Thomas Lincoln

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Thomas Lincoln
Thomas Herring Lincoln.jpg
Thomas Lincoln (1778–1851)
Born January 6, 1778
Rockingham County, Virginia, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Coles County, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation Farmer, Carpenter
Spouse(s) Nancy Hanks (1806–1818; her death)
Sarah Bush Johnston (1819–1851; his death)
Children Sarah, Abraham, and Thomas Jr.
Parent(s) Abraham Lincoln and Bathsheba Herring
Relatives See Lincoln family

Thomas Lincoln (January 6, 1778 – January 17, 1851)[nb 1] was an American farmer, carpenter and father of President Abraham Lincoln. Although Thomas descended from colonial Puritans and Quakers, he was a staunch church of Christ member. Unlike some of his ancestors, Thomas could not write, but he was a well-respected community and church member known for his honesty. Lincoln struggled to make a successful living for his family and met challenges of Kentucky real estate border disputes, the early death of his first wife, and the integration of his second wife's family into his own family before making his final home in Illinois.


Thomas Lincoln was descended from Samuel Lincoln, a respected Puritan weaver, businessman and trader from the County of Norfolk in East Anglia who landed in Hingham in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. Some Lincolns later migrated into Berks County, Pennsylvania, where they intermarried with Quakers, and later descendants dispersed into Appalachia and other backcountry. Noteworthy ancestors include Samuel's grandson, Mordecai (1686–1736) who married Hannah Salter [2] from a prominent political family, and made a name for himself in Pennsylvania society as a wealthy landowner and ironmaster. Mordecai and Hannah's son, John Lincoln (1716–1788) settled in Rockingham County, Virginia and built a large, prosperous farm nestled in Shenandoah Valley. Author David Herbert Donald claims in his book about Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln, instead of being the unique blossom on an otherwise barren family tree, belonged to the seventh American generation of a family with competent means, a reputation for integrity, and a modest record of public service.[3][4]

Regarding the family's religious background, Abraham Lincoln later recalled that early Lincolns joined Quaker meetings, but that later generations were not as "peculiar" in their beliefs.[5] Quakers and Puritans were both opposed to slavery.[6]

Early life

Thomas was the fourth child born to Abraham Lincoln (1744–1786) and Bathsheba Herring (c. 1742 – 1836), having been born in Rockingham County, Virginia. Abraham had been given 210 acres of prime Virginian land from his father, John Lincoln, and later sold the land to move in the 1780s to western Virginia, now Kentucky. He amassed an estate of 5,544 acres of prime Kentucky land, realizing the bounty as advised by Daniel Boone, a relative of the Lincoln family.[1][4][7]

In May 1786, Thomas witnessed the murder of his father by Native American Indians "... when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest." Thomas' life was saved that day by his brother, Mordecai. One of the most profound stories of President Abraham Lincoln's memory was:

While Abraham Lincoln and his three boys, Mordecai, Josiah and Thomas, were planting a cornfield on their new property, Indians attacked them. Abraham was killed instantly. Mordecai, at fifteen the oldest son, sent Josiah running to the settlement half a mile away for help while he raced to a nearby cabin. Peering out of a crack between logs, he saw an Indian sneaking out of the forest toward his eight-year-old brother, Thomas, who was still sitting in the field beside their father's body. Mordecai picked up a rifle, aimed for a silver pendant on the Indian's chest, and killed him before he reached the boy.[4][8][9]

Between September 1786 and 1788 Bathsheba moved the family to Beech Fork in Nelson County, Kentucky, now Washington County, Kentucky (near Springfield).[nb 2] A replica of the cabin is located at the Lincoln Homestead State Park. As the oldest son, and in accordance with Virginian law at the time, Mordecai inherited his father's estate and of the three boys seems to have inherited more than his share of talent and wit. Josiah and Thomas were forced to make their own way, with little economic or personal capability. From 1795 to 1802, Thomas held a variety of ill-paying jobs in several locations. Bathsheba remained in Washington County until her children reached adulthood.[4][8][12][13]


As a young man, Lincoln became active in the Primitive Baptist church (also known as Predestinarian or Separate Baptists) and eventually became a leader in the denomination. According to several historians, "Thomas Lincoln was "one of the five or six most important men" among the Indiana Separates, and it becomes clear that, for all effective purposes, Abraham Lincoln's life in Indiana was lived in an atmosphere of what William Barton called "a Calvinism that would have out-Calvined Calvin." [14] In Indiana Thomas Lincoln served as a trustee of the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church and helped to build the church meeting house with Abraham.[1] Thomas Lincoln had religious grounds for disliking slavery and these served as a partial reason for moving from Kentucky to North of the Ohio river where slavery would not be tolerated.[15]

