William Eleazar Barton.

The paternity of Abraham Lincoln; (Volume 2) online

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^45 7




OCT 20 1320





A LARGE portion of this volume was written before the author
realized that it had begun. In the preparation of his former
book, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, the author undertook
a painstaking study of Lincoln's successive environments,
which involved, incidentally, inquiry into his heredity. This
latter aspect was of secondary interest, nor was the author
greatly interested at the beginning in the various theories
which he encountered as to Lincoln's paternity. While he
made careful notes of all material which came to him in his
researches, he had no occasion to utilize any of the subject
matter in his preparation of the other volume, nor did he
expect to write this one.

As he proceeded, however, he was surprised to find a num-
ber of intelligent collectors of Lincoln books and students of
hi& history who believed that Abraham Lincoln was not the
son of Thomas Lincoln. He also found that while Mrs. Hitch-
cock had done enthusiastic work with reference to the pater-
nity of Nancy Hanks, and several people had entered the lists
as champions of her chastity, no one so far as he could learn
had compiled the various theories adverse to Thomas Lin-
coln's paternity of Abraham and subjected them to a critical

Moreover, the author found himself at length compelled
to ask of himself the question, What if these reports are true?
And he pursued his investigations with an open mind, and,
as he hopes and believes, in accordance with the true spirit
of historical inquiry.

The author had frequent occasion to visit the county of
Lincoln's birth and other portions of Kentucky in quest of
material for his previous book, and he made careful inquiry
on the ground, by personal interview, supplemented by ex-
tended correspondence with all persons there and elsewhere


who seemed at all likely to be able to give him any informa-
tion favorable or unfavorable to the view which he per-
sonally was disposed to accept.

All this material was reduced to writing as it accumulated,
and carefully preserved with the large quantity of Lincoln
matter which was assembled in the course of an industrious
study of the whole life of Lincoln; for, in addition to the book
already published entitled The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, and
the present monograph, the author hopes and expects to issue
a work more strictly biographical and containing a character
study of America's great commoner and liberator.

By the time the author had arrived at a definite, and as it
appears to him, a final, opinion regarding the paternity of
Lincoln, it became evident that he had in his possession
material for a book, and that no such book was already in

The author has endeavored to trace every rumor and re-
port relating to the birth of Abraham Lincoln, to assemble all
the available evidence in favor of it and against it, to judge
each one of these reports upon its own merits, and to render
what, he believes, is a judgment from which there can be no
successful appeal.

From the time it became evident to his own mind that he
must write a book on this subject, the author determined to
make it unnecessary for any one else ever to do so; and he
sincerely believes that in this he has succeeded. It appears to
him quite certain that no previous writer has made anything
approaching a thorough investigation of this subject, though
many have treated it more or less confidently.

There exists in some quarters an impression that the stories
concerning the birth of Abraham Lincoln which were once
widely current were completely disposed of by the discovery
of the marriage bond and the minister's return of marriage
of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. The discovery of that
document was important, as this book will show; but it is
probably true that those stories were never so widely current
as they are today. They have passed the acute stage of curious
gossip, and have their respectable place in literature and


oratory. At least one man is even now busy in the preparation
of a book intended to prove that Abraham Lincoln was not the
son of Thomas Lincoln, and there may be ten men at work on
books, more or less conclusive, intended to prove that he was.
The English biographies of Lincoln, now appearing in con-
siderable number, including Charnwood's, and the Encyclo-
pedia Britannica, give serious attention to these reports; and
American authors do not feel at liberty to publish their
books without somewhere intimating that they are at least
familiar with these stories. Beside books formally devoted
to the study of Lincoln, a very large number of other volumes
are issued in which some reference to Lincoln occurs, and
many of these make more or less direct allusion to these re-
ports. Colonel Watterson's interesting autobiography, " Marse
Henry," devotes a half dozen pages to " that calumny " and
to the like report concerning Andrew Johnson.

