THE OTHER ABE AND HIS SON MORDECAI
History lies just down the road. The turnpike of rolling time that runs right through your own lifeline. The one right there in front of your door. In my case, it is Shelbyville Road, originally cut by Squire Boone [Daniel’s brother] in the late 1700s. An escape route from his stockade on Clear Creek to the settlement stations at the Falls of the Ohio River that would later become Louisville. And that trail led directly to Long Run and the massacre in 1781. Take a ride. There is a historical highway marker by the road. At the same Long Run toward which Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather was headed with his wife, Bathsheba, and their five children.
Captain Abraham Lincoln, the grandfather of our President, was a landowning Virginia farmer whose family was friends with Daniel Boone. In 1780, he traveled to the promised lands that were still in Virginia, but would soon become Kentucky.
He held Land Warrants from his service in the Revolutionary War. He located 800 acres of land on the Upper Green River, and 400 acres further west on Long Run. Up water from the famous salt deposits at Bullitt’s Lick on a river named for that mineral and along the fork named for Colonel John Floyd. Farther north, and more dangerously so.
Floyd was the pioneer surveyor who would die, at age 33, after being shot at the salt lick in 1783. Not a good omen. In 1783, Kentucky was still a dangerous land, even though settlers had been pouring in. The area was still contested by Native Americans, and they inflicted a terrible defeat on the settlers at the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782.
Abraham’s new land was on the Long Run tributary flowing from the north into Floyds Fork. Lincoln [spelled “Linkhorn” on some of the deeds] settled there with his family sometime after 1782. He would begin building a cabin and clearing fields for planting. But virgin forests concealed hidden shadows from which, sometimes, swarmed attackers. Settlers there, including the Lincoln family, spent nights within the stockade walls of Hughes Fort, one-half mile further along.
Abraham would be shot and killed in his fields by warring Native Americans in 1786. His three sons were with him. The eldest was Mordecai, who killed the charging Native American assailant with a rifle shot. Abraham’s youngest son, Thomas, knelt by his fallen father’s body and would have, otherwise, been the attackers’ next victim. That boy, Thomas, would become the father of our Abraham Lincoln. You can also find that story on a historical marker placed along Shelbyville Road.
What was going on in the world way back then? Why would Abraham bring his young family to such a land?
In 1783, the American Revolution concluded with the Americans winning their independence after the surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The town of Marietta on the Ohio River had opened up settlements in the Northwest Territories. But the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, and Miami tribes had formed a Confederacy to drive out the settlers spilling over the mountains.
King George III, Monarch of Britain, would succumb to mental illness in 1788. It was his “Royal Proclamation of 1763” that had limited the British colonies in America from expanding westward beyond the Appalachian Mountains. But the settlers went anyway. And then King George was defeated by our George in the American Revolution.
Mozart was struggling financially in Vienna, writing his last three symphonies [39, 40, and 41 (Jupiter)]. Russia, Austria, and Turkey were at war. Fire destroyed New Orleans, and Sydney would soon be founded by British convict ships in Australia.
By 1787, Kentucky farmers were producing an excess of food crops. With no nearby markets, James Wilkinson took a flatboat of Kentucky goods to New Orleans and began an intrigue with the Spanish authorities with the aim of splitting off Kentucky as an independent trading nation.
In 1788, Kentuckians were still participating in what would become a series of conventions seeking statehood in the new United States of America. But the two Virginia Enabling Acts had been frustrated by the replacement of the national Articles of Confederation with the new United States Constitution. The tenth Kentucky convention finally achieved its goal and Kentucky became the fifteenth state of the new Union on June 1, 1792. Abandoned by the Spanish, Wilkinson and his intrigues abandoned Kentucky.
After Captain Abraham’s death, his wife Bathsheba moved south to Washington County in Kentucky with her five children. Under the law, she received a limited lifetime dower interest in some of her husband’s estate. Her eldest son, Mordecai, received all the rest. His siblings? Nothing. His mother [Captain Abraham’s wife] would continue to live in Kentucky, dying in 1836 at the age of 94.
At his death, Captain Abraham owned more than 5,000 acres in Kentucky. Plenty to live on for him and his family if the farmland proved productive. But Mordecai, being his eldest son [primogeniture], inherited all of it [with some subject to his mother’s lifetime interest]. And then he would sell it.
Mordecai built a house in 1797 [at age 26 and recently married] just north of Springfield, Kentucky, where he had moved with his mother and siblings after his father’s death. That is where his brother, Thomas, would meet Nancy Hanks [working as a seamstress], his future wife [married in 1806] and mother of our Abe Lincoln [born in Hodgenville, Kentucky in 1809]. The site is preserved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky as the “Lincoln Homestead State Park.”
Mordecai would move, in 1811, to Leitchfield in Grayson County, Kentucky. But by 1829, Mordecai and most of his family had moved to Fountain Green in Western Illinois, where he was part of a movement to found a Catholic settlement. Mordecai would die in a winter snowstorm in 1830, his body not found till Spring. In 1839, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [the Mormon Church] established their town of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River nearby.
Mordecai was a favorite uncle of our Abraham Lincoln, and he would visit his cousins in Fountain Green, Illinois during his travels as a lawyer. He often told his uncle’s story of the killing of Abraham’s grandfather, and of Mordecai shooting the Native American and saving the life of his father. Young Abe said of his uncle, “Uncle Mord had run off with all the talents of the family.” Yet it was our Abraham’s talents that would save a nation.
Thus began the journey of Thomas Lincoln to support himself with nothing, and then support his own family, which would soon include Abraham Lincoln. He would buy a farm on poor land [along Mill Creek] near to where his mother and sister had moved in Hardin County. He would farm, do tradesman’s jobs and carpentry, while living in Elizabethtown. Then he moved to the “Sinking Creek Farm” near Hodgenville in Hardin County [now Larue], where Abraham was born. He moved again to the “Knob Creek Farm,” seeking better land. He did not find it and his land title there was challenged. So after working his way through Breckinridge County, his family would cross the Ohio River to Indiana in 1816, when young Abraham was only eight years old.
The early sources of information of these early years of the Lincoln family are sparse and suspect. And it is clear that our Abraham was not well informed of his own family’s history. Some historical interpretations [wrongly, I think] paint the image of Lincoln’s father as being something of a drifter. Difficult times, for certain, for a man with a family who wanted more certainty [I remember my Dutch grandfather in America during the Depression]. And Abraham came to harbor difficult feelings about his father, perhaps, in part, because of his own concerns of self-worth.
Yet, the early stories are, themselves, worthy of study, and are as colorful as the authors who wrote them. Lincoln himself wrote a frustratingly short autobiography in 1859 [three pages, but longer than the first one in 1858 of just one paragraph] to support his political aspirations. Here is what he said of his early years.
“I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families … My mother, who died in my tenth year, was a family member of the name of Hanks … my paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia to Kentucky about 1781 or 2, where, a year or two later [actually 1786], he was killed by Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest … his ancestors … were Quakers … my father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age [actually eight years of age]; and he grew up literally without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer County, Indiana, in my eighth year.”
In the letter transmitting this statement about himself, Lincoln also stated, “There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not more of me.”
As he later demonstrated, there was much more to Abraham Lincoln. And what he learned in those formative years in Kentucky would well serve the interests of the nation that we still live in!