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A Story of a Pioneer Family

It was was a refreshing May morning in 1786. Abraham Lincoln noted the deep colors of the forest and the shimmering beauty of the field he had cleared earlier; it was a good day to start planting corn in that field. So he called his three sons, Mordecai, Josiah, and Tommy to join him. He was working on land he had purchased from the government in Kentucky Territory, land that he was turning into a farm as he cleared the fields, began planting crops and was in the process of building a cabin where his family could live. Abraham was sometimes called “Captain” Abraham because of his rank in the militias that fought in the Revolutionary War and against the Native Americans, who were still disputing Kentucky Territory. His wife, Bathsheba, and his two daughters were at home in a Hughes’ Station cabin, less than half a mile away.

Suddenly, a musket ball from the brush was fired and instantly killed Abraham ; he was 42 years old. The Native American who shot him was one of a small group of marauding Shawnees who have slipped across the nearby Ohio River, bent on collecting scalps. First shooting from the edge of the forest, the Shawnee then ran forward to take the scalp of his victim and to grab 8-year old Tommy, who had remained by his father’s body not realizing what had happened. Sizing up the situation at once, Mordecai, aged 15 years, sent Josiah, now 13 years, on a run to Hughes’ Station to bring help, while Mordecai dashed to the nearby, uncompleted cabin where his father’s musket was at hand. Mordecai saw through the loophole of his gun a Shawnee in war-paint stooping to raise the child from the ground. Tommy, now realizing that the Shawnee had killed his father, was struggling futilely with the Native American, who expected to abduct the little boy after lifting the scalp.

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Pushing the long barrel of his gun through the logs of the yet unchinked cabin, Mordecai took careful aim at the Shawnee who had reached his father’s body and was about to take the scalp. Mordecai had to shoot accurately for he would not have time to reload and prime for a second shot. He took careful aim at a white, shiny ornament on the Shawnee’s chest and hit the mark, avenging his father and saving his brother. Little Tommy was momentarily trapped as the Shawnee warrior fell on top of him, but he struggled and, thus released, ran to the cabin. Mordecai renewed his fire upon other Native Americans, who began to show themselves from the thicket, until Josiah returned with assistance from the fort. Then the remaining Native Americans of the scalping party were put to flight, leaving behind one of their number wounded in addition to the Shawnee warrior that Mordecai had killed.

Bathsheba heard with dismay the report that Josiah brought to the fort. Hoping against hope that Abraham was only wounded, she ignored the warnings of her friends and rushed immediately to the farm, hard on the heels of the men who had run to Mordecai’s assistance. But her worst fears were realized. Abraham was buried on his own land that was to become, in time, the burial ground of the Long Run Baptist church, the first building of which was erected about 1797.

In September, a militia expedition against the Native Americans north of the Ohio River was organized, including a company of men from Hughes’ Station. A public subscription for the company included a gun valued at £8 from “Widow Lincoln”.

There appears to be no evidence that Bathsheba and the five children ever occupied the uncompleted cabin on the family farm that her husband and sons had been working on. Considering the manner of Abraham’s death, it is logical to assume that family remained in the cabin that was part of Hughes’ station, especially since we know that in about six months, probably November, the family left for Nelson County.

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The ancestral home of the Shawnee Native Americans (8) included what is today Kentucky and, in fact, a Shawnee party had attacked Daniel Boone when he was exploring the Kentucky Territory. Several times the Shawnee Native Americans joined with other tribes trying to remove white settlers from their lands, but eventually were defeated. The Shawnee Native Americans tried to protect their territories, siding sometimes with the French (during the French and Indian War) and sometimes with the British (during the American Revolutionary War). But in the end, they failed.

Long-term implications of Captain Abraham’s death

The killing of the Captain Abraham Lincoln by a Native American had major long-term implications for the fate of his son, Thomas, and his grandson, Abraham, the sixteenth president of the United States. This clash of cultures -- the killing by a Native American of a new settler entering into Shawnee territory -- resulted in a tragic loss for the pioneer family. Bathsheba, now alone, assumed the burden of raising her five children.

Furthermore, an ancient English law devastated the financial prospects of her son Thomas. Since the deceased Abraham left no will, the law of primogeniture entitled his eldest son, Mordecai, to his father’s holdings. Ironically, the Virginia General Assembly, as administrator of the Kentucky territory, had repealed this ancient law a year prior to Abraham’s death. However, the new law, which provided equal portions to all heirs, did not go into effect until nine months after Abraham’s death, depriving Thomas of an inheritance of at least one thousand acres. Captain Abraham Lincoln owned 5544 acres of land in one of the richest sections of Kentucky (see Appendix III). Mordecai, the eldest son, who was the major inheritor of his father’s wealth, would become an illustrious citizen, landowner and racehorse breeder; he died a rich man.

It is not known if any portion of the estate that Mordecai inherited was passed on to his younger brother. What is known is that as a boy, Thomas worked as a farm laborer for his brother Mordecai, as well as for other farmers in the area. His son, President Abraham Lincoln, wrote:

"My father, Thomas Lincoln, by the early death of his father, and the very narrow circumstances of his mother, even in childhood was a wandering, laboring boy, and grew up literally without an education."

In 1860, the president-elect Abraham Lincoln told a would-be biographer:

"It’s a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of me or my early life. It can all be condensed in a single sentence, and that sentence you will find in Gray’s Elegy: “the short and simple annals of the poor.”

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