February 24, 2012

Abe Lincoln's Virginia Roots are Topic of Exhibit

HRHS Heritage Museum, Dayton, VA
There's a new exhibit at the Heritage Museum about Lincoln's Rockingham Roots. On the way there we stopped briefly at the Lincoln family homestead to consider how his ancestor's were comfortably well off.  Yet we think of President Lincoln as coming from a poor background. What happened?

The exhibit gives some clues. Abe Lincoln's grandfather, also named Abraham, left Virginia for the frontier in 1780, when Lincoln's father was only four years old. (This date is from the museum; it differs from the Wikipedia account.) I'll call the president's grandfather Captain Lincoln to avoid confusion; he had served as a captain during the Revolutionary War.

In 1786, Captain Lincoln was working on his large farm in frontier Kentucky when he was killed by Indians. He left a wife and five children. They moved to a safer part of Kentucky. Eventually the oldest son inherited two-thirds of Captain Lincoln's estate, but Abe Lincoln's father Thomas, the youngest, inherited nothing.

Life on the frontier was not easy for a widow with five children, and Thomas went to work at a young age. I imagine that starting a farm and building a log cabin was about the best he could do when he grew up. So Abe Lincoln's log cabin childhood was not unusual, it was a common part of life on the frontier.

The exhibit includes letters that President Lincoln wrote to a cousin in Virginia indicating an interest in his family history. However, they wound up on different sides during the Civil War as the Virginia Lincolns stayed loyal to their state after secession.

The museum has other exhibits and is well worth visiting. It also has a genealogy collection upstairs for people researching ancestors who lived in Rockingham County.

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