BATHSHEBA, ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S GRANDMOTHER
One of them. Lucy Hanks, from Virginia, is the other [more on her family later].
Bathsheba Herring Lincoln was the wife of our Abe’s grandfather. He was killed in Kentucky by Native Americans in 1786. Abraham, father of Thomas, and father of our Abraham.
Bathsheba, like the biblical mother of King Solomon. One of the wives of King David and, before that, wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s Generals [Uriah’s death was effected by David’s desire for Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11-12, and I Kings 1-2 KJV]. Our Bathsheba arrived in Kentucky with her family in 1782. And she remains here.
Bathsheba was born in Rockingham County, Virginia around 1742 [north of Staunton in the Great Shenandoah Valley]. She married Revolutionary War Captain Abraham Lincoln [born 1744] in 1770. She had five children [Mordecai (1771), Josiah (1773), Mary Ada (1776), Thomas (1778, our Abe’s father), and Nancy (1780)].
In 1782, she traveled through the Cumberland Gap with her husband, Abraham, and their children, ranging from 2 to 11 years of age. She was 40 and her husband, 38. They came safely into Kentucky over the Cumberland Gap with packhorses. No trouble. Two years later, 100 settlers would be killed by Native Americans on the same Wilderness Trail.
Bathsheba must have been a remarkable mother in the raising of her children. For they all reached adulthood and successfully married. And all survived the difficult times that followed the death of her husband in 1786. She never remarried, instead focusing on the care of her children.
When Bathsheba married Captain Abraham Lincoln in 1770, he took out a marriage license. Apparently not uncommon [but certainly concerning], was the fact that he did not list the name of his wife-to-be. That has led to significant controversy among Lincoln researchers. Maybe Captain Lincoln married someone else in 1770 and Bathsheba was his second wife!
By some accounts, anecdotal, circumstantial, or familial, the mother of Captain Lincoln’s first children might have been Mary Shipley [an early candidate promoted by J.L. Nall, a great-grandson], Anne Boone [Daniel’s cousin who married a different Abraham Lincoln], or other Boone relatives related to Anne Boone, Elizabeth Winter or Hannah Winters. And Bathsheba was 28 when she married the then 26-year-old Captain Abraham. Both later in age than was usual for marriage in the frontier back then.
No wonder that Abe, himself, questioned his own lineage [and later even his legitimacy!].
But Bathsheba was clearly married to Captain Abraham. In order to sell the land he bought in 1770 [the year of the marriage certificate], he had first to get Bathsheba to waive her “dower” rights [statutory rights to property in a marriage].
And, at age 40, she packed up her children and what belongings could be carried, and followed Abraham across the Cumberland Gap, to enter Kentucky on that dangerous Wilderness Road.
And after her husband was killed, despite the great number of single men in Kentucky, she never remarried, choosing to rear her children safely in the difficult times she faced.
So, until genetic evidence proves otherwise, I believe it reasonable to consider Bathsheba as Captain Abraham’s only wife and the mother of his children.
Within six months of her husband’s death, Bathsheba moved her family farther south into the more settled Outer Bluegrass of Kentucky around Bairdstown. Onto land within a tight loop of the Beech Fork of the Rolling Fork of the Salt River above Springfield. Probably onto land held by another Lincoln relative who had borrowed money from Captain Abraham to buy it.
A replica of Bathsheba’s log cabin wherein she raised her family is located at the “Lincoln Homestead State Park” just north of Springfield, Kentucky. You will be impressed. Not by the structure, but by the struggle necessary to live in it and raise a family. One story, one room, and no partitions. Stairs lead to some sort of low loft.
Mordecai married first in 1796, and moved nearby to land that he purchased. He erected what was then a prominent house. Wide, two stories high with a wing. Flat Corinthian columns carved into wood around the central upper window. It still stands. We are lucky to have it. Go and compare his home to Bathsheba’s log cabin nearby.
Josiah married in 1803 and, at some point, moved to land nearby that of Mordecai. Thomas, who had spent some time away with a cousin in East Tennessee, married Nancy Hanks in 1806, and moved to a lot he had purchased in the community of Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Kentucky.
Thomas had previously purchased 238 acres along Mill Creek of the Salt River in Hardin County. It is possible that the purchase was financed by his brother, Mordecai, after selling his father’s warrant lands on the Upper Green River. But it must have been poor land, for Thomas would eventually abandon it.
This Mill Creek Farm was near the lands where Bathsheba’s daughter, Nancy, lived after marrying William Brumfield in 1801. In 1803, Bathsheba, then 61, moved to Mill Creek to live with her daughter. And there she remained for 33 years, dying in 1836 at age 94.
Bathsheba is buried in the Lincoln Cemetery, now within the Ft. Knox Military Base. You can get a pass to visit her grave. I just did.
I think you will be impressed by the ruggedness of the land. Difficult to farm. Probably why Thomas left it. A great difference, I think, from the fertile river lands that Bathsheba left in Virginia in 1782. I wonder what she thought of that irony, after her husband died and she raised her children alone in Kentucky.
You will see Bathsheba’s modern gravestone in that cemetery and, beside her, the aged stone of her daughter, Nancy Brumfield, who died in 1845. That was the year Texas was annexed into the United States. And as a result, the Mexican War began training the many military officers who would rise to prominence in the American Civil War. Famous Generals. You know their names. Men who would later be commanded, or defeated, by Bathsheba Lincoln’s grandson less than 30 years after her death!
It was a risky move, coming to Kentucky, and the Lincolns knew it. Native Americans were seeking to drive the settlers back out of their country. In 1782, they had delivered a decisive defeat on the local militia [led, in part, by Daniel Boone] killing 72 men at the Battle of Blue Licks. And just the year earlier, near the place where the Lincolns wanted to settle on Long Run, they had attacked settlers fleeing Squire Boone’s Station [in Shelby County] during what came to be known as the Long Run Massacre. When the Lincolns got to their land, they slept within the walls of the nearby stockade fort of George Hughes. For good reason.
Why did they come? Probably at the urging of family friend, Daniel Boone. But Abraham had at least 200 fertile acres along Linville Creek in the Shenandoah Valley. Right next to the farm of his prosperous father. Did he just want to get away from encroaching society? His family? Was it wanderlust? Was it the “frontier mentality” to follow dreams to the even more fertile fields of the virgin lands in fabled “Kentucke?”
Bathsheba was 40 years of age when she came to Kentucky. Four years later, her husband would be killed along that same Long Run of Floyds Fork [between Louisville and Shelbyville] where he had bought 400 acres [signing as Abraham Linkhorn]. He was clearing land with his three young sons, and building a cabin when he was shot dead.
I just don’t get it. I’ve looked over that Long Run land. It is not far from my family’s Shelby County farm that my ancestors settled in 1795. Captain Lincoln’s land was ridgy, cut down by Long Run and its tributaries. Wide, rich bottomland was found, it is true, and that was where they were felling virgin timber when he was killed.
But the cabin he was building was upslope. Grazing land maybe, but difficult to till. Go decide for yourself. Captain Abraham is buried in the cemetery that grew up around a church that sprouted from that cabin. So why did he come here? You have to stand on that land to feel the reasons for such action.
Things would become difficult for his widow with five children. But not so much for the eldest of her boys, Mordecai. He would inherit most of his father’s land and possessions. Bathsheba’s partial lifetime dower interest was not as significant.
And her other children would inherit nothing. Her youngest son, Thomas, the father of our Abraham, the one who had watched his father die and had just barely escaped a similar death, would have to make his own way. And the difficult road in his personal life, greatly impacted the character of our future President!