Marriage and family


Thomas developed a modicum of talent as a carpenter and although called "an uneducated man, a plain unpretending plodding man," he was well respected for his honesty, civil service, storytelling ability and good-nature. He was also known as a "wandering" laborer, shiftless and uneducated. A rover and drifter, he kept floating about from one place to another, taking any kind of job he could get when hunger drove him to it. He worked on roads, cut brush, trapped bear, cleared land, ploughed corn, built log cabins, etc. Through hard work, Lincoln saved enough of his meager earnings to purchase a farm and by 1814 would be the 15th richest of the county's 98 landowners.[12][16] Thomas was active in community and church affairs in Cumberland and Hardin Counties. He served in the state militia at the age of 19 and became a Cumberland County constable at 24. He moved to Hardin County, Kentucky in 1802 and bought a 238-acre (1.0 km2) farm the following year for 118 pounds; It was located seven miles north of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. When he lived in Hardin County, he was a jury member, a petitioner for a road, and as a guard for county prisoners."[1][16][17] The following year his sister Nancy Brumfield, brother-in-law William Brumfield and his mother Bathsheba moved from Washington County to Mill Creek and lived with Lincoln.[12][18][nb 3]

In 1805 Thomas constructed most of the woodwork, including mantels and stairways, for the Hardin Thomas house, now restored and called the Lincoln Heritage House at Freeman Lake Park in Elizabethtown.[18][20]

In 1806 he ferried merchandise on a flatboat to New Orleans down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for the Bleakley & Montgomery store in Elizabethtown.[1][16][17]

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

On June 12, 1806, Lincoln married Nancy Hanks at Beechland in Washington County, Kentucky.[1][16][17] Nancy Hanks, born in what was Hampshire County, Virginia, was the daughter of Lucy Hanks and a man who Abraham believed to be "a well-bred Virginia farmer or planter." She was also called Nancy Sparrow and adopted daughter of Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow.[17][21] Neighbors reported that Nancy Hanks Lincoln was "superior" to her husband, a strong personality who taught young Abraham his letters as well as the extraordinary sweetness and forbearance he was known for all his life.[22][23]

Replica of Thomas and Nancy Lincoln's cabin and Abraham Lincoln's birthplace at Hodgenville

Their first child, a daughter named Sarah Lincoln, was born in 1807 about five miles north of Elizabethtown, Kentucky at Mill Creek. By early 1809, Thomas bought another farm, 300-acre (1.2 km2), near Hodgenville at Nolin Creek, located 18.5 miles southeast of Elizabethtown and 2 miles from the home of Betsy (Elizabeth) and Thomas Sparrow. Although their cabin was a standard dirt floor, one room log cabin, their property was named Sinking Spring Farm for the "magnificent spring that bubbled from the bottom of a deep cave." It was also noteworthy as the birthplace of Abraham, who was born on February 12, 1809. Seeking more fertile property, in 1811 Thomas and his family moved to Knob Creek Farm, about 10 miles northeast of the Sinking Spring Farm on Nolin Creek. The Knob Creek Farm was situated just off the Louisville and Nashville Turnpike. It was at Knob Hill that Abraham had some of his first memories. For instance, he remembered the death of his parents' third child, his brother Thomas, Jr. a few days after his birth in 1812. He also remembered the cultivation of corn and pumpkins and sometimes attending a limited, "A.B.C." school with his sister within a couple of miles of the family's cabin. It was while living at Knob Creek that Thomas was made annual road surveyor and became 15th wealthiest of 98 property owners.[1][24][25][nb 4]

Lincoln lost farms three times after boundary disputes due to defective titles and Kentucky's chaotic land laws, complicated by the absence of United States land surveys and the use of subjective or arbitrary landmarks to determine land boundaries. Discouraged by these setbacks, he decided to move his family to Indiana in December 1816, where purchased land was secured in accordance with the land ordinance of 1785. Further, slavery had been excluded in Indiana by the Northwest Ordinance. 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."[1][15]


Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, Indiana. Abraham Lincoln lived on this southern Indiana farm from 1816 to 1830. During that time, he grew from a 7-year-old boy to a 21-year-old man. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is buried here.
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Foundation of the Lincoln home in the Little Pigeon Creek Community

In December 1816, the Lincolns settled in the Little Pigeon Creek Community in what was then Perry County and is now Spencer County, Indiana. There 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.[1][26] Nancy's aunt Elizabeth Sparrow, uncle Thomas Sparrow, and cousin Dennis Hanks settled at Little Pigeon Creek the following fall. While Abraham was ten years younger than his second cousin Dennis, the boys were good friends.[27][28]

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 poison and on October 5, 1818, Nancy died.[29][30][nb 5]

