A Biography by Richard Kigel

The Chapters

Chapter 1. “MY GOOD FRIEND IS GONE”

Abraham Lincoln & his son ThadPresident Lincoln takes a triumphant walk through the ravaged streets of Richmond, the capital of the defeated Confederacy. As Lincoln sat wearily in the chair Jefferson Davis used as President of the Confederate States of America, one observer noticed that the President looked “pale and haggard, utterly worn out.” Eleven days later Lincoln was dead. William Herndon, his Illinois friend and law partner, vowed to keep the memory of his friend alive for future generations.

Chapter 2. “I HAVE HEARD MUCH OF THIS BLESSED GOOD WOMAN”

Months after Lincoln’s death, Herndon met his cousin, Dennis Hanks. “My mother and Abe’s mother’s mother was sisters,” he said. No man could say more about Lincoln growing up than Dennis. Herndon met Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln. “I did not expect to get much out of her,” said Herndon. “She seemed so old and feeble.” But Mrs. Lincoln gave Herndon the notebook Abe used as a student.

Chapter 3. “INJUNS!”

Grandfather Abraham Lincoln, one of the first settlers of Virginia, was killed by an Indian, who was shot and killed by young Tom Lincoln, father of the future President.

Chapter 4. “PURTY AS A PITCHER”

Cousins Dennis and Nancy Hanks grew up as brother and sister, raised by their aunt and uncle. Tom Lincoln married Nancy Hanks and they had a baby girl named Sarah.

Chapter 5. “NANCY’S GOT A BOY BABY”

February 12, 1809. Abraham Lincoln born. “He looked just like any other baby at fust, like a red cherry-pulp squeezed dry in wrinkles,” said Dennis. “An’ he didn’t improve none as he growed older.”

Chapter 6. “IT WAS A WILD REGION”

Tom Lincoln sold his Kentucky farm for twenty dollars cash and 400 gallons of whiskey, and loaded all the family’s belongings on a flatboat and sailed to Indiana. “It was the brushest country that I have ever seen,” said Dennis. “You could drive a butcher knife up to the handle in it.”

Chapter 7. “CONSTANTLY HANDLING THAT MOST USEFUL INSTRUMENT”

“We, Lincoln’s family, including Sally and Abe and myself, slept and lodged in this cabin all winter,” recalled Dennis. “In the winter and spring, cut down brush, underwood trees, cleared ground, made a field of about six acres on which we raised crops. We hunted pretty much all the time. Here Abe killed his first turkey.”

Chapter 8. “I AM GOING AWAY FROM YOU, ABRAHAM”

Lincoln’s mother, Nancy became sick in the fall of 1818. “I’ll never forget the mizry in that little green log cabin in the woods when Nancy died,” recalled Dennis. “Me n’ Abe helped Tom make the coffin.”

Chapter 9. “HERE’S YOUR NEW MAMMY”

Winter brought loneliness and despair to the Lincoln cabin. “Tom, he moped ’round,” said Dennis. “Wasn’t wuth shucks that winter.” He returned to Kentucky to find a woman he knew before he met Nancy. “Miss Johnston,” Tom told her, “I have no wife and you no husband. I came a-purpose to marry you.”

Chapter 10. “LAND O’ GOSHEN, THAT BOY AIR A’ GROWIN'”

“He was the ganglin’est, awkwardest feller that ever stepped over a ten-rail snake fence,” said Dennis. “He had to duck to git through a door.” He could handle an ax. His strength was legendary.

Chapter 11. “A REAL EDDICATION”

“I taught Abe to write with a buzzard’s quill which I killed with a rifle,” said Dennis. Abe’s classmate Kate Roby told of the time she was stuck on a word in a spelling bee. She didn’t know if the next letter was a Y or an I. “I beheld Abe, a grin covering his face and pointing with his index finger to his eyes,” she said. “I took the hint and spelled the word with an I.”

Chapter 12. “MIGHTY DARNED GOOD LIES”

“Seems to me now I never seen Abe after he was twelve ‘at he didn’t have a book some’ers around,” said Dennis. Lincoln read Pilgrim’s Progress, The Arabian Nights and The Virtues and Exploits of George Washington. “There was another book that we boys got a lot of fun out of,” recalled his friend Nat Grigsby. “Lincoln would read it to us out in the woods on Sundays. It was a book of funny stories.”

Chapter 13. “SOMETHIN’ PECULIARSOME”

“Abe was a silent and attentive observer,” his stepmother recalled. Said Lincoln, “I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand.”

Chapter 14. “CHRONICLES OF REUBEN”

Lincoln wrote a satire mocking two neighborhood brothers. “The poem is smutty,” recalled Elizabeth Crawford. “The satire was good, sharp, cutting and showed the genius of the boy,” said his friend Nat Grisgby.

