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Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, in a small log cabin on Nolin Creek, in Hardin County, Kentucky, near Hodgenville. His parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, were both of modest backgrounds and meager education. In later life, Lincoln would characterize both of his parents as having emerged, like him, "from the short and simple annals of the poor."
The Lincoln side of the family has been traced with a fair degree of confidence to one Samuel Lincoln, a weaver who emigrated from England to Hingham, Massachusetts in 1637. Over time, the Lincolns scattered into various portions of the colonies. After settling for a time in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Abraham's Lincolns moved on to Rockingham County, Virginia, where his grandfather, also Abraham, and father Thomas were both born.
In the closing years of the American Revolution, when Thomas was four, his father moved the family to Kentucky, where they settled near the outpost of Louisville. The frontier was a dangerous place in the years between independence and union, and in 1786 Abraham was killed during a native raid. After the death of his father, Thomas continued to pioneer through Kentucky and Tennessee, eventually settling in Hardin County during the first years of the nineteenth century.
Little is known about Lincoln's mother. Nancy Hanks was born of an obscure Virginia family. According to Lincoln's close friend and law partner William Herndon, Lincoln himself believed that his mother was of illegitimate birth. No reliable likeness of Lincoln's mother survives, and controversy has swirled around the matter for well over a century. At any rate, from whatever stock, Nancy Hanks married Thomas Lincoln in 1806, while still a teenager. In addition to Abraham, Nancy bore two other children, Sarah in 1807 and Thomas, who died at birth in 1812.
In 1811 the Lincoln family moved to a 230-acre farm on nearby Knob Creek. They spent five productive years there, moving only when a legal challenge arose to their deed of ownership. Rather than fight the suit out, Thomas Lincoln elected to move his family northwest to Indiana in December of 1816. Weather conditions were harsh during the journey, and at times the family had to hack through thick brush to make their way, literally clearing the frontier.
The Lincoln family would spend the winter of 1817 under a makeshift shelter. Such rough living was a standard part of frontier living, and Abraham would spend a good portion of his childhood wielding an ax in the service of his father. These difficult years may have led to a feeling of paternal resentment in Abraham. When Thomas died in 1851, Lincoln neglected to attend the funeral, and sent nothing more than a note of cool condolence.
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