I, Too, Am A Kentuckian…

“I, too, am a Kentuckian,” Abraham Lincoln, born 12 Feb 1809, near Elizabethtown, Hardin County, Kentucky.

Most people do not write their own epitaphs.  The genealogical data and the verse on the tombstone art are submitted or chosen by relatives, friends, employees, government officials, cemetery personnel, or by well meaning historians and archivists.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln died 5 Oct 1818, age 35 years.  She is buried on Little Pigeon’s Creek, Spencer County, Indiana.  Her tombstone was placed their in 1879 by “a friend of her martyred son.” [A photo of the tombstone is in my possession. AE]

According to Olivia Coolidge, in her The Apprenticeship of Abraham Lincoln (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974), little is known of Nancy’s genealogy.   Little is known of Nancy herself:

In 1806 Thomas Lincoln married Nancy Hanks, who is said to have been able to read the Bible, though this seems unlikely, as she could not sign her name on documents…  It was Nancy who seized every chance to send her children to school. (p.3)

Of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, we can only say that she was the daughter of Lucy Hanks and probably illegitimate.  In any case, nothing definite is known about her father… Nancy Lincoln was dead so long before anyone cared to recall her that descriptions of her appearance differ widely. (p.2)

The pioneer farmers who built Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois left their dead behind them as they moved on, generally finding little to say to their sons about their forebears.  (p.2)

Too many genealogies are compiled without enough thorough research into family and home sources.  We pay lip service to the importance of this evidence, we make inquiries among those relatives we know, then we spend the rest of our time searching public records, trying to make the data fit what we think is true.  If we expended some effort to track down relatives unknown to us, who also have family resources and knowledge to share, we could resolve a lot of the missing data on our pedigrees.  And we could gather the documentation to prove the lineages.

Adin Baber, himself a Hanks descendant, devoted many years of his life tracking and interviewing Hanks descendants.  His list of relatives he personally talked to takes up several pages in his books on Nancy Hanks:

Nancy Hanks of Undistinguished Families:  A Genealogical, Biographical, and Historical Study of the Ancestry of the Mother of Abraham Lincoln. Kansas, IL:  by the author, 1960.

Nancy Hanks.  The Destined Mother of a President:  The Factual Story of a Pioneer Family as Revealed in an Exhaustive Study of Ancestoral History. Kansas IL:  by the author, 1963.  Sold exclusively by the Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale CA (now located in Spokane WA).

When Baber began his research, there were many traditions and a substantial number of claims for “the Nancys” as he calls them.  He carefully tracked each Nancy and eliminated them one by one until there was only one left:

  1. Nancy Hanks, known as Calhoun’s Nancy.  Daughter of Luke and Ann Hanks, born 10 Feb 1787 in South Carolina.  She died between 1833-1838.  Married to Mr. South, lived sometime in TN.
  2. Nancy Hanks, known as Abraham Enloe’s Nancy.  Daughter of William Hanks, born about 1800 in Rutherford County NC.  Had an uncle Dickey.  Bore a son to Abraham Enloe about 1818,  also named Abraham.
  3. Nancy Hanks.  Daughter of Argyle Hanks and his wife Frances Hargrove, born 5 Feb 1784, Granville County NC.  Hanks family originally from Virginia.  Strong tradition of being Lincoln’s mother.  She died unmarried in 1804, Granville NC.
  4. Nancy Hanks, Dennis Friend Hanks’ Nancy.  Daughter of Joseph Hanks, born in Virginia.  Family moved to Nelson County KY.  Unwed mother of Dennis Friend Hanks, 1799.  Married Levy Hall.  Knew Thomas Lincoln; her son Squire Hall married the daughter of Sallie Bush Johnson, 2nd wife of Thomas Lincoln and step-mother of President Lincoln.  These people are buried beside Nancy Hanks Lincoln in Indiana.  [Coolidge quotes the 70-year-old Dennis Hanksas a cousin to President Lincoln in her work.]
  5. Nancy Hanks.  Daughter of Mott Hanks and his wife Mary, born 21 June 1780, Dobbs County NC.  This Nancy had a sister Lucy.  The family later moved to Texas where this Nancy Hanks died.
  6. Nancy Hanks.  Daughter of Fleetwood and Ruth Hanks, born in Loudoun County, Virginia.  She married 1) Enoch Holdron in 1805; 2) Frank DeMar.  She died 1870 in Phillips County AR.
  7. Nancy Hanks.  Daughter of Jemima Hanks.  This Nancy married Peter Jones 16 Apr 1804, Henry County KY.
  8. Nancy Hanks.  Daughter of William Hanks and Elizabeth Hall, born 13 Jan 1794, Kentucky.  Married William Miller.  Wove cloth for President Lincoln.  Her grandfather was Joseph Hanks.
  9. Nancy Hanks.  Daughter of Joshua Hanks and Polly Renwick, born 30 Dec 1812.  Married William Morris, and had 9 children.  Died 17 Mar 1901, Sunbright TN.
  10. Nancy Jane Hanks.  No details available, just the tradition that she belonged to the Hanks family.
  11. Nancy Hanks resided with the Richard Berry, Sr. family.  Born ca. 1783 in Virginia.  Married Thomas Lincoln and died of milk fever, 5 Oct 1818, Spencer County IN.

All of the known Nancy Hanks who were born in the 1780’s and possibly could have married Thomas Lincoln–all are eliminated as candidates except one, and the nominated one fulfills all the requirements, viz:  She was born in Virginia, of a family of Hanks, she was an orphan and came to Kentucky with some of her kinfolks and not with her parents; she probably lived with the Richard Berry, Sr. family and with the Richard Berry, Jr. family.  She was kin to the Thompson family and to the Mitchell family, and a descendant of the Shipley family, and she did Marry Tom Lincoln. Adin Baber, Nancy Hanks of Distinguished Families, pp. 70-71.

Baber’s work is a model study in thorough home source research.  For there is no substitute for family knowledge–who actually married whom and what happened to them.  During the course of his research he collected family tradition and stories and published these accounts himself.

Nancy’s Portrait

From the various descriptions of Nancy, carried in the hearts of her descendants, a modern artist was commissioned to paint a portrait of the President’s mother in 1963.  Several people described her hands, jaw, ears, and eyes as being very like her son’s.  The collective family memory said she looked like Abe, only with long hair tied back in a bun. And that is how he painted her.

Photographs of the portrait were pasted on the fly leaf of Baber’s book.

For readers interested in any of the Nancy Hanks and their backgrounds, with the documentation to support Baber’s conclusions,there is a large cache of genealogy evidence awaiting you:

  1. Baber’s notes and papers are deposited in the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield IL at the Old State House.
  2. The portrait of Nancy Hanks was in the possession of Nancy Baber McNeil, Box 394, Kansas IL 61933.
  3. Seattle Public Library. There is also a very large collection of research notes and correspondence on the Hanks and Lincoln ancestry in the Seattle Public Library, 5th and Spring Street, Seattle WA.  Baber’s sister moved to Seattle to live with her daughter.  After her death, the daughter gave the rest of the archives to the public library Genealogy Room.

All of Baber’s research was completed before Olivia Coolidge wrote her book.   To my knowledge, no one researching Abraham Lincoln has consulted this  family data.  So the ancestral proof that did come from President Lincoln’s direct kinfolks is little known.

Family tradition and lore are alive and well in Kentucky.  To compile a Kentucky lineage without combing these resources seems folly to me.  Break your losing streak!  Your favorite Kentucky genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com

About Arlene Eakle

I trace your family tree; or, teach you how.
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