Born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in backwoods Hardin co., Ky. (now Larue co.), he grew up on newly broken pioneer farms of the frontier. His father, Thomas Lincoln, was a migratory carpenter and farmer, nearly always poverty-stricken. Little is known of his mother, Nancy Hanks, who died in 1818, not long after the family had settled in the wilds of what is now Spencer co., Ind. Thomas Lincoln soon afterward married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow; she was a kind and affectionate stepmother to the boy. Abraham had almost no formal schooling—the scattered weeks of school attendance in Kentucky and Indiana amounted to less than a year; but he taught himself, reading and rereading a small stock of books. His first glimpse of the wider world came in a voyage downriver to New Orleans on a flatboat in 1828, but little is known of that journey. In 1830 the Lincolns moved once more, this time to Macon co., Ill.
After another visit to New Orleans, the young Lincoln settled in 1831 in the village of New Salem, Ill., not far from Springfield. There he began by working in a store and managing a mill. By this time a tall (6 ft 4 in./190 cm), rawboned young man, he won much popularity among the inhabitants of the frontier town by his great strength and his flair for storytelling, but most of all by his strength of character. His sincerity and capability won respect that was strengthened by his ability to hold his own in the roughest society. He was chosen captain of a volunteer company gathered for the Black Hawk War (1832), but the company did not see battle.
Returning to New Salem, Lincoln was a partner in a grocery store that failed, leaving him with a heavy burden of debt. He became a surveyor for a time, was village postmaster, and did various odd jobs, including rail splitting. All the while he sought to improve his education and studied law. The story of a brief love affair with Ann Rutledge, which supposedly occurred at this time, is now discredited.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.