As for oratory, the temptation is far too great for the
average speaker to resist, and it offers an attractive field to
orators who are beyond the average. In Chicago, on Lin-
coln's Birthday in 1920, the Sons of the American Revolu-
tion listened to an able address by a distinguished lawyer, him-
self the author of a valuable book on Abraham Lincoln, a
considerable part of which address was devoted to the state-
ment and refutation of these stories; but he did not succeed
in refuting them. That address the author of this volume
heard; it was a notable address, but in this portion it failed
completely. The old Presiding Elder in the Methodist Church
gave wise advice to a young minister who was much given to
superficial refutations of the arguments of infidelity, — " Never
raise the devil unless you are sure you can lay him."

At the same hour and in the same city where the address
referred to in the preceding paragraph was delivered, another
distinguished lawyer, a man of high character and large ability,
was delivering an address on " The Lineage of Lincoln " at a
patriotic gathering held in Memorial Hall in the Chicago Pub-
lic Library. It was an address that displayed great industry of
the painstaking sort which characterizes the work of this emi-
nent attorney and has won him wide repute at the bar, but it


was inconclusive. He did not know all the facts which he
needed to know.

What happened in Chicago probably occurred on the same
day in other cities; such addresses are to be numbered by the
hundred if not by the thousand. They are delivered with the
best of intentions, but their zeal is not always according to
knowledge, and they serve to disseminate yet more widely the
stories which they inconclusively oppose.

We are not at liberty, therefore, to treat the subject of the
paternity of Abraham Lincoln as one that may safely be dis-
missed with silent contempt. If any one knows the truth about
this matter, he ought to tell it.

The present author believes that he knows the truth about
the paternity of Abraham Lincoln. His investigation has in-
volved no little travel and research. He believes that the
truth ought to be known, and that the truth is better than either
falsehood or uncertainty. That is why he has decided to
pursue to the end the rather unwelcome task which grew out
of his previous study, and which this book completes. And he
does not expect to refer to it in any subsequent book about
Abraham Lincoln; nor does he apprehend that such reference
will be necessary.

This volume may be considered as a footnote to the au-
thor's book, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, and a suppressed
preface to the Life of Lincoln which he hopes to publish at
some future date. In that volume he does not now intend
to make any extended reference to the material in this book,
but its conclusion will be assumed.

The author believes that he has gathered all important
material bearing upon the question of Abraham Lincoln's
paternity, and this volume contains all the material which a
diligent search has brought to his knowledge bearing upon that
subject. Pursuing these investigations with an open mind, he
has reached for himself a definite conclusion, which together
with the evidence upon which it rests, he submits herewith in
confidence that on the more important aspects of the question
there remains henceforth not very much more to be said.

As compared with my previous book on Lincoln, the


preparation of this work has called for comparatively little
use of books. My obligations for such books as I have used,
and some measure of my indebtedness to correspondents, is
indicated in the text; but I shall not be able to acknowledge
in full my debt to those who have made researches for me. I
venture to name some of those to whom my obligation is

Among libraries and librarians, I owe much to Miss Caro-
line M. Mcllvaine, and the Library of the Chicago Historical
Society; to Mrs. Jessie Palmer Weber and Miss Georgia L. Os-
borne, and the Library of the Illinois State Historical Society
at Springfield; to Mr. A. P. C. Griffin, Chief Assistant
Librarian, and the Library of Congress in Washington; to
Mr. J. H. Tuttle and the Library of the Massachusetts His-
torical Society; to Miss Euphemia B. Corwin and Mrs. Florence
Ridgway of the Library of Berea College, Kentucky; to Mrs.
Charles F. Norton and the Library of Transylvania Univer-
sity of Lexington, Kentucky, and to Miss Helen Bagley and
the Oak Park Public Library.

For assistance in correspondence and research I name
among those who have helped me most :

