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Some time in the year 1806 he married Nancy Hanks. It was in the shop of her uncle, Joseph Hanks, at Elizabethtown, in Hardin County, that he had essayed to learn the trade. We have no record of the courtship, but any one can readily imagine the numberless occasions that would bring together the niece and the apprentice. It is true that Nancy did not live with her uncle; but the Hankses were all very clannish, and she was doubtless a welcome and frequent guest at his house. It is admitted by all the old residents of the place that they were honestly married, but precisely when or how no one can tell. Diligent and thorough searches by the most competent persons have failed to discover any trace of the fact in the public records of Hardin and the adjoining counties. The license and the minister's return in the case of Lincoln and Sarah Johnston, his second wife, were easily found in the place where the law required them to be; but of Nancy Hanks's marriage there exists no evidence but that of mutual acknowledgment and cohabitation. At the time of their union, Thomas was twenty-eight years of age, and Nancy about twenty-three.
Lincoln had previously courted a girl named Sally Bush, who lived in the neighborhood of Elizabethtown; but his suit was unsuccessful, and she became the wife of Johnston, the jailer. Her reason for rejecting Lincoln comes down to us in no words of her own; but it is clear enough that it was his want of character, and the "bad luck," as the Hankses have it, which always attended him. Sally Bush was a modest and pious girl, in all things pure and decent. She was very neat in her personal appearance, and, because she was particular in the selection of her gowns and company, had long been accounted a "proud body," who held her head above common folks. Even her own relatives seem to have participated in this mean accusation; and the decency of her dress and behavior appear to have made her an object of common envy and backbiting. But she had a will as well as principles of her own, and she lived to make them both serviceable to the
neglected and destitute son of Nancy Hanks. coln took another wife, but he always loved Sally Bush as much as he was capable of loving anybody; and years afterwards, when her husband and his wife were both dead, he returned suddenly from the wilds of Indiana, and, representing himself as a thriving and prosperous farmer, induced her to marry him. It will be seen hereafter what value was to be attached to his representations of his own prosperity.
Nancy Hanks, who accepted the honor which Sally Bush refused, was a slender, symmetrical woman, of medium stature, a brunette, with dark hair, regular features, and soft, sparkling hazel eyes. Tenderly bred she might have been beautiful; but hard labor and hard usage bent her handsome form, and imparted an unnatural coarseness to her features long before the period of her death. Toward the close, her life and her face were equally sad; and the latter habitually wore the woful expression which afterwards distinguished the countenance of her son in repose.
By her family, her understanding was considered something wonderful. John Hanks spoke reverently of her “ high and intellectual forehead," which he considered but the proper seat of faculties like hers. Compared with the mental poverty of her husband and relatives, her accomplishments were certainly very great; for it is related by them with pride and delight that she could actually read and write. The possession of these arts placed her far above her associates, and after a little while even Tom began to meditate upon the importance of acquiring them. He set to work accordingly, in real earnest, having a competent mistress so near at hand; and with much effort she taught him what letters composed his name, and how to put them together in a stiff and clumsy fashion. Henceforth he signed no more by making his mark; but it is nowhere stated that he ever learned to write any thing else, or to read either written or printed letters.
Nancy Hanks was the daughter of Lucy Hanks. Her mother was one of four sisters, Lucy, Betsy, Polly, and
Nancy. Betsy married Thomas Sparrow; Polly married Jesse Friend, and Nancy, Levi Hall. Lucy became the wife of Henry Sparrow, and the mother of eight children. Nancy the younger was early sent to live with her uncle and aunt, Thomas and Betsy Sparrow. Nancy, another of the four sisters, was the mother of that Dennis F. Hanks whose name will be frequently met with in the course of this history. He also was brought up, or was permitted to come up, in the family of Thomas Sparrow, where Nancy found a shelter.
Little Nancy became so completely identified with Thomas and Betsy Sparrow that many supposed her to have been their child. They reared her to womanhood, followed her to Indiana, dwelt under the same roof, died of the same disease, at nearly the same time, and were buried close beside her. They were the only parents she ever knew; and she must have called them by names appropriate to that relationship, for several persons who saw them die, and carried them to their graves, believe to this day that they were, in fact, her father and mother. Dennis Hanks persists even now in the assertion that her name was Sparrow; but Dennis was pitiably weak on the cross-examination: and we shall have to accept the testimony of Mr. Lincoln himself, and some dozens of other persons, to the contrary.
