Abraham Lincoln in Indiana

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, in a log cabin near Hodgen’s Mill, Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky. In 1816, the year Indiana became a state, his father Thomas decided to move to Indiana, where he could buy land cheaply from the government. They most likely loaded their possessions onto a wagon, traveled north to the Ohio River, and were ferried across. Traveling through thick forests, they came to present Spencer County in southwestern Indiana. Thomas Lincoln began changing 160 acres of forestland into a farm. Life was hard the first winter. Thomas was an experienced builder, however, and one can assume that a suitable log cabin and the furniture to go in it were ready for the winter, all built from the surrounding forest.

Lincoln in his autobiography referred to the ax as "that most useful instrument." While in Indiana he was rarely without one. As early as eight years of age he helped cut trees, clear fields, and plant a crop.

The family that arrived in Indiana also included the mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and Abraham’s sister two years older than he, Sarah. Abraham was unusually talented for his age — he could read and write. Not only did he write letters for his parents, he also acted as letter writer for his neighbors in Indiana; most of them could not write, and many could not read either.

Lincoln arrived in Indiana a boy of seven; he grew to manhood and left at age twenty-one. His mother Nancy died in 1818, and his sister Sarah kept house until his father married Sally Bush Johnston in 1819.

Lincoln had little formal schooling, but at that time an adequate common-school education was considered to be a total of one year of formal training. In Indiana Abraham advanced in arithmetic through formal schooling, but he learned mostly through his own reading. According to one statement by Lincoln later in life, "when I came of age I did not know much." He continued: "I have not been to school, since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.”
While in Indiana Lincoln "grew rapidly until his unusual height became his most conspicuous physical feature. He was described as gawky and ungainly during his school days.... The year after he left the state he was described as being "fine    and noble-looking, weighed two hundred and ten pounds, was six feet three or four inches in height, and of florid complexion.” He had black hair that was coarse and stood on end.

Abraham’s strength and physical ability were well known, and he had no trouble getting work. He split logs for fence rails, plowed fields, cut and husked corn, and threshed wheat. He also worked as a ferryman near the Ohio River. His ability to tell stories was also well known, and he had frequent audiences attracted by his skills.

Lincoln has not been forgotten by Indiana. The Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial is part of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana. Among other resources in Indiana is the collection at the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum in Fort Wayne.

The best source on Lincoln in Indiana, on which this essay is based, is Louis A. Warren, Lincoln’s Youth Indiana Years Seven to Twenty-one, 1816-1830 (New York, 1959).