah to the neighboring fcfrt, for assistance, and
I Thomas, the youngest, a child of six, was left with
the corpse of his father. Mordecai, reaching the
: cabin, seized the rifle, and saw through the loop-
hole an Indian in his war-paint stooping to raise
the child from the ground. He took deliberate aim
at a white ornament on the breast of the savage
and brought him down. The little boy, thus re
leased, ran to the cabin, and Mordecai, from the
loft, renewed his fire upon the savages, who began
to show themselves from the thicket, until Josiah
returned with assistance from the stockade, and
the assailants fled. This tragedy made an indelible
j impression on the mind of Mordecai. Either a
spirit of revenge for his murdered father, or a sportsmanlike pleasure in his successful shot, made him a determined Indian-stalker, and he rarely stopped to inquire whether the red man who came within range of his rifle was friendly or hostile.2
i Lyman C. Draper, of the Wis- into captivity, and forced to run
eonsin Historical Society, has the gauntlet. The story rests on
i kindly furnished us with a MS. the statement of a single person,
account of a Kentucky tradition Mrs. Sarah Graham,
according to which the pioneer 2 Late in life Mordecai Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was captured removed to Hancock County, Illi-
by the Indians, near Crow's Sta- nois, where his descendants still
tion, in August, 1782, carried live,
FAG-SIMILE OP THE MAEEIAGE BOND OF THOMAS LINCOLN.
, The head of the family being gone, the widow chap. i. Lincoln soon removed to a more thickly settled neighborhood in Washington County. There her children grew up. Mordecai and Josiah became reputable citizens; the two daughters married two men named Grume and Brumfield. Thomas, to whom were reserved the honors of an illustrious paternity, learned the trade of a carpenter. He was an easy-going man, entirely without ambition, but not without self-respect. Though the friendliest and most jovial of gossips, he was not insensible to affronts; and when his slow anger was roused he was a formidable adversary. Several border bullies, at different times, crowded him indiscreetly, and were promptly and thoroughly whipped. He was strong, well-knit, and sinewy; but little over the medium height, though in other respects he seems to have resembled his son in appearance.
On the 12th of June, 1806,1 while learning his „ trade in the carpenter shop of Joseph Hanks, in Elizabethtown, he married Nancy Hanks, a niece of his employer, near Beechland, in Washington County.2 She was one of a large family who had
1 All previous accounts give
the date of this marriage as Sep
tember 23d. This error arose
from a clerical blunder in the
county record of marriages. The
minister, the Rev. Jesse Head, in
making his report, wrote the date
before the names; the clerk, in
copying it, lost the proper se
quence of the entries, and gave to
the Lincolns the date belonging
to the next couple on the list.
2 The following is a copy of the
"Know all men by these presents, that we, Thomas Lincoln and Richard Berry, are held and firmly bound unto his Excellency, the Governor of Kentucky, in the just and full sum of fifty pounds current money, to the payment of which well and truly to be made to the said Governor and his successors, we bind ourselves, our heirs, etc., jointly and severally, firmly by these presents, sealed with our seals and dated this 10th day of June, 1806. The condition of
24 ABEAHAM LINCOLN
chap. i. emigrated from Virginia with the Lincolns and with another family called Sparrow. They had endured together the trials of pioneer life; their close relations continued for many years after, and were cemented by frequent intermarriage.
Mrs. Lincoln's mother was named Lucy Hanks ; her sisters were Betty, Polly, and Nancy who married Thomas Sparrow, Jesse Friend, and Levi Hall. The childhood of Nancy was passed with the Sparrows, and she was oftener called by their name than by her own. The whole family connection was composed of people so little given to letters that it is hard to determine the proper names and relationships of the younger members amid the tangle of traditional cousinships.1 Those who went to Indiana with Thomas Lincoln, and grew up with his children, are the only ones that need demand our attention.
There was no hint of future glory in the wedding or the bringing home of Nancy Lincoln. All accounts represent her as a handsome young woman of twenty-three, of appearance and intellect superior to her lowly fortunes. She could read and write,— a remarkable accomplishment in her circle,— and even taught her husband to form the letters of his name. He had no such valuable
the above obligation is such that " Witness, john H. parrott,
whereas there is a marriage Guardian."
shortly intended between the Richard Berry was a connection
above bound Thomas Lincoln and of Lincoln j his wife was a Shipley.
Nancy Hanks, for which a license l The Hanks family seem to
has issued, now if there be no have gone from Pennsylvania
lawful cause to obstruct the said and thence to Kentucky about
marriage, then this obligation to the same time with the Lincolns.
be void, else to remain in full They also belonged to the Corn-
force and virtue in law. munion of Friends.—"Historical
thomas lincoln [Seal]. Collections of Gwynnedd," by H.
richard berry [Seal]. M. Jenkins.