Travel Log: Lincoln Grows Up

Travel Log 2

(Jan. 3, 2018) Happy new year!

Ok, now that that’s over…

Still catching up, so let’s go back to a wild two days in Indiana last year (technically true, even though it was literally last month). Specifically, my visit to Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana on Dec. 16, 2017. In 1816 Thomas Lincoln moved his family from Hodgenville, Kentucky, to a farm at the Little Pigeon Creek community (modern day Lincoln City) in Indiana. He was fed up with the disputed land claims in Kentucky repeatedly causing him to lose his farms, so, to Indiana the Lincolns went.

This is where Lincoln grew up and spent his formative years. His mother died here, he began the process of growing into his own hatred of slavery here, and he developed a work ethic and physical strength that were the foundation of the “Rail Splitter” legend which played heavily into the 1860 presidential campaign. He came here a little boy and left a young man.

For years the grave of Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was lost to the woods. But 19th century research located the cemetery and gravesite. Peter Evans Studebaker of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company up in South Bend had a proper headstone placed on Nancy’s grave in 1878. The site of the cemetery and Lincoln farm was finally consolidated as a national park in 1962. Excavations in the 1930s located the site of the Lincoln cabin, and hearth stones from the Lincoln’s fireplace were used to construct the hearth for a frontier cabin display in the Visitors Center. Brass castings of logs and a hearth mark the cabin site today. The cemetery and cabin site were finally consolidated as a national park in 1962.

Life was hard back then. It wasn’t a drudgery of endless misery, by any means. But it was hard. The daily routine was founded on long hours of manual labor. Against this backdrop it’s remarkable to think that Abraham found enough time to read, indeed, that he was able to find enough to read at all. However, he did, and, Nancy Hanks Lincoln is reported to have encouraged her son’s love of reading. After her death and his father remarried, young Abraham discovered his step mother also supported his love or reading.This was a startling priority for a frontier mother to have, but she recognized education would give Abraham greater advantages in his own life.

The national park is easily toured on foot in maybe two hours. There’s a 15 minute film you should see at the Visitors Center. Narrated by the immortal Leonard Nimoy, it’s a very succinct and informative biography of Lincoln’s Indiana years.

Across the street from the national park is Lincoln State Park. Maintained by the state of Indiana, this parks preserves a large portion of the land the Little Pigeon Creek community occupied. There is a separate admission fee, but, like the national park, it’s very small.

The Little Pigeon Creek church congregation still exists and has met for over 170 years now. The current church building is the third one on the site, and young Abraham possibly helped build the first church after his family moved here. A fragment of its foundation is preserved under the modern church’s sign. Behind the church is the historic cemetery, a cemetery stretching back to the early days of the republic.

Abraham’s older sister and dear friend, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, is buried here. Dying in 1828 during childbirth at age 20, she was the second of his immediate family Abraham had to bury. He was told of her death by her husband, Aaron, who found him at work. There is evidence (but not conclusive evidence) that Abraham blamed Aaron for not summoning a doctor with greater speed when it was evident Sarah was in danger. Aaron is laid to rest next to her, having died in 1831. Aaron’s original 1831 headstone—a small obelisk—still stands, but is dwarfed by a later headstone put up to mark Sarah’s resting place. People visiting the grave have a tradition of leaving a Lincoln penny on Sarah’s headstone.

Sarah Lincoln Grigsby Grave, Little Pigeon Creek Community
The graves of Sarah Lincoln Grigsby and her husband, Aaron.

The rest of the cemetery is a rather neat place to walk through. The oldest grave markers belong to the Alexander family, and the two most ancient markers are simple rocks inscribed “W.A.” and “A.A.” I was told by some people doing maintenance on their own family’s graves that “A.A.” was named Alexander Alexander. I couldn’t find verification of this in an online gravesite registry…but I also could not disprove it either.

One of the more interesting graves is Francis J. Zucksworth (1784 -1860). He served during the War of of 1812, but its the grave next to his that gives a very unique glimpse into the life of these frontier people. Next to him is the grave of Sarah, “consort of Francis J. Zuckswroth,” (1795 – 1881). Think about it. “Consort.” A consort was not a common-law wife. A common-law wife was a wife. A consort was an unmarried woman who was a companion in every sense of the word…but had a legitimate and respected status in the community. By virtue of having to carve a new world out of the wilderness, frontier society developed some alternative arrangements that were considered quite legitimate.

If you are trying to get a real feel for Abraham Lincoln’s life, as well as to continue deepening your understanding of the Native Americas and pioneers who settled this continent, get to Lincoln City, Indiana. Visit the graves at the national and state parks. Walk the trails. Listen to the wind.

You’ll be surprised how much you can learn in these lands by quietly listening to the wind.

Pigeon Creek Cemetery
The graves of Francis J. Zucksworth (left) and his consort, Sarah (right).

#Indiana #AbrahamLincoln #Lincoln #nationalparks #NPS

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