Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

By Carl M. Cannon

Good morning. It’s February 12, 2013. And on this day in 1809, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln welcomed the second of their children into the world. The couple’s gradual western migration would take them from Virginia to Illinois. On this day, when their son Abraham was born, the Lincolns lived at a place called Sinking Spring Farm, which consisted of 348 acres of stony land in what was then Hardin County, Kentucky.

Although the site now boasts an impressive granite and marble memorial that rises impressively out of its rural surroundings, Abe Lincoln would not recall living there. His family moved to another Kentucky farm, called Knob Creek, when the future president was two years old, and his first memories are of his times there.

The upshot of the many attempts by Abraham Lincoln’s father to find a better life for himself and his family is that many locales can authentically claim title to having played a role in the great man’s early life.

Sinking Spring Farm, where he was born, is the pride of Hodgenville, Ky. It was there, on the occasion of the centennial of his birth at a dedication ceremony, that President Theodore Roosevelt described Lincoln as “the mightiest of mighty men.”

It was at another farm, in southern Indiana, where Lincolns moved when he was nearly 8 years old and where his mother is buried, that Abe Lincoln grew into manhood.

And there was Illinois, where he moved one last time with his family when he was 21. Lincoln was busy making his name as a lawyer in Springfield when Thomas Lincoln and Abe’s step-mother Sarah Bush Lincoln lived in this place. The replica Lincoln Log Cabin still draws many history-loving tourists every year.

As Lincoln became the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in the summer of 1860, Samuel Haycraft, the circuit court clerk in Elizabethtown, Ky., invited Lincoln to visit his childhood home. By way of reply, Lincoln noted that he’d been born near Hodgenville, adding, “My earliest recollection, however, is of the Knob Creek place.”

Some of those recollections were poignant: the birth of a baby brother who was born – and who died – at the farm; watching his mother read her Bible; helping older sister Sarah plant a garden; watching as a rain-swollen stream on their property washed away that same garden; briefly attending elementary school; seeing slaves being taken south on the Cumberland Road.

Life could be perilous on the frontier. While living at Knob Creek, Lincoln was kicked in the head by a horse and nearly killed. Young Lincoln and his boyhood friends fished and played in Knob Creek. Three of them claimed to have fished young Abe out of the stream thereby avoiding a tragic drowning that would have taken the second of the Lincoln family sons and changed the course of American history.

The most plausible of these claims was made by Austin Gollaher. In Austin’s telling – and he told this story until he died in 1898 – young Abe slipped while playing on a foot-log, and was rescued when Austin grabbed a tree limb from the bank and held it out as a makeshift gaff.

Did this really happen? Until time travel is invented we’ll never know for sure. Lincoln never mentioned the incident himself, and Gollaher’s memory for details implausibly improved with each passing decade.

But this much is true: Austin Gollaher is buried under a marker that bespoke a guileless pride. It reads simply, “Lincoln’s Playmate.”

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