Mr. O. M. Mather, Mr. L. B. Handley, Judge Richard W.
Creal, Mr. Charles F. Creal, Mr. Robert Enlow and Rev. Louis
A. Warren, all of Hodgenville, Kentucky; Mr. G. H. Geiger
of Anderson, South Carolina; Hon. James H. Cathey of
Sylva, North Carolina; Mr. D. J. Knotts of Swansea, South
Carolina; Mr. L. S. Pence of Lebanon, Kentucky; Mr. George
Holbert of Elizabethtown, Kentucky; Mr. Jesse W. Weik of
Greencastle, Indiana; Hon. Clinton L. Conkling, Hon. Hardin
W. Masters, Hon. G. W. Murray and Mr. H. E. Barker of
Springfield, IlHnois; Mr. Hugh McLellan of Champlain, New
York, Mr. Truman H. Bartlett of Boston; Hon. Daniel Fish of
Minneapolis; Mr. Arthur E. Morgan of Dayton, Ohio; Mr.
Judd Stewart of New York City; Mr. F. H. Meserve of New
York City; Mr. Oliver R. Barrett of Chicago; Mr. Charles
F. Gunther, deceased, of Chicago ; Mr. Joseph Polin of Spring-
field, Kentucky; and Mr. O. H. Oldroyd of Washington. Mr.
Stewart died as this book was nearing press.


This is far from being a complete list. Some additional
names will appear in the text. As for the others, I can only
say that I have endeavored to secure information from every
one from whom it seemed possible to obtain any, and I thank
all who assisted me.

The author is not unaware that it is easy for writers to
overestimate the importance of their own writings, and to
attach undue weight to their conclusions. Nevertheless, he
wishes to affirm that in the preparation of this book he has
reached a complete and final answer to the many questions
which were forced upon him at the beginning and at different
stages of its preparation. He is sending this volume to the
press with the profound conviction that it contains the truth,
and the whole truth, and that its conclusions are irrefutable.

W. E. B.

First Church Study,
Oak Park, Illinois,
August, 1^20.




I The Seven Sires of Abraham Lincoln . . 17

II Is Such an Inquiry Worth While? . . 22

III The Soil in Which These Stories Grew , 35

IV What Did Lincoln Think About It? . . 38
V What Did Lamon Think About It? . . 41

VI What Did Herndon Think About It? . . 49

VII The Coleman Pamphlet 55


VIII Abraham Enlow of Hardin County, Ken-
tucky 65

IX George Brownfield 69

X Abraham Inlow of Bourbon County, Ken-
tucky 72

XI Abraham Enloe of North Carolina . . 74

XII The Hardin Story 105

XIII Chief Justice Marshall and Andrew . . 107

XIV John C. Calhoun 113


XV The Burden of Proof 149

XVI Abraham Enlow of Hardin County, Ken-
tucky 157




XVII Abraham Enlow of Elizabethtown . . i86

XVIII George Brownfield 189

XIX Abraham Lincoln of Ohio 192

XX Abraham Inlow of Bourbon County . . 195

XXI The Hardin Story 200

XXII Abraham Enloe of North Carolina . . 203

XXIII Chief Justice Marshall and Andrew . . 207

XXIV John C. Calhoun 214

XXV Do These Stories Support Each OTHERf . 227

XXVI A School for Scandal 231

XXVII A Few Fixed Dates 244

XXVIII What We Know About Thomas Lincoln . 257

XXIX What We Know About Nancy Hanks . . 272

XXX Did Lincoln Honor His Father? . . . 287

XXXI Did Lincoln Honor His Mother? , . . 298

XXXII A Final Word About Herndoin . . .303

XXXIII The Origin and Destiny of These Stories . 312


I Rev. Jesse Head 325

II Witnesses to the Marriage of Thomas and

Nancy Lincoln 336

III Thomas Lincoln as a Landholder . . . 345

IV Herndon's Attitude Toward Lincoln . . 360
V The Suppressed Pages of the Reed Lecture . 367

VI Washington County Affidavits . . . ^'/2

VII La Rue County Affidavits 377

VIII Where Was Abraham Lincoln Born? . . 384

IX Documents of the Lincoln Family . . 395

X Hanks Memoranda 400

XI Was Abraham Lincoln a German ? . . . 409

Index 411





When, in i860, Abraham Lincoln became a candidate for the
Presidency of the United States, but little was known of him
in his own nation and in the world, and less concerning his
antecedents. The biographical sketches which he furnished to
Jesse W. Fell in 1859 or i860 and somewhat later to John
Locke Scripps, exhibited marked reserve on the subject of
his family history, especially on his mother's side. In these
sketches furnished by Lincoln himself, the Lincoln line was
indicated for several generations, from Berks County, Penn-
sylvania, through Virginia to Kentucky, whence in his own
childhood his father had migrated in 181 6 into Southern In-
diana, and in 1830, the year of Abraham's majority, into

