« AnteriorContinuar »
a slender, pale, sad, and sensitive woman, with much in her nature that was truly heroic, and much that shrank from the rude life around her.” Lamon says: “By her family her understanding was considered something wonderful.” There is no doubt that she was a bright, sensible, brave Christian woman, whose father removed from Virginia into Kentucky about the time that the father of Thomas Lincoln did. Thomas appears to have been satisfied with his choice, and her influence over him was strong and elevating.
When Abraham was four years old, his father removed to a more fertile and picturesque spot on Knob Creek, six miles from Hodgensville. This creek empties into the Rolling Fork, the Rolling Fork into Salt River, and Salt River into the Ohio, twenty-four miles from Louisville. How so poor a man could purchase so much of a farm (two hundred and thirty-eight acres) for one hundred and eighteen pounds, seems mysterious, until we learn the fact that, at the end of the year, he sold two hundred acres for one hundred pounds, reserving but thirty-eight acres for himself. But even this condition of his affairs shows a decided advance in contrast with the pitiable poverty that inducted him into wedded life. Then, too, the fact that he aspired after a more fertile and attractive location, and actually planted from six to eight acres the first year of his residence on Knob Creek, proves that the spirit of a larger enterprise possessed his soul. Somehow his marriage to Nancy Hanks had raised him above that restless, thriftless, aimless life that characterized his youth and early manhood.
It was on Knob Creek that Abraham, or “ Abe," as he was familiarly called by his parents and other people, was initiated into fishing and other sports. On Nolin Creek he hunted “ground-hogs” with a precocious boy, Johnnie Duncan, who afterwards became quite widely known as the Rev. John Duncan. On Knob Creek he played in the water, took long tramps, and enjoyed himself generally with one Billy Gallaher. For a boy of his age (but six or seven at that time) he was adventurous and enterprising. One of his venturesome sports was, to catch hold of a branch of a sycamore tree and swing over the water. One day, when indulging in this risky sport, with his no less venturesome Billy, he lost his hold of the limb and plunged into the water. If Billy had not been a cool, smart, efficient boy, Thomas Lincoln would have lost a good son on that day, and the United States of America a good President. But Billy was equal to the occasion, and, by brave efforts, succeeded in delivering “Abe” from a watery grave.
Another boy, Dennis F. Hanks, his cousin, was one of his boon companions, though a little older than himself. Thomas Sparrow, who reared Nancy Hanks to womanhood (Mrs. Lincoln), had given Dennis a home in his family, and Sparrow was now a neighbour of Thomas Lincoln, and Dennis and “Abe” playmates. Dennis was a great lover of hunting and fishing, and “Abe" accompanied him upon many a long tramp, though he was not old enough to use firearms; nor did he ever become expert in either hunting or fishing.
The Lincoln cabin on Knob Creek was very little better than the one on Nolin Creek. It was a floorless log-house, with one room below and a loft above, and the usual accompaniment of stools, skillet, and Dutch oven. Here “ Abe” began to show signs of remarkable brightness, as evinced by his tact, intelligence, and aims. It was noticeable that he was more precocious than other children of his age ; and his parents were not slow to perceive and appreciate the fact. The next chapter presents him in a new rôle.
“D INEY is goin' to keep school,” remarked Mr.
1 Lincoln to his wife, one day, “and he wants to know if Sarah and Abe will go.”
"I hope so, certainly, though he can't be much of a teacher, any way,” replied Mrs. L. “A poor school is better than none."
“There can be no doubt about that,” continued Mr. Lincoln. “It won't take Riney long to tell the children all he knows; but that is better than nothing.”
“He can't write nor cipher,” added his wife, “and a man who can't do that can't be much of a reader.”
“Well, readin' is all he claims," said Mr. Lincoln. “He has nothin' to do with figgers or writin'. He proposes to learn boys and girls what he knows, and nothing more.”
“That's about all the best of them can do,-teach what they know," Mrs. L. answered. “To attempt more would be foolish indeed.”
This Hezekiah Riney was a new comer, and he had settled within a half mile of Lincoln's cabin. He was a rough, ignorant man, with scarcely one qualification for a teacher, even in that wild untutored country. But he wanted to eke out a miserable subsistence by adding a few dollars to his pitiable income; and so he proposed school-keeping as about the only thing possible
in that barren country. Parents accepted the proposition because there was nothing better; and here the hero of this volume began to be a school-boy, accompanying his sister Sarah daily to Riney's cabin. “Abe” made some progress at this school-he began to read. A dilapidated copy of Dillworth's spelling-book was the only volume the two children of Tom Lincoln had between them at this Riney institution, and they appear to have made good use of it. The brightness of the pupils was a pleasant offset to the stupidity of the teacher.
Riney's school, for some reason, was of short duration; it closed in five or six weeks. Perhaps the fountain ran dry in that time. Possibly some of the scholars knew more than their master at the end of that period, which is not claiming very much for the pupils. At any rate, “Abe" and his sister transferred their destiny to another" pioneer college," as, forty years afterwards, Abraham Lincoln facetiously called those cabin-schools of the woods.
“Mr. Hazel knows a heap more than Riney,” said Mr. Lincoln, “and we must try to have the children go to his school, though it is a long way off.”
“Yes; it is time that ‘Abe knew something about writing,' and Hazel can learn him that,” Mrs. L. replied. “The children won't mind the distance. If we can scrape together enough to pay for their schooling, they ought to go."
The last remark touched upon a subject that was often uppermost in Tom Lincoln's mind,-how to get money enough to pay for the necessaries of life. Although he was satisfied with corn-cake and milk for daily food, yet it would require considerable ingenuity and economy to produce the extra money to pay for the schooling ; so he replied,
“I've counted the cost, and I guess we can raise the money some way. Hazel can start Abe off on writing, and that will be worth everything to him. Some day I hope to live in a country where I can earn something at my trade.”
“ That will be some distance from here, I'm thinking,” replied Mrs. L. “We can't expect much growth in this part of the country at present. If Indiana comes into the Union a free State, there may be a better chance there.” The question of admitting Indiana into the Union as a free State was then agitating the country. The subject was before the American Congress, and the slave power was doing everything possible to prevent such an event. The slaveholders of Kentucky were especially exercised about it, because another free State so near would be an additional invitation to their slaves to find an asylum there. The subject was discussed, pro and con, in every Kentucky cabin where white men dwelt. The Lincolns were in favour of making Indiana a free State. They knew full well that the curse of slavery blighted the prosperity of every slave State.
“ There's a better chance for everything in a free State,” was Mr. Lincoln's only answer.
The reader must understand that schools were very scarce in Kentucky in Tom Lincoln's day; and the few in existence were very poor, scarcely deserving the name of schools. They would not be tolerated now. Teachers were no better than the schools; for it is always true, "like teachers, like schools.” Hazel's school was better than Riney's; for Hazel could give instruction in “reading and writing.” True, his acquisitions in these several branches were small indeed : they compared well with his surroundings. But he could give such a boy as Abraham a start in the right direction.