« AnteriorContinuar »
through the settlements, in order to get secret shots at them.1
Mordecai, the Indian-killer, and his brother, Josiah, remained in Virginia, and grew up to be respectable, prosperous men. The younger brother, Thomas, was always "idle, thriftless, poor, a hunter, and a rover." He exercised occasionally in a rough way the calling of a carpenter, and, wandering from place to place, began at different times to cultivate the wilderness, but with little success, owing to his laziness. Yet he was a man of great strength and vigour, and once "thrashed the monstrous bully of Breckinridge County in three minutes, and came off without a scratch." He was an inveterate talker, or popular teller of stories and anecdotes, and a Jackson Democrat in politics, which signified that he belonged to the more radical of the two political parties which then prevailed in America. In religion, he was, says Lamon, who derived his information from Mr. W. H. Herndon, “ nothing at times, and a member of various denominations by turns." In 1806, he lived at Elizabethtown, in Hardin County, Kentucky, where, in the same year and place, he married Nancy Hanks: the exact date of the
marriage is unknown. It is said of this young
woman that she was a tall and beautiful brunette,
1 Lamon, p. 7.
with an understanding which, by her family at least, was considered wonderful. She could read and write as rare accomplishments in those days in Kentucky backwoods as they still are among the poor whites of the South or their Western descendants.1 In later life she was sadly worn by hard labour, both in the house and fields, and her features were marked with a melancholy which was probably constitutional, and which her son inherited.
It is to be regretted that President Abraham Lincoln never spoke, except with great reluctance, of his early life, or of his parents. As it is, the researches of W. H. Herndon and others have indicated the hereditary sources of his chief characteristics. We know that the grandfather was a vigorous backwoodsman, who died a violent death; that his uncle was a grim and determined manslayer, carrying out for years the blood-feud provoked by the murder of his parent; that his mother was habitually depressed, and that his father was a favourite of both men and women, though a mere savage when irritated, fond of fun, an endless storyteller, physically powerful, and hating hard work. Out of all these preceding traits, it is not difficult
1 In 1865, I saw many companies and a few regiments "mustered out" in Nashville, Tennessee. In the most intelligent companies, only one man in eight or nine could sign his name. Fewer still could read.
-C. G. L.
to imagine how the giant Abraham came to be inflexible of purpose and strong of will, though indolent -why he was good-natured to excess in his excess of strength-and why he was a great humourist, and at the same time a melancholy man.
It should be remembered by the reader that the state of society in which Abraham Lincoln was born and grew up resembled nothing now existing in Europe, and that it is very imperfectly understood even by many town-dwelling Americans. The people around him were all poor and ignorant, yet they bore their poverty lightly, were hardly aware of their want of culture, and were utterly unconscious of owing the least respect or deference to any human being. Some among them were, of course, aware of the advantages to be derived from wealth and political power; but the majority knew not how to spend the one, and were indifferent to the other. Even to this day, there are in the South and South-West scores of thousands of men who, owning vast tracts of fertile land, and gifted with brains and muscle, will not take the pains to build themselves homes better than ordinary cabins, or cultivate more soil than will supply life with plain and unvaried sustenance. The only advantage they have is the inestimable one, if properly treated, of being free from all trammels save those of ignorance. To rightly appreciate the good or evil qualities of men
moulded in such society, requires great generosity, and great freedom from all that is conventional.
Within the first few years of her married life, Nancy Hanks Lincoln bore her husband three children. The first was a daughter, named Sarah, who married at fifteen, and died soon after; the second was Abraham; and the third Thomas, who died in infancy. The family were always wretchedly poor, even below the level of their neighbours in want; and as the father was indolent, the wife was obliged to labour and suffer. But it is probable that Mrs. Lincoln, who could read, and Thomas, who attributed his failure in life to ignorance, wished their children to be educated. Schools were, of course, scarce in a country where the houses are often many miles apart. Zachariah Riney, a Catholic priest, was Abraham's first teacher; his next was Caleb Hazel. The young pupil learned to read and write in a few weeks; but in all his life, reckoning his instruction by days, he had only one year's schooling.
When Thomas Lincoln was first married (1806), he took his wife to live in Elizabethtown, in a wretched shed, which has slaughter-house and stable. removed to Nolin's Creek
since been used as a About a year after, he Four years after the
J. G. Holland, p. 22.
birth of Abraham (1809), he again migrated to a more picturesque and fertile place, a few miles distant on Knob Creek. Here he remained four years, and though he was the occupant of over 200 acres of good land, never cultivated more than a little patch, "being satisfied with milk and meal for food." When his children went to school they walked eight miles, going and returning, having only maize bread for dinner. In 1816, the father, after having sold his interest in the farm for ten barrels of whiskey and twenty dollars, built himself a crazy flat-boat, and set sail alone on the Ohio, seeking for a new home. By accident, the boat foundered, and much of the cargo was lost; but Thomas Lincoln pushed on, and found a fitting place to settle in Indiana, near the spot on which the village of Gentryville now stands. It was in the untrodden wilderness, and here he soon after brought his family, to live for the first year in what is called a half-faced camp, or a rough hut of poles, of which only three sides were enclosed, the fourth being open to the air. In 1817, Betsy Sparrow, an aunt of Mrs. Lincoln, and her husband, Thomas, with a nephew named Dennis Hanks, joined the Lincolns, who removed to a better house, if that could be called a house which was built of rough logs, and had neither floor, door, nor window. For two years they continued to live in this manner. Lincoln, a car