Chapter 15. “WHY DOST THOU TEAR MORE BLEST ONES HENCE…”

On January 20, 1828, Abe’s sister Sally went into labor. Before the night was over, both mother and baby were dead.

“I remember the night she died,” recalled Mrs. J. W. Lamar, one of the neighbors. “My mother was there at the time. She had a strong voice and I heard her calling father…He went after a doctor but it was too late. They let her lay too long.”

“Aaron, Sarah’s husband, came running up from his house a quarter of a mile away and said that Sarah had just died,” one of the Grigsbys remembered. “We went out and told Abe. I will never forget that scene. He sat down in the door of the smoke house and buried his face in his hands. The tears slowly trickled from between his bony fingers and his gaunt frame shook with sobs. We turned away.”

Years later, when Lincoln returned to Indiana, here his mother and sister were buried, he was inspired to write poetry. “My childhood’s home I see again…”

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Chapter 16. “I CAN SEE THE QUIVERING AND SHINING OF THAT HALF-DOLLAR YET”

At eighteen, Abe went into business for himself. He built a small boat to ferry passengers to steamships in the river. Later, as President, he recalled how he earned his first dollar when a passengers threw a coin to him and it dropped in the river. “In the quick current it went down the stream and sunk from my sight forever,” said Abe. “I can see the quivering and shining of that half dollar yet.”

Chapter 17. “RIVER MAN”

Abe was hired to ferry a cargo of merchandise down the Mississippi to New Orleans. “I saw the boat,” said Kate Gentry. “Saw it start and L with it.” Lincoln recalled that “One night, we were attacked by seven Negroes. We were hurt some in the melee.”

Chapter 18. “SNOWBIRDS”

The Lincoln family moved from Kentucky to Illinois in the fall of 1828. “Piled everything into ox wagons an’ we all went,” said Dennis. “Mr. Lincoln once described this journey to me,” said Billy Herndon. “There were, of course, no bridges and the party was driven to ford the streams. In the early part of the day they were frozen so the oxen would break through a square yard of thin ice at every step.”

Chapter 19. “I FOUND HIM NO GREEN HORN”

In the spring of 1831, Abe’s life took a new turn when he met businessman Denton Offut. “Certainly an odd character,” said Herndon. “Reckless, rattlebrained, unsteady, a wild harum-scarum kind of a man.” Offut hired Abe to carry a boatload of merchandise to New Orleans.

Chapter 20. “I’LL HIT IT HARD”

They reached New Orleans and stayed a month. “For the first time,” wrote Herndon, “Lincoln beheld the true horrors of human slavery. The whole thing was so revolting that Lincoln moved away from the scene with a deep feeling of unconquerable hate.”

Chapter 21. “A KIND OF DRIFTWOOD”

Offut hired Abe as clerk in charge of his store in the frontier town of New Salem. According to Abe, he “rapidly made acquaintances and friends.”

Chapter 22. “THE BEST FELLER THAT EVER BROKE INTO THIS SETTLEMENT”

Offut bragged that his clerk could “out run, out lift, out wrestle and throw down any man in Sangamon County.” Jack Armstrong heard about it and challenged the new man in town. “The fight took place in front of Offut’s store,” said James Rutledge. When it over, Jack Armstrong offered his hand to Abe, saying, “He’s the best feller that ever broke into this settlement.”

Chapter 23. “SOMETHING THAT WAS KNOTTY”

Lincoln realized there was a deficiency in his education. “Wanted to get hold of something that was knotty,” said Bill Greene.

Lincoln came to New Salem’s teacher, Mentor Graham. “Spoke to me one day and said: ‘I had a notion of studying grammar’, recalled Graham. “There was none in the village and I said to him: ‘I know of a grammar at one Vance’s (a man named John Vance), about six miles. Got up and went on foot to Vance’s and got the book. He soon came back and told me he had it. He then turned his immediate and almost undivided attention to English grammar. The book was Kirkham’s Grammar, an old (1826) volume.”

Chapter 24. “I AM YOUNG AND UNKNOWN”

He joined the New Salem debating society. “As he rose to speak,” said R. B. Rutledge, “his tall form towered above the little assembly. Both hands were thrust down deep in the pockets of his pantaloons.” His friends persuaded him to become a candidate for the Illinois State Legislature. He printed up his first handbills and made his first political speeches.

Chapter 25. “THEY SURELY THOUGHT IT WAS A DREAM”

In April 1832, the first steamboat to navigate the Sangamon River came downstream. Lincoln was hired to steer the boat through tricky waters. “It was my first sight of a steamboat,” said Billy Herndon, “and also the first time I ever saw Mr. Lincoln.” Meanwhile, Lincoln’s career as a merchant went poorly. “Offut’s business was failing,” said Abe. When creditors came looking for their money, Offut left town.

