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Lincoln Quiz

Which Lincoln relative died on January 17, 1851?

Lincoln's father Thomas died at age 73 in Coles County, Illinois, on January 17, 1851. His son was not at his side, however. Although his home was only 75 miles away, there is no record that Thomas Lincoln ever visited his son in Springfield, nor did he meet Mary Lincoln or his grandsons.

In a famous letter to a stepbrother, Lincoln explained that he could not visit his dying father. "Say to him that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant." Little is known about this father-son relationship, but it's obvious it was not a close one.

Born in Rockingham County, Virginia, Thomas Lincoln moved with his family to Kentucky in the 1780s. The youngest of five children, Thomas witnessed his father Abraham's death in 1784, when an Indian shot him while working on his farm. Thomas's life was spared when his brother shot the attacker.

Lincoln said that his father "by the early death of his father, and very narrow circumstances of his mother, even in childhood was a wandering laboring-boy, and grew up literally without education. He never did more in the way of writing than to bunglingly write his own name."

When he was 28 years old Thomas married Nancy Hanks in Kentucky. Three children were born to them there -- Sarah in 1807, Abraham in 1809, and Thomas in 1812, who died in infancy.

Over the years Thomas mixed farming with carpentry and cabinetmaking. One example of his woodworking skills is a corner cabinet attributed to him in the Colonel Jones house in Gentryville, Indiana. Like his son, he was an affable storyteller despite bouts of depression, a Whig in politics, and strongly anti-slavery.

In 1816 Thomas moved his family to Spencer County, Indiana and attempted to carve a farm from the dense forest. According to his son, "This removal was partly on account of slavery, but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Kentucky." Two years later Nancy Lincoln died, leaving Abraham and his sister desolate. After a year had passed, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow he had known in Kentucky. Sarah then cared for the Lincoln children and her own children.

By 1830 Thomas moved his extended family to Macon County, Illinois, in search of better land and circumstances. That was the year Abraham turned 21, legally free to leave his father's home, and he headed down the Sangamon River to seek his own life. In 1831, Thomas and Sarah moved to Coles County, where they later died.

Other Quizzes

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  • What happened the morning of February 11, 1861?
  • What happened behind the scenes with Lincoln's First Inaugural Address?

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