Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, sister of Abraham Lincoln, would never know her younger brother's success and fame, nor how he would be remembered. As a result of her brother's fame, her own life has become part of our national heritage.
She was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on February 10, 1807. With her younger brother, she attended a basic ABC school taught by Zachariah Riney and later Caleb Hazel. From her mother she learned the arts of spinning, soap making, and cooking over an open fire. Most significant of all, she and her brother listened to stories told by travelers on the Louisville - Nashville road that ran directly in front of the Lincoln cabin. Sarah had the benefit of at least some schooling when many pioneer children learned only the tasks for farming or housekeeping.
When Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Indiana in 1816, Sarah's responsibilities increased. She worked hard to help her mother establish a home on this new frontier. But the autumn frosts of 1818 had already colored the foliage of the huge trees of oak, hickory, maple and walnut when her mother Nancy became desperately ill. Her mother was stricken with milk sickness; a poisoning caused by the plant white snakeroot. Cows ate this abundant weed and passed the poison on in their milk. On October 5, 1818, Nancy died. Death in a one-room cabin in the wilderness was a grim experience for the survivors. Sarah helped the neighbor women prepare, dress, and place her mother's body into the casket. Her mother was then taken to her final resting-place overlooking the Indiana farm she so dearly loved.
Her mother had been kind to Sarah. She had raised her in an environment of love, trust, and understanding. As Sarah matured, she built her life upon this solid foundation.
It was a difficult time for Sarah. She had to take over all the household chores. Her mother's death left Sarah with the formidable task of caring for the house, her father, her brother, and an orphaned 18-year old cousin, Dennis Hanks, whose guardians had also died from the milk sickness. The absence of a mother was very painful for the whole family. When Thomas remarried, to Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children of her own, Sarah had to adjust to having a stepmother and stepbrother and stepsisters. Her new mother did relieve Sarah of much of the domestic labor in the Lincoln household and her new stepsisters and stepbrother became playmates. During her 13th year she attended Andrew Crawford's subscription school. Two years later she attended, infrequently, a school taught by James Swaney. Then, in her 17th year, she attended Azel Dorsey's school. The Lincoln children probably received their best education from him.
Sarah joined the Little Pigeon Baptist Church on April 8, 1826. On August 2, 1826, she married Aaron Grigsby and the new couple moved into a cabin two miles south of the Lincolns. Nine months after their marriage, Sarah announced to her family that she was pregnant. But unknown complications during the delivery claimed both her life and that of her infant child. A neighbor is recorded as saying; "I remember the night she died. My mother was there at the time. She had a strong voice, and I heard her calling her father. He went after a doctor, but it was too late. They let her lay too long." Sarah died January 20, 1828 at the age of 21.
A description of Sarah comes to us from her stepmother who said she was "short of stature and somewhat plump in build, her hair was dark brown and her eyes were gray." John Hanks, a cousin, said, "She was kind, tender, and good natured and is said to have been a smart woman." Her brother-in-law Nathaniel Grigsby said that Sarah "was a woman of extraordinary mine. Her good-humored laugh I can hear now, is as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. She could, like her brother, meet and greet a person with the kindest greeting in the world, make you easy at the touch of a word, an intellectual and intelligent woman."
Sarah Lincoln was an important person in Abraham Lincoln's life. When she had started to school, while the family was living in Kentucky, she had taken Abraham with her and had probably helped him learn his letters and numbers. When their mother died, they helped each other through the grief. Their relationship was characterized by a deep affection. As a neighbor said, "They were close companions and were a great deal alike in temperament." Sarah's kind and loving care of him may have had much to do with Abraham's development of these same traits.
Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, sister of the 16th President, was buried with her infant in her arms in the Little Pigeon Baptist Church cemetery, which is located today in Lincoln State Park. Her husband, Aaron is buried beside her.