John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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It was many years after the death of the President that his son
learned the probable circumstances under which the pioneer Lincoln
removed to the West, and the intimate relations which subsisted
between his family and the most celebrated man in early Western
annals. There is little doubt that it was on account of his
association with the, famous Daniel Boone that Abraham Lincoln went to
Kentucky. The families had for a century been closely allied. There
were frequent intermarriages [Footnote: A letter from David J.
Lincoln, of Birdsboro, Berks County, Pennsylvania, to the writers,
says, "My grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, was married to Anna Boone, a
first cousin of Daniel Boone, July 10, 1760." He was half-brother of
John Lincoln, and afterwards became a man of some prominence in
Pennsylvania, serving in the Constitutional Convention in 1789-90.]
among them - both being of Quaker lineage. By the will of Mordecai
Lincoln, to which reference has been made, his "loving friend and
neighbor" George Boone was made a trustee to assist his widow in the
care of the property. Squire Boone, the father of Daniel, was one of
the appraisers who made the inventory of Mordecai Lincoln's estate.
The intercourse between the families was kept up after the Boones had
removed to North Carolina and John Lincoln had gone to Virginia.
Abraham Lincoln, son of John, and grandfather of the President, was
married to Miss Mary Shipley [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote
relocated to chapter end.] in North Carolina. The inducement which led
him to leave Virginia, where his standing and his fortune were
assured, was, in all probability, his intimate family relations with
the great explorer, the hero of the new country of Kentucky, the land
of fabulous richness and unlimited adventure. At a time when the
Eastern States were ringing with the fame of the mighty hunter who was
then in the prime of his manhood, and in the midst of those
achievements which will forever render him one of the most picturesque
heroes in all our annals, it is not to be wondered at that his own
circle of friends should have caught the general enthusiasm and felt
the desire to emulate his career.

Boone's exploration of Kentucky had begun some ten years before
Lincoln set out to follow his trail. In 1769 he made his memorable
journey to that virgin wilderness of whose beauty he always loved to
speak even to his latest breath. During all that year he hunted,
finding everywhere abundance of game. "The buffalo," Boone says, "were
more frequent than I have seen cattle in the settlements, browsing on
the leaves of the cane, or cropping the herbage on these extensive
plains, fearless because ignorant of the violence of man. Sometimes we
saw hundreds in a drove, and the numbers about the salt springs were
amazing." In the course of the winter, however, he was captured by the
Indians while hunting with a comrade, and when they had contrived to
escape they never found again any trace of the rest of their party.
But a few days later they saw two men approaching and hailed them with
the hunter's caution, "Hullo, strangers; who are you?" They replied,
"White men and friends." They proved to be Squire Boone and another
adventurer from North Carolina. The younger Boone had made that long
pilgrimage through the trackless woods, led by an instinct of doglike
affection, to find his elder brother and share his sylvan pleasures
and dangers. Their two companions were soon waylaid and killed, and
the Boones spent their long winter in that mighty solitude
undisturbed. In the spring their ammunition, which was to them the
only necessary of life, ran low, and one of them must return to the
settlements to replenish the stock. It need not be said which assumed
this duty; the cadet went uncomplaining on his way, and Daniel spent
three months in absolute loneliness, as he himself expressed it, "by
myself, without bread, salt, or sugar, without company of my fellow-
creatures, or even a horse or dog." He was not insensible to the
dangers of his situation. He never approached his camp without the
utmost precaution, and always slept in the cane-brakes if the signs
were unfavorable. But he makes in his memoirs this curious reflection,
which would seem like affectation in one less perfectly and simply
heroic: "How unhappy such a situation for a man tormented with fear,
which is vain if no danger comes, and if it does, only augments the
pain. It was my happiness to be destitute of this afflicting passion,
with which I had the greatest reason to be afflicted." After his
brother's return, for a year longer they hunted in those lovely wilds,
and then returned to the Yadkin to bring their families to the new
domain. They made the long journey back, five hundred miles, in peace
and safety.