Chapter 26. “CAPTAIN ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S COMPANY OF THE FIRST REGIMENT OF THE BRIGADE OF VOLUNTEERS”

Nearly all the men of New Salem volunteered to drive Black Hawk and his warriors out of Illinois. The men elected Lincoln as Captain. “I heard Mr. Lincoln say once that to the first order given on of them, he received the response—Go to the devil, sir!” Captain Lincoln was charged with discharging his pistol in camp and spent the night in the brig. He wrestled a giant of a man from another company. “He could have thrown a grizzly bear,” said Lincoln.

Chapter 27. “CHARGES UPON THE WILD ONIONS… BLOODY STRUGGLES WITH THE MOSQUITOES”

Captain Lincoln marched with his men, twenty-five miles one day, twenty miles another day. They were hungry and exhausted. Everybody complained about the camp food. “It is much like eating saddlebags,” said Lincoln. His brigade came upon the grisly remains of a deadly skirmish. “I remember how those men looked,” said Lincoln. “Every man had a round red spot on the top of his head where the redskins had taken his scalp. It was frightful but it was grotesque.”

Chapter 28. “THE ONLY TIME I EVER HAVE BEEN BEATEN”

Lincoln returned to New Salem shortly before election day. He was making a speech when a fight broke out. When Lincoln saw that his friend was getting licked he stopped speaking and joined the crowd. “He pitched them out like they were boys and told them his friend could whip the whole of them one at a time,” said Rowan Herndon. “That ended the fuss.” Lincoln lost the election, “the only time,” he said, “I ever have been beaten by the people.”

Chapter 29. “THE NATIONAL DEBT”

Lincoln and William Berry purchased a store in New Salem. “As a salesman, Lincoln was lamentably deficient,” said Billy Herndon. He spent most of his time reading and talking politics. “Of course,” Lincoln said, “we did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt.” When Berry died, the entire debt became Lincoln’s responsibility. He owed close to $1100. “That debt was the greatest obstacle I have ever met in my life,” Lincoln said. He called it “The National Debt”. It took him fifteen years but it was paid in full.

Chapter 30. “I LOVED THE WOMAN DEARLY AND SACREDLY”

“The memory of Ann Rutledge was the saddest Chapter in Mr. Lincoln’s life,” said Billy Herndon.

“Lincoln and she was engaged,” said Mentor Graham. “Lincoln told me so. She intimated to me the same.”

“Lincoln took her death very hard,” said G.W. Miles.

“After the death of Miss R, he seemed quite changed,” said Henry McHenry. “He seemed wrapped in profound thought, indifferent to transpiring events, had but little to say but would take his gun and wander off in the woods by himself.”

“He was fearfully wrought up on her death,” said John Hill. “My father (Samuel Hill) had to lock him up and keep guard over him for some two weeks I think, for fear he might commit suicide.”

“I run off the track,” said Lincoln years later. “It was my first. I loved the woman dearly and sacredly. She was a handsome girl. Would have made a good loving wife…I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now.”

Chapter 31. “OH! WHY SHOULD THE SPIRIT OF MORTAL BE PROUD?”

“Lincoln is a gloomy man,” said law partner John Stuart.

Billy Herndon agreed. “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

A friend gave Lincoln a poem and he learned to recite it from memory. “I would give all I am worth and go in dept to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is,” said Lincoln. The poem by William Knox began, “Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

Chapter 32. “DID YOU VOTE FOR ME?”

As Berry & Lincoln enterprises faltered, Abe felt the pinch of his empty pockets. “Lincoln was earning no money,” said Herndon. He took odd jobs as a laborer, splitting rails and doing farm work and construction. Then came his first big break. Said Abe, “Was appointed postmaster at New Salem.”

When he was named county surveyor, he bought a horse, saddle and bridle on credit, acquired a compass, chain and other surveying equipment and set out to measure and mark property lines. For the first time in is life, Lincoln was making a comfortable living. Then his creditors found him. The judge ordered Lincoln to pay $154. When Lincoln admitted he didn’t have the money, the court took his personal belongings.

“An execution was issued and levied upon Lincoln’s horse, saddle, bridle, compass, chain and other surveyor’s instruments,” said Jimmy Short. “Mr. L. was then very much discouraged.”

On the day Lincoln’s wares went up for public auction, his friend, Jimmy Short, was there. “When the sale came off,” said Mr. Short, “I bid on the above property at $120. Immediately gave it up again to Mr. L.”

His friends persuaded Lincoln to run again for the state legislature. This time he was elected. Shortly before he was to travel to the state capital, he approached his friend Coleman Smoot. “Smoot, did you vote for me?” he asked. His friend said he did.

“Well, you must loan me money to buy suitable clothing. I want to make a decent appearance in the legislature,” Lincoln said.

Abraham Lincoln, now twenty-five, was ready to begin his career as a servant of the people.

Buy the Book

Want to learn more? You can buy Becoming Abraham Lincoln: The Coming of Age of Our Greatest President here.