Summary

Birth:
05 Feb 1784 1
Campbell County Virginia 1
Death:
05 Oct 1818 1
Spencer County Indiana 1
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Full Name:
Nancy Hanks Lincoln 1
Birth:
05 Feb 1784 1
Campbell County Virginia 1
Death:
05 Oct 1818 1
Spencer County Indiana 1

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Stories

Nancy

Nancy Hanks Lincoln was born in Virginia in 1784. Her family later moved to Kentucky where, on June 12, 1806, she married Thomas Lincoln. She gave birth to three children: Sarah (February 10, 1807), Abraham (February 12, 1809), and Thomas (1812), who died in infancy.

In 1816, the Lincoln family migrated to what is today Spencer County, Indiana. Two years later, on October 5, 1818, she died of "milk sickness," an illness contracted by drinking milk from a cow that had consumed the poisonous white snakeroot. She was buried in a hill-top, pioneer cemetery near the Lincoln farm.

Lincoln probably knew little of her background, since she died when he was nine, and his father quickly remarried. In later years, he referred to her as his "Angel Mother," that is, his deceased mother.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln

Nancy Hanks was born on February 5, 1784, in Campbell County, Virginia. By the time she was nine years old, she was orphaned and living in what would become the Commonwealth of Kentucky. She was taken in by an apparent uncle, Richard Berry, and his family, being accepted as one of their own in a stable, nurturing home environment. It was while living with the Berry family that Nancy met Thomas Lincoln. He lived on a neighboring farm, and over the years, their friendship grew into marriage. The ceremony was performed on June 12, 1806. The union would produce three children, Sarah, born on February 10, 1807, Abraham, born on February 12, 1809, and Thomas Jr., who died in infancy. The Lincolns lived on three different Kentucky farms in the first ten years of their marriage. Title disputes caused the loss of all three, and Thomas finally decided to move to Indiana. Here land could be purchased under the provisions of the Northwest Land Ordinance. The Lincolns settled in the Little Pigeon community of present-day Spencer County, Indiana, in the winter of 1816. After spending the winter in temporary quarters, Thomas, aided by Abraham, built a log cabin. Nancy did her share by helping to clear the land, tend the crops, and care for her two children. Tragedy struck the Lincolns in the autumn of 1818 when neighbors became ill with milk sickness, a disease caused from consuming dairy products produced from cows that eat the snakeroot plant. Settlers of the period were unfamiliar with the cause of milk sickness. In helping to care for the sick neighbors, Nancy also consumed the contaminated milk products, fell gravely ill, and died October 5, 1818. Accounts report that Nancy Hanks Lincoln was a fine and loving mother. It is certain she left her mark on her son in the many ways that mothers and sons bond. Her unexpected death when Abraham was only nine years of age helped to prepare him to face the tragedy and loss that is a part of life.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln

Within the boundaries of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial lies the gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's mother. The impact of her life, and her death, did much to shape the character of the boy who grew up to become President. The desire to commemorate her life has done much to shape the development of the national memorial.

Nancy Hanks was born on February 5, 1784, in Campbell County, Virginia, but details of her early life are scarce. By the time she was nine years old, she had become an orphan, though it is not clear what happened to her parents. Following their deaths,she lived with the Richard Berry family. Berry was evidently an uncle and, by all accounts, a person of standing in the community. More importantly, the Berrys accepted Nancy as one of their own and provided for her a stable, nurturing home environment.

It was while living with the Berrys that Nancy came to know Thomas Lincoln, who lived on a nearby farm. Over the years, their friendship grew into something more and on June 12, 1806, the two were married. Their first child, Sarah, was born on February 10, 1807. On February 12, 1809, a son named Abraham was born. A third child, Thomas Jr., died in infancy.

During the first ten years of their marriage, the Lincolns occupied three different farms in Kentucky, but boundary disputes caused them to lose all three. Thomas finally decided to move his family to Indiana where he could establish a clear claim to his property under the provisions of the Northwest Land Ordinance. In the winter of 1816, they settled in present-day Spencer County in what became known as the Little Pigeon community.

Carving a new life out of the Indiana wilderness was not an easy task for the pioneer family. After spending the winter in a temporary shelter, Thomas and young Abraham built a sturdy log cabin, utilizing the plentiful hardwood forest for building materials. As was customary on the frontier, Nancy helped with the work of clearing the land and tending the crops, as well as caring for her two young children. It was a demanding life for all of them and it was necessary for everyone to make their contribution in order for the family to succeed.

In addition to the hard work, life on the frontier often included tragedy as well. The Lincoln family was not immune to the many hazards that threatened all pioneers in the 19th century. The autumn frosts of 1818 had already colored the foliage of the huge trees of oak, hickory, and walnut when neighbors of the Lincolns became desperately ill, stricken with the dreaded milk sickness. The disease resulted when cows ate the white snakeroot plant and the poison from the plant contaminated the milk. People who drank this poisoned milk or ate its products faced death, though that was not clearly known by the pioneers at the time. Nancy became ill when she went to help care for her sick neighbors. On October 5, 1818, within two weeks of the first symptoms, Abraham's mother died.

Death in a one-room log cabin was a grim experience for the survivors. Nancy's body was prepared for burial in the very room in which the family lived. Thomas and nine-year old Abraham whipsawed logs into planks, and with wooden pegs they fastened the boards together into a coffin. After the body was properly prepared and dressed by the neighbor women, it was placed into the casket. Nancy was then taken to her final resting-place on the hill just south of the family's farm. Thomas probably followed pioneer custom and placed fieldstones at the head and foot of the grave and may have carved the letters, N.L., into the headstone.

It is impossible to accurately assess the full impact of Nancy's life on Abraham Lincoln. The people who touch our lives do so in a variety of ways. But by all accounts she had been a fine and loving mother. Undoubtedly she left her mark on the young boy in the countless small and intimate ways that mothers do with their children. The experience of her death also prepared her son for facing the tragedy and loss that is a part of life as well. The intangible effects of both her life and her death became a part of Abraham's life and helped shape the man he became.

It was the understanding that we all share the universal experience of having our lives touched by others that motivated people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to begin their efforts to preserve Nancy's final resting place, both as a tribute to her and to her son. Those efforts began with a desire to permanently mark her grave and led, ultimately, to the creation of the National Memorial that exists today. Abraham Lincoln, the man, was the sum total of all the experiences and people that had been a part of his life. This is true for each of us as well. Understanding and appreciating how his mother helped shape him can help us better understand who he was. It can also, by extension, help us to better understand who we are by making us appreciate those who have been part of our lives.

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