Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/Early Life
THE STORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
THROUGHOUT the United States, boys and girls take delight in celebrating the twelfth of February. It is because on that day the great and good man, Abraham Lincoln, first opened his eyes on this world.
The home to which the baby came was poor and bare. It was a tiny cabin in the state of Kentucky, which was then a rough, unsettled country. Around the cabin were thick woods where wild animals roamed freely. The cry of catamounts and the howling of wolves could be heard in the stillness of the night. Turkeys and deer often ran across the path of the settlers. There were few neighbors, for only brave people were as yet willing to venture so far into the backwoods.
Only a short time before there was constant danger from the Indians, who were likely to attack the white people at any moment. Abraham's own grandfather was killed by one of these savages while he was busy with his two older sons making a clearing about his home. The youngest son, Thomas, who was afterwards Abraham's father, was playing near them. When their father fell, the older boys ran off to get help, telling Thomas to watch his father's dead body.
As soon as the child was left alone, the Indian, who was hiding near by, saw his chance. Terrible in his war paint, he crept up towards the child and was about to seize him and carry him away, when one of the brothers came hurrying back. Whiz flew a bullet from his rifle! The savage fell dead and the boy was safe.
In this kind of life, so full of danger, the boy Thomas grew up. There was no school where he could learn to read and write. The days were spent out of doors, cutting down the trees of the forest near by, hunting wild animals, and tending the little garden.
When Thomas became a young man he married a girl named Nancy Hanks who had been brought up in better circumstances than he. She had been to school, and though she had always lived in the "backwoods," she had the gentle and beautiful nature of a true lady.
In the new home where she went to live with her husband, the young wife did not have the comforts to which we are used. There were no carpets to spread over the rough unpainted floor and only a few pieces of homemade furniture. The cooking was done before a big fireplace from which the burning logs gave the only light after the sun had set.
After Abraham's sister was born, the family moved to a different place, called Rock Spring Farm. The country around was quite beautiful, and near the cabin, half hidden by a clump of trees and bushes, was a deep spring of clear water. On this farm the little Abraham first saw the light, and here he lived until he was seven years old.
In the woods near by he could watch the squirrels and rabbits at play. There was the spring close at hand with its song of gladness; there were berries to pick and nuts to gather. Yet the little boy must often have been lonely, since he had few playfellows. Then, when night came, there was no cosy, cheerful home with its bright light to welcome him—only a small, dark cabin with its bare walls and floor, and a hard bed under the roof, through whose cracks the rain could beat down on the child's face below.
Abraham could not have been happy in those days. Afterwards, when he became a man, he seldom spoke of them, even to his dearest friends. There was a small school-house not far from the farm, and here Abraham and his sister learned their a-b-c's. Afterwards, they went for a short time to another school four miles away.
Abraham's father was "easy going" as people say. He liked talking with his friends and dreaming dreams better than hard work. Stories came to him of a richer country in Indiana where he might have a better farm.
"I will go there and look the country over," he said to his wife. It was a long ways off, but as he was a good carpenter he decided to make a flat boat on which he could float down Knob Creek, which was only a short way from his home. Then, moving from one river to another, he would at last reach Indiana.
The boat was soon made and Mr. Lincoln started out on his journey. When he reached the new country he was much pleased, and there, in the midst of a forest, he decided upon the place for a home. He would return at once for his family. He could not float his flatboat up stream, however. So sold it to a settler near by, and started on foot for Kentucky.
At this time Abraham was seven years old and his sister Sarah was nine. Like all other children, they were probably pleased when their father got back and told of the new home which they were to seek in Indiana. They could not walk all the way, because the country was too rough and wild. But the father got two horses on which the children and their mother rode during the first part of the journey.
Towards the end they travelled in a farm wagon which Mr. Lincoln hired from one of the settlers along the way. At last they reached a stretch of thick forest, and there in its midst they made ready to settle. Winter was near and shelter must be put up at once. Abraham's father set to work and built what is called a half-faced camp. That is, the house had only three sides. The fourth was left open.
There was no floor, neither were there windows or chimney, and the wind and rain were free to beat their way inside. For about a year this was the only home that the family had.
Abraham was tall and strong for his age, and he worked hard, helping his father clear the land for a farm. From morning till night his long arms were busy felling the trees or ploughing the ground for a garden. When his mother needed meal for making bread, the boy would fill some bags with corn, and then carry it on horseback to the mill seven miles away, to have it ground.
By the end of the year the boy had helped his father make a better home than the poor half-faced camp, but even now there were neither windows nor door nor floor. Soon afterwards Abraham's mother, who had borne so many hardships, suddenly became very ill.
There was no doctor at hand to save her, and she died, leaving her two children with their father to get along as best they could. How deeply Abraham had loved this tender mother, who had already done so much for him! He never forgot her, and whenever he spoke of her afterwards his voice grew soft and tender. He called her his "angel mother."
After she died, Abraham's sister Sarah, who was then only eleven years old, became the housekeeper. She cooked and sewed for her father and brother as best she could. It must have been hard work for the poor child, and she was probably glad when the next year her father went back to Kentucky, to marry a widow whom he had known in her girlhood.