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471. Newspaper Clipping

The Question as to the Marriage of Abraham Lincoln's Father and Mother.

The following letter from an octogenarian to one of our citizens upon a mooted question as to the paternity and birth of the late President Lincoln, is not without interest:

DEAR SIR: In the Louisville Courier-Journal of February 20, 1874, is a communication about Mr. Lincoln's family, copied from the Indianapolis Journal. which bears the impress of truth. I knew Mordecai Lincoln, Thomas Lincoln and the Berry's. I will try to copy it for you:

To the editor of the Indianapolis Journal:
Some time since, by chance, there fell into my hands an Evening Journal containing a letter from the Louisville Commercial, in which it was hinted that there


had existed doubts in the public mind as to the marriage of Mr. Lincoln's father and mother. In the year 1859 I went to Springfield, Kentucky, to teach and was in that neighborhood when he received the nomination for President. On the announcement of the name of the candidate all were on the qui vive to know who the stranger was, so unexpectedly launched upon a perilous sea. A farmer remarked that he should not be surprised if this was a son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, who were married at the house of Uncle Frank Berry (the old house is still standing). In a short time this supposition of the farmer was confirmed by the announcement of the father's name.

A few days after I visited an aged lady by the name Litsay, who interested me much by giving me a description of the wedding of the father and mother of the new candidate, she having been a friend of the bride and present at the marriage. In 1866, after the liberation of 4,000,000 slaves had made the name of Abraham Lincoln memorable, I was again in the neighborhood and visited the old house in which was celebrated the nuptial rites above referred to. Its surroundings are among the most picturesque in Kentucky. The Beach Fork, a small river of wonderful meanderings, flows near and is lost to view in a semi-circular amphitheatre of hills. While surveying the surrounding landscape, I thought it not strange that inspiration had fallen on the mother of him who should be known as the liberator of the Nineteenth Century.

The official record of this marriage will probably be found at Springfield. The newly married pair soon after left the county.

As I remember the story of Nancy Hanks, it ran thus: Her father and mother were Virginians, and died when she was very young. Her mother's name before marriage was Shipley, and she was known to have two sisters, one of whom was married to man by the name of Berry and the other to Robert Mitchell, who came to Kentucky about the year 1780; while on the journey the family was set upon by the Indians and Mrs. M was fatally wounded, and their only daughter, Sarah, a child of eleven years old, was captured and borne away by the Modocs of the Wilderness. Mr. Mitchell bore the dying wife to a crab orchard and, like Abraham of old, purchased the renowned spot for the burial of his wife. After the last sad rites he mounted his horse, accompanied by his friend, Gen. Adair, and went in search of his daughter, but was drowned in Dip river while attempting to cross. The sons of this father and mother were scattered to different parts of the State. One of them, Daniel, settled in Washington county on the Beach Fork, a few miles from Springfield, and near two cousins, Frank and Ned Berry. To these cousins came Nancy Hanks, whom they welcomed to their homes, for legend is "her cheerful disposition and active habits were a dower to these pioneers." Soon after Mad Anthony Wayne's treaty with the Indians in 1794 or 1795, the lost cousin was returned to her friends. The returned captive lived at the house of her brother, and Nancy Hanks at the house of her cousin, Frank Berry. These girls were soon as intimate as sisters. Sarah Mitchell was the pupil of Nancy in learning to spin flax — the latter being an adept in that now lost art. It was the custom in those days to have spinning parties, on which occasions the wheels of the ladies were carried


to the house designated, to which the competitors, distaff in hand, came ready for the work of the day. At a given hour the wheels were put in motion, and the filmy fibre took the form of firmly lengthened strand in their mystic hands. Tradition says Nancy bore the palm, her spools yielding the longest and finest thread.

Mr. Lincoln was not an exception to the rule for great men, which requires that their mother shall be talented. Thomas Lincoln came, it is believed, into this neighborhood to visit his uncle Mordecai Lincoln, who lived near Major Berry, and there learned of the skill of Nancy. As Ulysses, he was ambitious, and became the husband of Nancy, whose threads of gold has been worked by the hand and pen of Abraham into the warp and woof of the national constitution. Sarah Mitchell became the wife of a Virginian, and the mother of an interesting family. She was a woman of high order of talent, and retained until death the greatest veneration for the memory of her cousin, whose name she gave to one of her daughters.

Modesty has laid the impress of silence upon the relatives of a noble woman, but when the voice of calumny has presumed to sully her name, they hurl the accusation to the ground and proclaim her the beautiful character they had learned to love long before they knew to her had been given an honored son.

One who learned from sainted lips to admire her grandmother's cousin.


I have no idea who was the author, only the initials being given. But I have no doubt that it is substantially the true history. After the marriage of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks he brought her to Elizabeth Town, where he lived and worked at the carpenter trade. A house is still standing in this neighborhood, the inside work of which he did. I knew him well, he had one daughter in Elizabeth Town, and she died, after which he removed to a place called Buffalo, about 14 miles from Elizabeth Town, in the same county — Harden — now Laura. At this point Abraham was born; then they moved about four miles to the head of Knob Creek, in the same county. After which he removed to Indiana, when I lost sight of him until Nancy was dead. He then came back to Elizabeth Town and in short order married a widow Johnson, whose maiden name was Sally Burt. I was then clerk and issued the license and know all about it.

April 18, 1874.

SAM'L HAYCRAFT (in 79th year),
Elizabeth Town, Ky.

Mr. Byron M. Hanks, Rochester, N.Y.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3155 (letter), Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3155A — 55B (clipping)



1. Charlotte S. Hobart Vawter, an Indianapolis woman who maintained that her grandmother, Sarah Mitchell, was a first cousin of Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

2. Byron M. Hanks wrote William H. Herndon a series of letters about a family named Hanks that would appear to be entirely unrelated to AL.