Thomas, his children, Sophie Hanks, and Dennis Hanks lived alone for six months when he went back to Kentucky to seek a bride and courted Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. On December 2, 1819 he married her and she brought her three children, Elizabeth, Matilda, and John, to join Abraham, Sarah, and Dennis Hanks to make a new family of eight.[1][31][32][33][34][nb 6] Thomas assisted in building the Little Pigeon Baptist Church, became a member of the church, and served as church trustee. By 1827, Thomas owned 100 acres of Indiana land.[1]

David Herbert Donald wrote of Lincoln's trial to support the family because of aging and ill health:

In the early 1820s, Thomas was under considerable financial pressure after his second marriage as he had to support a household of eight people. For a time he could rely on Dennis Hanks to help provide for his large family, but in 1826 Dennis married Elizabeth Johnston, Sarah Bush Lincoln's daughter, and moved to his own homestead. As Abraham became an adolescent, his father grew more and more to depend on him for the "farming, grubbing, hoeing, making fences" necessary to keep the family afloat. He also regularly hired his son out to work for other farmers in the vicinity, and by law he was entitled to everything the boy earned until he came of age.[1][35]


Thomas had a restless nature, and when John Hanks, a cousin who had once lived with the Lincolns, moved to Illinois and sent back glowing reports of fertile prairie that didn't need the backbreaking work of clearing forest before crops could be planted, he sold his Indiana land early in 1830[36] 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. Thomas Lincoln, already in his fifties, remained a resident of the county for the rest of his life. In 1851, at the age of 73, Lincoln died and was buried at nearby Shiloh Cemetery, which was 3 miles from his home. Sarah, his widow, remained at their home until her death in 1869.[1][37]

Relationship with Abraham

During Lincoln's youth, and particularly after the death of his mother, Abraham's relationship with his father changed. Due to his failing eyesight and likely poor health, Thomas relied on Abraham to perform the work needed to run the farm. He also sent Abraham to work for neighbors, generating money for Thomas. Michael Burlingame, in his book The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, said that "Abraham Lincoln was like a slave to his father."[38][39]

Although the degree to which it impacted their relationship is not clear, there seemed to be a struggle between Abraham's yearning for study and Thomas' understanding about the importance of study to Abraham's life. Abraham seemed particularly critical of Thomas' lack of education and lack of an earnest drive to see that his children received a good education. The father and son also differed in their beliefs about religion; Thomas was a staunch believer of the Baptist religion and Abraham was more of a free-thinker. Lastly, some say that Thomas favored John Johnston, his stepson, over Abraham.[38][39]

Although Abraham provided financial assistance on a few occasions and visited Thomas during a bout of ill-health, when Thomas was on his deathbed Abraham sent word to his stepbrother to: "Say to him 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."[nb 7] Lincoln did not attend his father's funeral and would not pay for a headstone for his father's grave. Aside from the distant relationship between father and son, Abraham's actions may have been influenced by a "painful midlife crisis" and depression.[38][39]

During Thomas' lifetime, he and his wife were not invited to Abraham's wedding and never met Abraham's wife or children.[41] David Herbert Donald stated in his book, Lincoln that "In all his published writings, and indeed, even in reports of hundreds of stories and conversations, he had not one favorable word to say about his father."[38][39]

Abraham, likely in response to his unhappy relationship with his father, was a caring and indulgent father with his children, particularly Willie and Tad, with whom he had more in common than Robert.[42]


A 1970 episode of Daniel Boone, although fictionalized, portrays the courtship of Thomas Lincoln (played by actor Burr DeBenning) and Nancy Hanks (Marianna Hill). Sarah Bush Johnston is referred to but not seen. It is mentioned that the couple will name their first son after Tom's father, Abraham. Daniel remarks, "He might even be President someday."


Date Title Portrayer Country Notes IMDB
2012 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (fiction) Joseph Mawle USA Directed by Timur Bekmambetov [1]
2013 The Green Blade Rises Jason Clarke USA Directed by A.J. Edwards [2]