The meagerness of the information did not escape comment
at the time, and vague and nebulous rumors were current in
the campaign of i860 that Abraham Lincoln had little occa-
sion for pride in his birth. In 1864, the campaign was waged
with great bitterness, the Copperhead press stopping at noth-
ing that would belittle him, and the rumors became more
widely extended. So far as the writer is aware, however, these
did not emerge into print. The writer has seen a considerable
body of hostile political literature, much of it issued by the
Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, of which
Prof. S. F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was President,
and while Lincoln is mercilessly criticized, lampooned and
caricatured, the writer has not seen in print any direct charge
that Abraham Lincoln was illegitimate, or that his mother



was illegitimate, that was published during either of the
two campaigns in which Lincoln was running for the Presi-
dency. That the rumors were in circulation by 1864, is, how-
ever, certain.

The gravamen of these rumors, and the definite charges
subsequently printed in various forms, is two-fold. The first
of these is that his mother, Nancy Hanks, was a bastard.
Her mother, Lucy Hanks, it is alleged, being at that time
unmarried, bore her, in Virginia, in 1783, Subsequently
Lucy Hanks married Henry Sparrow, and the illegitimate
daughter of Lucy was, by the Hanks family, called Nancy
Sparrow. But that, it is affirmed, was not her name. Her
father, so it is alleged, and so her son Abraham Lincoln is
alleged to have believed, was a Virginia planter of good
family, through whom Nancy inherited qualities which dis-
tinguished her as superior to her own family, qualities which
she transmitted to her son, Abraham, and which largely made
him the great man whom he afterward became.

The other rumor, which has become a definite allegation,
printed in several forms, is that Abraham Lincoln was an
illegitimate child; that his mother, Nancy Hanks, either be-
fore or subsequent to her marriage with Thomas Lincoln, if
indeed she was married to him, became the mother of a son
whose father was other than Thomas Lincoln.

In some forms this rumor alleges that she was pregnant
when Thomas Lincoln married her; in others that the child
was already born, but an infant ; in others that he was ** old
enough to run around," and that " he sat between Thomas
and Nancy when they went away to be married." In others
the implication is that he was begotten in adultery, Lincoln
and his wife having been married, and she proving unfaithful
to her marriage vows.

The name of Abraham Lincoln's father is variously given
by those who hold to the truth of this rumor. He is alleged
to have been a grandson of Chief-Justice John Marshall, or a
son of John C. Calhoun; and several other names, noted in
Kentucky and the older states to the east of it, are men-


tioned each with more or less confidence as that of his father.

Certain family names that were current in the immediate
vicinity of his birth have also been mentioned, among them
that of Abraham Enlow, Inlow or Enloe. According to a
very widespread rumor, current in various forms in several
sections of the South, Lincoln received his name of Abraham
from his real father, Abraham Enlow, Enloe or Inlow, and
his surname from his putative father, Thomas Lincoln, who
either than was or later became the husband of Nancy Hanks,
the mother of the future President.

With the first of these two questions the present book has
no concern. Mrs. CaroHne Hanks Hitchcock published in
1899 her little book entitled " Nancy Hanks," and she and
Miss Ida M. Tarbell in their researches obtained information
which satisfied them that Nancy Hanks was of legitimate birth.
The large work of Lea and Hutchinson, while following
primarily the Lincoln line in England, practically confines
its American research concerning the immediate progenitors
of Lincoln to the work already done by Mrs. Hitchcock,
and accepts her conclusions apparently without independent
investigation of the maternal line of Abraham Lincoln's an-

The present writer has no occasion to traverse this ground.
It is not the field of his chief interest, nor, so far as he can
judge, is it the more important half of the inquiry. We
should be glad to know that Abraham Lincoln's grandmothers
and great-grandmothers were virtuous to all generations; but
we know that few families can go back many generations
without finding the bar sinister somewhere upon the family
escutcheon; and every man or woman who boasts of descent
from William the Conqueror confesses with more or less
of pride to that condition of his own family register. Each
receding generation divides by two the feeling of moral ob-
liquity, and each quarter century of remoteness lessens the
feeling of disgrace. If Nancy Hanks was born in lawful
wedlock, the fact is of interest; but it is nothing hke as im-
portant as it is to find whether she herself was a virtuous


woman, and her son, the President of the United States,
the legitimate son of her husband, whose name Abraham
Lincoln bore.