For some time after this Boone took no conspicuous part in the
settlement of Kentucky. The expedition with which he left the Yadkin
in 1773 met with a terrible disaster near Cumberland Gap, in which his
eldest son and five more young men were killed by Indians, and the
whole party, discouraged by the blow, retired to the safer region of
Clinch River. In the mean time the dauntless speculator Richard
Henderson had begun his occupation with all the pomp of viceroyalty.
Harrodsburg had been founded, and corn planted, and a flourishing
colony established at the Falls of the Ohio. In 1774 Boone was called
upon by the Governor of Virginia to escort a party of surveyors
through Kentucky, and on his return was given the command of three
garrisons; and for several years thereafter the history of the State
is the record of his feats of arms. No one ever equaled him in his
knowledge of Indian character, and his influence with the savages was
a mystery to him and to themselves. Three times he fell into their
hands and they did not harm him. Twice they adopted him into their
tribes while they were still on the war-path. Once they took him to
Detroit, [Footnote: Silas Farmer, historiographer of Detroit, informs
us that Daniel Boone was brought there on the 10th of March, 1778, and
that he remained there a month.] to show the Long-Knife chieftains of
King Greorge that they also could exhibit trophies of memorable
prowess, but they refused to give him up even to their British allies.
In no quality of wise woodcraft was he wanting. He could outrun a dog
or a deer; he could thread the woods without food day and night; he
could find his way as easily as the panther could. Although a great
athlete and a tireless warrior, he hated fighting and only fought for
peace. In council and in war he was equally valuable. His advice was
never rejected without disaster, nor followed but with advantage; and
when the fighting once began there was not a rifle in Kentucky which
could rival his. At the nine days' siege of Boonesboro' he took
deliberate aim and killed a negro renegade who was harassing the
garrison from a tree five hundred and twenty-five feet away, and whose
head only was visible from the fort. The mildest and the quietest of
men, he had killed dozens of enemies with his own hand, and all this
without malice and, strangest of all, without incurring the hatred of
his adversaries. He had self-respect enough, but not a spark of
vanity. After the fatal battle of the Blue Licks, - where the only
point of light in the day's terrible work was the wisdom and valor
with which he had partly retrieved a disaster he foresaw but was
powerless to prevent, - when it became his duty, as senior surviving
officer of the forces, to report the affair to Governor Harrison, his
dry and naked narrative gives not a single hint of what he had done
himself, nor mentions the gallant son lying dead on the field, nor the
wounded brother whose gallantry might justly have claimed some notice.
He was thinking solely of the public good, saying, "I have encouraged
the people in this country all that I could, but I can no longer
justify them or myself to risk our lives here under such extraordinary
hazards." He therefore begged his Excellency to take immediate
measures for relief. During the short existence of Henderson's
legislature he was a member of it, and not the least useful one. Among
his measures was one for the protection of game.

original, of which this is a reduced fac-simile, is in the possession
of Colonel R. T, Durrett, Louisville, Ky.]

[Sidenote: Jefferson County Records.]

Everything we know of the emigrant Abraham Lincoln goes to show that
it was under the auspices of this most famous of our pioneers that he
set out from Rockingham County to make a home for himself and his
young family in that wild region which Boone was wresting from its
savage holders. He was not without means of his own. He took with him
funds enough to enter an amount of land which would have made his
family rich if they had retained it. The county records show him to
have been the possessor of a domain of some seventeen hundred acres.
There is still in existence [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote
relocated to chapter end.] the original warrant, dated March 4, 1780,
for four hundred acres of land, for which the pioneer had paid "into
the publick Treasury one hundred and sixty pounds current money," and
a copy of the surveyor's certificate, giving the metes and bounds of
the property on Floyd's Fork, which remained for many years in the
hands of Mordecai Lincoln, the pioneer's eldest son and heir. The name
was misspelled "Linkhorn" by a blunder of the clerk in the
land-office, and the error was perpetuated in the subsequent record.

