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Thomas Lincoln

Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851)
Born January 6, 1778
Rockingham County, Virginia, U.S.
Died January 17, 1851 (aged 73)
Coles County, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation Farmer, Carpenter
Spouse(s) Nancy Hanks, Sarah Bush Johnson
Children Abraham Lincoln
Sarah Lincoln Grigsby
Thomas Lincoln
Parents Abraham Lincoln and Bathsheba Herring
Relatives Mordecai Lincoln (brother)
Josiah Lincoln (brother)
Mary Lincoln (sister)
Nancy Lincoln (sister)

Thomas Lincoln (January 6, 1778 – January 17, 1851) was an American farmer and father of President Abraham Lincoln.


Early life

Thomas Lincoln was born in Rockingham County, Virginia, the fourth child of Abraham Lincoln (1744–1786) and Bathsheba Herring (c1742–1836). He moved to the state of Kentucky in the 1780s with his family.[1] In May 1786, Thomas witnessed the murder of his father by Native Americans "…when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest." That fall, his mother moved the family to Washington County, Kentucky (near Springfield), where Thomas lived until the age of eighteen. From 1795 to 1802, Thomas held a variety of jobs in several locations.

Marriage and family



In 1802 he moved to Hardin County, Kentucky, where one year later he purchased a 238-acre (1.0 km2) farm. Four years later, on June 12, 1806, he married Nancy Hanks. A record of their marriage bond is located at the Washington County, Kentucky courthouse.

Marriage bond between Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, dated 10 June 1806. Original is in the courthouse in Springfield, Kentucky.

Their first child, a daughter named Sarah Lincoln, was born a year later. In 1807, Thomas bought a 300-acre (1.2 km2) farm in Nolin Creek, Kentucky. There on February 12, 1809, his son Abraham was born. A third child, Thomas, Jr., died in infancy.

Thomas was active in community and church affairs in Hardin County. He served as a jury member, a petitioner for a road, and as a guard for county prisoners. He could read a little, was a skilled carpenter, and was a property owner. However, like dozens of others, Thomas fell victim to land laws widely described as chaotic. On three separate occasions, defective titles caused him to lose his farm. Discouraged by these setbacks, he decided to move his family to Indiana where the land ordinance of 1785 ensured that land once purchased and paid for was retained. Abraham Lincoln claimed many years later that his father’s move from Kentucky to Indiana was "partly on account of slavery, but chiefly on account of the difficulty of land titles in Kentucky."


In December 1816, the Lincolns settled near Little Pigeon Creek where Thomas and Abraham set to work carving a home from the Indiana wilderness. Father and son worked side by side to clear the land, plant the crops and build a home. Thomas also found that his skills as a carpenter were in demand as the community grew.

In October 1818, Nancy Hanks Lincoln contracted milk sickness by drinking milk of a cow that had eaten the white snakeroot plant. There was no cure for the disease and on October 5, 1818, Nancy died. For over a year, Thomas and his children lived alone, until December 2, 1819, when he married Sarah Bush, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Sarah and her three children, Elizabeth, Matilda, and John, joined Abraham, Sarah and Dennis Hanks (a cousin of Nancy's who had lived with the Sparrow family, before they also died from milk sickness) to make a new family of eight.


Despite his success in Indiana, Thomas decided to move his family to Illinois in 1830. John Johnston, his stepson, who was by then an adult, moved there and sent glowing reports of the fertile ground that was available. In addition, because it was prairie, there was no need for the backbreaking work of clearing the land. Thomas sold his Indiana land and moved first to Macon County, Illinois and eventually to Coles County in 1831. The homestead site on Goosenest Prairie, about 10 miles (16 km) south of Charleston, Illinois, is preserved as the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, although his original saddlebag log cabin was lost after being disassembled and shipped to Chicago for display at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. His son Abraham left to start his own homestead at New Salem, Illinois during the family’s move to Coles County. Thomas Lincoln remained a resident of the county for the rest of his life and is buried at nearby Shiloh Cemetery. [1]

Relationship with son Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln had an uneasy relationship with his son that became increasingly distant as they grew older. He was not "a harsh father or a brutal disciplinarian", and encouraged his son's reading and education. However, Thomas sometimes struck Abraham if he thought he was neglecting his work by doing too much reading, or if he inserted himself into adult conversations.[2] Abraham, who had little knowledge of his father's early struggles, looked down upon him and thought he was lazy and unambitious. The younger Lincoln credited any gifts he had to his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln — less for her personal qualities than for his belief that his gifts came from his unknown grandfather, who fathered her out of wedlock.[3] Although Abraham rushed to see his father during an illness in 1849, he did not see him on his deathbed the next winter, blaming work and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln's recent childbirth. "Say to him", he wrote his stepbrother John D. Johnston (to whom Thomas Lincoln was much closer) "that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant; but that if it be his lot to go now, he will soon have a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before; and where the rest of us, through the help of God, hope ere-long to join them."[4] Abraham did not attend his father's funeral. "He was not heartless", historian David Herbert Donald wrote, "but Thomas Lincoln represented a world that his son had long ago left behind him."[4]

Throughout all of Abraham Lincoln's writings, and the recollections of his speech, "he had not one favorable word to say about his father."[5] However, he named his fourth son Thomas, which "suggested that Abraham Lincoln's memories of his father were not all unpleasant and perhaps hinted at guilt for not having attended his funeral."[6]


  1. ^ Harrison, John Houston. Settlers By the Long Grey Trail. Dayton VA: 1935, pp 286, 350.
  2. ^ Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York; Touchstone, 1995, 32.
  3. ^ Donald, 23
  4. ^ a b Donald, 153
  5. ^ Donald, 33
  6. ^ Donald, 154


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