This book, therefore, confines itself wholly to the ques-
tion of the paternity of Abraham Lincoln.

" Regarding the paternity of Lincoln a great many sur-
mises and a still larger amount of unwritten or, at least, un-
published history have drifted into the currents of western
lore and journalism. A number of such traditions are extant
in Kentucky and other localities."

So wrote William H. Herndon in 1889 in the first volume
of the first edition of his much discussed Life of Lincoln.
He added that his associate, Mr. Jesse W. Weik, had devoted
much time to investigating one of these traditions, which he
outlined, and which we shall have occasion to consider in de-
tail. This paragraph is interesting for many reasons. Among
others, it shows that on Herndon's first investigation there
was more than one story. There are several now. The
author of this present volume has made diligent search, and
has tabulated all the rumors and definite charges which he
has been able to secure. Some of them are too vague to
be certainly identified, but even these will be alluded to, with
whatever is to be said for and against them. The chief
stories permit of grouping under seven definite heads, and
they charge that Abraham Lincoln was not the son of Thomas
Lincoln, but was the son of another man, who is named with
evidence, in some cases more and in other cases less circum-
stantial, intended to show that some man other than Thomas
Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln's father.

The author has catalogued these allegations. The seven
men, other than Thomas Lincoln, who are credited with the
paternity of Abraham Lincoln, and whose claims to that
honor we shall consider at length, are the following:

1. Abraham Enlow, a farmer, of Hardin County, Ken-


2. George Brownfield, a farmer, of Hardin County, Ken-



3. Abraham Inlow, a miller, of Bourbon County, Ken-


4. Andrew, an alleged foster son of Chief-Justice John


5. Abraham Enloe, of Swain County, North Carolina.

6. John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina.

7. Martin D. Hardin, of Kentucky.

It would have been possible to increase the number be-
yond seven, but several stories that at first appeared to be
distinct resolved themselves into separate forms of the same
story. These several forms will all be considered either in
the presentation of the evidence or in its analysis. We will
also consider one or two of these stories that had more or
less vogue for a time and then disappeared. This book under-
takes to be complete, so far as the author's information and
research have enabled him to gather material, and he thinks
that he has discerned and here recorded all that is of any
value, and some beside. But he has kept the number of
Lincoln's alleged fathers down to seven, in addition to Thomas
Lincoln, who also is to be considered.

" Seven cities strove for Homer dead,
Through which the living Homer begged his bread."

Seven men are now adduced as the alleged fathers of
Abraham Lincoln, few if any of whom, if living in i860,
would have voted for him. But that does not settle the ques-
tion of his paternity. It only illustrates the complexity of
the task which he assumes who undertakes to trace these
rumors and discover what truth, if any, lies at their root.



The reader of the foregoing chapter will be quite certain
to ask himself at this point, Is any such inquiry worth while?
What does it matter, anyway ? Why not let all such rumors
alone ?

Let him be assured that the author has asked himself the
same questions and many others. The answers that have
come to him are, first, that it does matter, and that the truth
is better than any form of falsehood, and very much better
than so many kinds of falsehood that one cannot be sure
which of them to choose.

But a more important answer is that we are not per-
mitted to choose whether these rumors shall die out or not.
They persist. They were in active circulation before the
death of Lincoln, and troubled him; and they have to be
reckoned with by every serious student of the life of Lin-
coln. It is better, so the author has come to believe, that
these be dragged into the open, and met on their merits. If
Abraham Lincoln was not the son of Thomas Lincoln, it is
time the world knew whose son he was. If he was the son
of Thomas Lincoln, those who deny that fact should be

Abraham Lincoln had his own homely phrase for inves-

Online LibraryWilliam Eleazar BartonThe paternity of Abraham Lincoln; (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 34)