See also


  1. Although Thomas' year of birth is generally stated as 1778, there is evidence that suggests that he may have been born in 1776.[1]
  2. Lincoln is believed to have built a cabin for the Lincoln family before his death in May, 1786. He purchased a 100 acre piece of his property along a creek known now as Lincoln Run in the Beechland neighborhood from Richard Berry, Sr. in 1781 or 1782. The neighborhood was a piece of land created by a horseshoe bend in the Beech Fork River.[10][11] There is also a theory that Bathsheba moved to the Springfield area because Abraham's cousin, Hannaniah Lincoln, had borrowed money to purchase property there but had never repaid the debt. Whether that occurred or not is unclear, but she apparently lived at Hannaniah's home before moving to Beechland.[12]
  3. Bathsheba Lincoln, Nancy Lincoln and William Brumfield, and Mary Brumfield Crume are buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery which overlooks Mill Creek in Fort Knox.[19]
  4. Carl Sandburg claimed that Lincoln purchased 348.5 acres at Hodgenville, paying $200 in cash to Isaac Bush and taking over a small previous debt.[25]
  5. The Nancy Lincoln article explores a secondary view that she may have had other illnesses which were contributing factors or causes of her death.
  6. The children thought that Thomas would be gone for three months. When six months had passed, they believed that he had died. The children were claimed to have been near-starved and in want of clothing while alone. For more than one year following her mother's death and until the arrival of Sarah Bush Lincoln, Thomas's daughter Sarah was responsible for the household duties her mother had performed.[34]
  7. Carl Sandburg also reported that Lincoln wrote the following to his stepbrother John Johnston: "I feel sure you have not failed to use my name, if necessary, to procure a doctor, or any thing else for Father in his present sickness. My business is such that I could hardly leave home now, if it were not, as it is, that my own wife is sick-abed... I sincerely hope Father may yet recover his health; but at all events, tell him to remember to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker: who will not turn away from him in any extremity."[40]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 "Thomas Lincoln – Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial". National Park Service. Retrieved March 21, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Fischer, David Hackett (1991). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press paperback. p. 837.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 David Herbert Donald (2011). Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1439126283.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Kenneth J. Winkle (2011). Abraham and Mary Lincoln, Concise Lincoln Library. SIU Press. p. 4. ISBN 0809330490.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "What About Slavery is Unchristian?" (PDF). Religion III – Slavery. National Humanities Center. pp. 1–6. Retrieved March 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Harrison, John Houston. Settlers By the Long Grey Trail. Dayton VA: 1935, pp 286, 350.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wayland, John W (1987). The Lincolns in Virginia (reprint ed.). Harrisonburg VA: C.J. Carrier. pp. 24–57.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Lea, J. Henry; Hutchinson, John R. (1909). The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln. (Google book full text). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 63–64, 68–72, 76–77, 82–83.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 193159905X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Lincoln Run, Washington County, Kentucky". Retrieved March 25, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "Lincoln Homestead State Historic Site Historic Pocket Brochure" (PDF). Kentucky State Parks. Retrieved March 22, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. W H Lamon. The Life of Abraham Lincoln: From His Birth to His Inauguration As President. 2008: Applewood Books. pp. 7–8. ISBN 1429016264.CS1 maint: location (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Allen C. Guelzo | Abraham Lincoln and the Doctrine of Necessity | Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 18.1 | The History Cooperative with quotes from Ida Tarbell, In the Footsteps of the Lincolns (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1924), 143–44; Charles Garnett Vannest, Lincoln the Hoosier: Abraham Lincoln's Life in Indiana (St. Louis, Mo.: Eden Publishing House, 1928), 7–8; William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 2 vols. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1925), 2:460.
  15. 15.0 15.1 David Herbert Donald (2011). Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. pp. 23–24. ISBN 1439126283.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 David Herbert Donald (2011). Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. p. 22. ISBN 1439126283.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Carl Sandburg (2007). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years. p. 12. Retrieved July 1, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky (Second ed.). Big Earth Publishing. pp. 6, 22. ISBN 193159905X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Radcliff & Fort Knox: Lincoln in North Hardin County". Radcliff/Ft. Knox Tourism & Convention Commission. Retrieved March 26, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Lincoln Heritage House". Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau. Retrieved March 25, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  22. Doris Kearns Goodwin (2006). Team of Rivals. The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. p. 47. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. David Hackett Fischer (1991). Albion's Seed. Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press paperback. p. 491.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  27. Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. pp. 29, 32. ISBN 193159905X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Indiana History  » Indiana, the Nineteenth State (1816)". Center for History. Retrieved March 20, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  30. Organization of American Historians (2009). Sean Wilentz, Organization of American Historians (ed.). The Best American History Essays on Lincoln Best American History Essays. Macmillan. p. 89. ISBN 0230609147. line feed character in |title= at position 44 (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  34. 34.0 34.1 Michael Burlingame (1997). The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln. University of Illinois Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0252066677.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. David Herbert Donald (2011). Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. p. 32. ISBN 1439126283.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 Michael Burlingame (1997). The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln. University of Illinois Press. pp. 37–42. ISBN 0252066677.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  41. Brian Thornton (2010). 101 Things You Didn't Know About Lincoln: Loves And Losses! Political Power Plays! White House Hauntings!. Adams Media. p. 5. ISBN 1440518254.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Additional reading

External links