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The Lincoln Family and the Baptists
By Leo T. Crisman, President
Kentucky Baptist Historical Society, 1958

      A paper presented before the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, November 18, 1958, marking the Lincoln sesquicentennial, 1809-1959.

     The Lincoln family originated in England and came by way of New England (1637), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln (1744-1786), the pioneer, left Virginia and came to Kentucky in 1782 and settled on the east branch of Floyd's Fork which later became Long Run Creek. In Virginia he was a member of a prominent family and he was also a member of the Linville Creek Baptist Church. "There is every reason to believe that this pioneer brought his religion along with him and that the Linville Creek Baptist Church had a new birth on Long Run."l In May, 1786, this pioneer was killed by Indians and, according to tradition, he lies buried under the present building of the Long Run Baptist Church. His family, consisting of his wife, Bathsheba or Bersheba, and three sons, Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas, moved to Washington County, north of the present town of Springfield.

      Thomas Lincoln, the youngest of the sons, "who was born in the Linville Creek Church community",2 Rockingham County, Va.3 and brought by his parents to Long Run, grew up in Washington County, and lived and worked in the neighboring areas, including Elizabethtown. He was known especially as a skilled carpenter4 and he had a set of tools seldom possessed by settlers in the county.5 On June 12, 1806, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were united in marriage by Jesse Head, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in a cabin then located in Washington County near Beechland, but now located in the Lincoln Marriage Temple at Harrodsburg. This latter temple, built in the form of a Cross, is designed after the old Lulbegrud Baptist Church which was erected in Kentucky in 1799.6 This marriage involved such well known and prominent persons in the area that the Washington County Circuit Court recessed on that day. It was in session Monday to Wednesday, June 9-11, it recessed June 12, and it was in session again on Friday, June 13.7

      Soon after the marriage in 1806 Thomas Lincoln and his wife began housekeeping in a cabin, constructed by him, in Elizabethtown, and here on February 10, 1807, their first child, Sarah, was born.8

      In December, 1808,9 the Lincolns moved from Elizabethtown to the South Fork (of Nolin Creek) farm, three miles south of Hodgenville in the part of Hardin County which later became LaRue10 where Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. This site is at present the best known and the most widely publicized of the localities to which Lincoln is related. However, Abraham Lincoln himself did not remember that place and doubted that it could even be located.11

      Prior to May, 1811, the Lincolns removed to a cabin on the Knob Creek farm12 on Highway 31E between Hodgenville and Bardstown, and they lived there until November, 1816. This is called Lincoln's boyhood home. He stated in a letter to Samuel Haycraft (June 4, 1860), "my earliest recollection, however, is of the Knob Creek place."13 At this place Lincoln, with his sister, Sarah (died January 20, 1828) attended one of the few schools which he was privileged to attend14 They attended, about 1815, a school near the present town of Athertonville,15 taught by Zachariah Riney.16

      While they lived on the Knob Creek farm, Thomas and Nancy Hankes Lincoln, who certainly must have known the Baptists in Elizabethtown and their doctrines, joined the Little Mount Baptist Church to which some of the relatives of Nancy Hanks Lincoln already belonged. This church was formed by an anti-slavery group which left the South Fork Baptist Church (located five miles south of Hodgenville, now in Lynn Association) in protest against slavery interests in the membership of the South Fork Church. One of the ministers of this church whom Abraham Lincoln heard was David Elkins (born before 1780; died after 1842).17

      In the fall of 1816, between Thanksgiving and Christmas,18 the Lincolns left Kentucky and, crossing the Ohio River at Hawesville, 19 they settled in what later became Spencer County, Indiana. Factors in their leaving Kentucky were: "Migratory Tendencies," "Opportunity", "Influence of Kinsmen" (some of them were already in southern Indiana) "Slavery" and "Land Titles".20

      Although there was a Baptist church in the locality, Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church, organized June 8, 1816,21 the Lincolns for some reason did not see fit to join it, and when Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on October 5, 1818, she was still a member of the Little Mount Baptist Church in Hardin County, Ky.22 Since there was no minister nearby when she died and it was winter, a funeral sermon was delayed until the spring of 1819, when at the insistence of her son Abraham, he writing a letter, a request was sent for David Elkins, a former minister of her church, Little Mount, of the Hodgenville community in Kentucky, to come to Indiana and to conduct the memorial service.23

      "Nancy Hanks Lincoln was a woman of rare qualities of mind and heart, and though she died in 1818, when her son was only nine years old, she left impressions upon him which could never be effaced, and which directed his whole future movements. 'All that I am on earth, said President Lincoln to Rev. A. D. Gilette, then of Washington City, 'I owe to my Baptist mother. I am glad to see you, doctor; you remind me of my Baptist mother'24