Kentucky had been for many years the country of romance and fable for
Virginians. Twenty years before Governor Spotswood had crossed the
Alleghanies and returned to establish in a Williamsburg tavern that
fantastic order of nobility which he called the Knights of The Golden
Horseshoe, [Footnote: Their motto was _Sic jurat transcendere
montes_.] and, with a worldly wisdom which was scarcely consistent
with these medieval affectations, to press upon the attention of the
British Government the building of a line of frontier forts to guard
the Ohio River from the French. Many years after him the greatest of
all Virginians crossed the mountains again, and became heavily
interested in those schemes of emigration which filled the minds of
many of the leading men in America until they were driven out by
graver cares and more imperative duties. Washington had acquired
claims and patents to the amount of thirty or forty thousand acres of
land in the West; Benjamin Franklin and the Lees were also large
owners of these speculative titles. They formed, it is true, rather an
airy and unsubstantial sort of possession, the same ground being often
claimed by a dozen different persons or companies under various grants
from the crown or from legislatures, or through purchase by
adventurers from Indian councils. But about the time of which we are
speaking the spirit of emigration had reached the lower strata of
colonial society, and a steady stream of pioneers began pouring over
the passes of the mountains into the green and fertile valleys of
Kentucky and Tennessee. They selected their homes in the most eligible
spots to which chance or the report of earlier explorers directed
them, with little knowledge or care as to the rightful ownership of
the land, and too often cleared their corner of the wilderness for the
benefit of others. Even Boone, to whose courage, forest lore, and
singular intuitions of savage character the State of Kentucky owed
more than to any other man, was deprived in his old age of his hard-
earned homestead through his ignorance of legal forms, and removed to
Missouri to repeat in that new territory his labors and his

record of the Lincoln Claim on Licking River is from the original in
posession of Lyman C. Draper, Madison, Wis.]

[Sidenote: 1780.]

The period at which Lincoln came West was one of note in the history
of Kentucky. The labors of Henderson and the Transylvania Company had
begun to bear fruit in extensive plantations and a connected system of
forts. The land laws of Kentucky had reduced to something like order
the chaos of conflicting claims arising from the various grants and
the different preemption customs under which settlers occupied their
property. The victory of Boone at Boonesboro' against the Shawnees,
and the capture of Kaskaskia and Vincennes by the brilliant audacity
of George Rogers Clark, had brought the region prominently to the
attention of the Atlantic States, and had turned in that direction the
restless and roving spirits which are always found in communities at
periods when great emigrations are a need of civilization. Up to this
time few persons had crossed the mountains except hunters, trappers,
and explorers - men who came merely to kill game, and possibly Indians,
or to spy out the fertility of the land for the purpose of
speculation. But in 1780 and 1781 a large number of families took up
their line of march, and in the latter year a considerable contingent
of women joined the little army of pioneers, impelled by an instinct
which they themselves probably but half comprehended. The country was
to be peopled, and there was no other way of peopling it but by the
sacrifice of many lives and fortunes; and the history of every country
shows that these are never lacking when they are wanted. The number of
those who came at about the same time with the pioneer Lincoln was
sufficient to lay the basis of a sort of social order. Early in the
year 1780 three hundred "large family boats" arrived at the Falls of
the Ohio, where the land had been surveyed by Captain Bullitt seven
years before, and in May the Legislature of Virginia passed a law for
the incorporation of the town of Louisville, then containing some six
hundred inhabitants. At the same session a law was passed confiscating
the property of certain British subjects for the endowment of an
institution of learning in Kentucky, "it being the interest 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 little in that hard
struggle for existence; but they 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
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 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.


The life of the pioneer Abraham Lincoln soon came to a disastrous
close. He had settled in Jefferson County, on the land he had bought
from the Government, and cleared a small farm in the forest.
[Footnote: Lyman C. Draper, of the Wisconsin Historical Society, has
kindly furnished us with a MS account of a Kentucky tradition
according to which the pioneer Abraham Lincoln was captured by the
Indians, near Crow's Station, in August, 1782, carried into captivity,
and forced to run the gauntlet. The story rests on the statement of a
single person, Mrs. Sarah Graham.] One morning in the year 1784, he
started with his three sons, Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas, 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 fort, for assistance, and 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
loophole 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 released, 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 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. [Footnote: Late in life
Mordecai Lincoln removed to Hancock County, Illinois, where his
descendants still live.]


The head of the family being gone, the widow 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 Crume 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, [Footnote: All previous accounts give the
date of this marriage as September 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, copying it, lost the proper sequence of the entries,
and gave to the Lincolns the date belonging to the next couple on the
list.] 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. [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy
footnote (1) relocated to chapter end.] She was one of a large family
who had emigrated from Virginia with the Lincolns and with another

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 2 of 31)