To drive home a point, Abe Lincoln often said, "That
reminds me of a story" and proceeded to explain his remarks
with what one admirer called his "pointed, pungent, pithy
and practical" illustrations. With his birthday coming up on
Feb. 12, let’s put his family background in perspective with
other historical families. And let’s get acquainted with the
tall, skinny boy who could build a strong boat but had never
earned a dollar.
Abraham Lincoln’s ancestors left southeastern England
because of a proclamation in the early 1600s that, "All of
those who do not conform to the strict regulations of the
Anglican Church will be harried out of the land." This sent
Quakers scurrying to go somewhere even to a wild place
called America. They were in danger because Quakers believed all
people are equal in the sight of God. "Harried" was a
euphemistic term suggesting torture of the cruelest kind and
sometimes even death. Even George Fox, the Quaker leader, had
Daniel Boone’s ancestors, also Quakers, left southwest
England later, also seeking religious freedom. Any safe location,
even in the untamed new land across the Atlantic, was attractive
to people in such danger. A young weaver named Samuel Lincoln
came here only 17 years after Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. My
husband’s printer ancestor, Gregory Dexter, came from London
in the 1640s to help start Providence, R.I. The family of George
Boone, Daniel Boone’s grandfather, came on a notoriously
miserable Atlantic crossing and landed in Philadelphia in 1717.
They and many other Quakers came to worship without harassment.
Young Samuel Lincoln married in this untamed country, and the
couple raised a large family that spread across the land.
Lincolns were attracted to the same general areas as the Boones
and my ancestors, the Bryans.
Members of these families met at a Quaker meeting when they
lived in Berks County, Pa. Strong affection and some
intermarriages kept these families in touch with each other for
generations. The famous Daniel Boone was 75 years old and living
in Missouri when Abraham Lincoln was born.
As a youth, Abe was tall, gangling and known to be poor; he
was also quite strong and ambitious. He seldom worked for money
but once split 400 rails for each yard of cloth a woman would
weave and dye with walnut hulls to make him a pair of britches.
Once he had helped raise garden produce and wanted to sell it
in river towns downstream. When he persuaded his mother to let
him do this, he built a flatboat large enough to carry several
barrels of produce. He was at the wharf when a large boat stopped
Two well-dressed men approached and asked, "Will you take
us and our trunks out to the passenger boat?" Abe said he
would, thinking he might make about "two bits" for the
job. He loaded their heavy trunks onto the boat he had made, and
the men sat on the trunks. When they boarded as passengers,
Lincoln put the heavy trunks up on the steamer, which was ready
to pull out.
Abe called, "Hey, fellows, you forgot to pay me."
Each man then tossed a silver half-dollar onto the deck of his
boat! Lincoln, relating this said, "I could hardly credit
that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day. By
honest work I had earned a dollar!" He recalled that,
"The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more
hopeful and confident being from that time."