      Thomas Lincoln, after the death of his first wife, returned to Elizabethtown and married Sarah Bush Johnston, on December 2, 1819, a widow and the mother of three children, The site of the house in which this wedding took place is marked by a bronze plaque, a few hundred feet north east of the Court House. He took his wife and her

three children back to Indiana with him where she assumed the responsibility for caring for his two children also. On June 7, 1823, Thomas Linaoln joined the Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church by letter from the Little Mount Baptist Church and his wife joined "by experience."25

      The only sister of Abraham Lincoln, Sarah, who married Aaron Grigsby on August 2, 1826, joined Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church four months prior (Apr. 8, 1826) to her wedding, and when she died on January 20, 1828, she was one of the first to be buried in the new burial gound of the church.26

      In regard to the building erected by this church in 182127 a sketch found in the history of Spencer County, Indiana, states:

Thomas Lincoln, father of Abraham Lincoln, made the window and door casings, the pulpit, etc. Abraham Linaoln did some of the work on the building, and often went to church there.28
      When the building needed repair in 1825 Thomas Lincoln was appointed as one of three trustees to attend to the matter.29

      Thomas Lincoln belonged to this church until, at his own request, he was granted a letter of dismissal on December 12, 1829 just prior to his leaving for Illinois. During these years he attended the services of the church regularly, he served on committees, was moderator, served as a trustee, was a messenger of the church at meetings of the association, and contributed to the support of the church.30

      There is evidence that Abraham Lincoln, as a boy between the ages of 14 and 19 years, was for a time the sexton of this Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church.31 This implied attendance upon the services of the church, along with other influences pointed out above shows that the formative years of President Abraham Linaoln were spent in a religious atmosphere which was predominantly Baptist. This sketch is concluded with the removal of the family to Illinois in 1830, soon after which Lincoln left the influenoes of his father's home to go out on his own.32

      Abraham Lincoln, according to most authentic sources, never joined a church. In 1846 he wrote, "That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never spoken with intentional, disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular."33

      The statement most often quoted from Lincoln in regard to his religious connection is as follows: "When any church will inscribe over its altar as a sole qualification for membership, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,' that church will I join with all my heart and with all my soul."34

      In 1864 Lincoln said to Joshua Speed, of Louisville, in regard to the Bible, ". . . take all this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man."35


1. Warren, Louis A., "The religious Background of the Lincoln Family," The Filson Club History Quarterly, Vol. 6, 1932, p. 76-78: Lincoln Lore No. 1042
2. Lincoln Lore No. 1042
3. Ibid., No, 148
4. Ibid., No. 1221
5. Ibid., No. 513
6. Warren, Louis A., op, cit., p. 76
7. Lincoln Lore No. 688: see Brush Grove Quadrangle Map, Kentucky Geological Survey.
8. Lincoln Lore No. 148
9, Ibid., No. 44
10. Ibid., No. 148, 227, 409: see Hodgenville Quadrangle Map, Kentucky Geological Survey
11. Lincoln Lore No. 1244 12. Ibid., No. 148, 227, 411, 1364; see Hodgenville Quadrangle Map, Kentucky Geological Survey, 81-83
13. Lincoln Lore N[o.], 148
14. Ibid., No. 283, 647 81-83
15. See New Haven Quadrangle Map, Kentucky Geological Survey 81-83
16. Lincoln Lore No. 52, 790 81-83
l7. Lincoln Lore No. 69, 227; Warren, Louis A., op. cit., p. 81-83
18. Lincoln Lore No. 24, 45, 69, 227
19. Ibid., 227
20. Ibid., No. 44, 45, 657
21. Ibid., No. 87
22. Warren, Louis A., op. cit., p. 83
23. Lincoln Lore No. 69: Warren, Louis A., op. cit., p. 83
24. Cathcart, Wm. The Baptist Encyclopaedia, p. 704
25. Nowlin, Wm. D., Kentucky Baptist History, p. 189
26. Lincoln Lore No. 87: Warren, Louis A., op. cit., p. 85
27. Minutes of Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church, May 12, 1821
28. Stott, Wm. T., Indiana Baptist History 1798-1908, p. 122
29. Minutes of Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church, June 12, 182?
30. Nowlin, Wm. D., op. cit., p. 189; Lincoln Lore No. 87; Minutes of Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church, 1823-1830
31. Lincoln Lore No. 87
32. Ibid., No. 44, 45
33. Ibid., No. 677
34. Warren, Louis A., op. cit., p. 79
35. Lincoln Lore No. 974


[From The Kentucky Baptist Heritage newsletter, Volume 1, No. 2, February, 1975; via E-Text, SBTS Archivist Adam Winters. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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