By Dr. Stanley Watson, Syndicated Columnist
The Picayune Item
I always look forward to the birthdays of America’s two greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. We honor Lincoln on Friday, February 12. After immersing myself in the rich store of anecdotes from his many friends, the effort to select material for this brief column was challenging. The words of a lady who knew Abe when he was just seven and she was a 10 year old are a good beginning.
In 1897 Susan Riney Yeager was interviewed by the Elizabethtown, Ky. News. Here is a part of that interview:
“Yes I remember Abe Lincoln well as a little bit of a fellow.
“I can see the old school house now, the old lady continues with a far-away look in her eyes. It was built of rough logs, as all school houses were in those days and mostly all of the dwelling houses, daubed with mud.
“But you want to know about little Abe. He was then barely seven years old and I was 10. I remember his big sister bringing him to school the first day. Oh, she was fond of him, she also attended school there; and all day long, whether at lessons or at play, her careful eye was constantly watching him. She was a regular little mother to him. I have seen her on rainy days, or when the roads were muddy, carrying him in her arms to and from the school house. At playtime she would always insist that he play with her and the girls, telling him to keep away from the big boys, as they were likely to hurt him in their rough play. In those days quite a number of the scholars were full grown men.
Abe Lincoln was one day bothering the girls — his sister and others playing yonder and his Sister Scolded him — saying ‘Abe you ought to be ashamed of yourself — what do you expect will become of you?’
“‘Be President of the U.S,’ promptly responded Abe.”
“Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, a gifted seamstress, sometimes lived briefly with families she was sewing for. During the time she was working she met Thomas Lincoln, a carpenter from Elizabethtown. A romance developed, and the two decided to marry.
“The Lincolns were living on the Sinking Spring Farm on Nolin Creek when, on the morning of Sunday, February 12, 1809, Nancy gave birth to a boy. He was born on a bed of poles covered with corn husks. The baby was born just about sun up on Sunday morning. He was named Abraham after his paternal grandfather who had been killed by a Native American in 1786. Nancy was a good and loving mother to her children. She was very ambitious for them and hoped they could have the opportunities in life that she and Thomas had missed. She read to Sarah and Abraham from the Lincoln family Bible.
“In 1818 an attack of milk sickness struck the Little Pigeon Creek community. This disease is caused by drinking milk from cows which have grazed on poisonous white snakeroot. For a week she struggled, but she knew she was dying. Dennis Hanks, Nancy’s cousin, remembered that she called the children to her bedside and asked them to be good and kind to their father, to each other, and to the world. On October 5, 1818, Nancy Hanks Lincoln passed away at the age of 34.”
According to Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, Abraham once said of his mother, “God bless my mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her.” Her cousin, John Hanks, described Nancy as having dark hair, hazel eyes, 5’7” in height, a delicate frame, weighing 120 pounds. She was a deeply religious person who “was loved and revered by all who knew her.”
Rosemary Benet wrote a poem entitled “Nancy Hanks” that begins with a question:
If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first “Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?”
Julius Silberger wrote “A Reply to Nancy Hanks”:
Yes, Nancy Hanks,
The news we will tell
Of your Abe
Whom you loved so well.
You asked first,
“Where’s my son?”
He lives in the heart
The next year Thomas went back to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and proposed to Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow whom he had known for many years. He simply appeared at her door announcing that he had been a widower for more than a year.
Learning that Sarah owed a few debts Thomas paid those and the two were married. All of Sarah’s belongings were piled into a wagon, and the group headed for Thomas’ home in Indiana. Thomas rode horseback, and Sarah and her three children rode in the crowded wagon. When they finally arrived, Abraham and Sarah Lincoln met their new mother and three new playmates.
Young Abraham took to his new mother right away. Among her belongings were several books including Webster’s Speller and Robinson Crusoe. Sarah provided a good home life for both Lincoln children. Although Sarah was illiterate herself, she encouraged Abraham’s studious habits. She told William Herndon that “Abe was the best boy I ever saw,” and that he “never gave me a cross word or look.” Additionally she tried to persuade Thomas Lincoln to look more kindly on Abraham’s reading habits. Her good influence on Abraham, like that of his sister, Sarah, and his birth mother, Nancy, were providential for the little boy who became “President of the U.S.”