All that can be learned of that generation of Hankses to which Nancy's mother belonged has now been recorded as fully as is compatible with circumstances. They claim that their ancestors came from England to Virginia, whence they migrated to Kentucky with the Lincolns, and settled near them in Mercer County. The same, precisely, is affirmed of the Sparrows. Branches of both families maintained a more or less intimate connection with the fortunes of Thomas Lincoln, and the early life of Abraham was closely interwoven with theirs.
Lincoln took Nancy to live in a shed on one of the alleys of Elizabethtown. It was a very sorry building, and nearly bare of furniture. It stands yet, or did stand in 1866, to
witness for itself the wretched poverty of its early inmates. It is about fourteen feet square, has been three times removed, twice used as a slaughter-house, and once as a stable. Here a daughter was born on the tenth day of February, 1807, who was called Nancy during the life of her mother, and after her death Sarah.
But Lincoln soon wearied of Elizabethtown and carpenterwork. He thought he could do better as a farmer; and, shortly after the birth of Nancy (or Sarah), removed to a piece of land on the south fork of Nolin Creek, three miles from Hodgensville, within the present county of La Rue, and about thirteen miles from Elizabethtown. What estate he had, or attempted to get, in this land, is not clear from the papers at hand. It is said he bought it, but was unable to pay for it. It was very poor, and the landscape of which it formed a part was extremely desolate. It was then nearly destitute of timber, though it is now partially covered in spots by a young and stunted growth of post-oak and hickory. On every side the eye rested only upon weeds and low bushes, and a kind of grass which the present owner of the farm describes as "barren grass. "barren grass.” It was, on the whole, as bad a piece of ground as there was in the neighborhood, and would hardly have sold for a dollar an acre. The general appearance of the surrounding country was not much better. A few small but pleasant streams - Nolin Creek and its tributaries wandered through the valleys. The land was
generally what is called "rolling;" that is, dead levels in terspersed by little hillocks. Nearly all of it was arable; but, except the margins of the watercourses, not much of it was sufficiently fertile to repay the labor of tillage. It had no grand, unviolated forests to allure the hunter, and no great bodies of deep and rich soils to tempt the husbandman. Here it was only by incessant labor and thrifty habits that an ordinary living could be wrung from the earth.
The family took up their residence in a miserable cabin, which stood on a little knoll in the midst of a barren glade.
A few stones tumbled down, and lying about loose, still indicate the site of the mean and narrow tenement which sheltered the infancy of one of the greatest political chieftains of modern times. Near by, a "romantic spring" gushed from beneath a rock, and sent forth a slender but silvery stream, meandering through those dull and unsightly plains. As it furnished almost the only pleasing feature in the melancholy desert through which it flowed, the place was called after it, "Rock Spring Farm." In addition to this single natural beauty, Lincoln began to think, in a little while, that a couple of trees would look well, and might even be useful, if judiciously planted in the vicinity of his bare house-yard. This enterprise he actually put into execution; and three decayed pear-trees, situated on the "edge" of what was lately a ryefield, constitute the only memorials of him or his family to be seen about the premises. They were his sole permanent improvement.
In that solitary cabin, on this desolate spot, the illustrious Abraham Lincoln was born on the twelfth day of February, 1809.
The Lincolns remained on Nolin Creek until Abraham was four years old. They then removed to a place much more picturesque, and of far greater fertility. It was situated about six miles from Hodgensville, on Knob Creek, a very clear stream, which took its rise in the gorges of Muldrews Hill, and fell into the Rolling Fork two miles above the present town of New Haven. The Rolling Fork emptied into Salt River, and Salt River into the Ohio, twenty-four miles below Louisville. This farm was well timbered, and more hilly than the one on Nolin Creek. It contained some rich valleys, which promised such excellent yields, that Lincoln bestirred himself most vigorously, and actually got into cultivation the whole of six acres, lying advantageously up and down the branch. This, however, was not all the work he did, for he still continued to pother occasionally at his trade; but, no matter what he turned his hand to, his gains were