While reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln recently, I saw this little tidbit that seemed worth sharing. It reminds me of a similar story from my own family’s history.
Thomas Lincoln named his son “Abraham” after the boy’s grandfather, Captain Abraham Lincoln, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Once little Abe was old enough, Thomas told the story of how his namesake died.
After the War for Independence, Captain Lincoln moved his family to Kentucky, where they lived on disputed Indian lands. One warm day in May, 1786, Thomas recounts, when he was just six, he went out with his brothers Josiah, age 8, and Mordecai, age 14, and their father to work the fields. Suddenly a shot rang out from the woods nearby and Father collapsed.
Thomas stood transfixed in the crackling calm of shock–staring at his father. Josiah took off sprinting to Hughes Station, where settlers gathered in the event of Indian attack, calling for help as he ran. Mordecai hustled to the cabin where the family kept a loaded musket. A figure emerged from the forest and moved towards Captain Lincoln’s body, towards Thomas.
Mordecai, quick to the cabin, grabbed the musket next to the door, turned, and saw the figure for the first time, an Indian, standing above his Father. Gasping, Mordecai yelled and stumbled towards his Father and Thomas, the heavy rifle causing him to lose his balance and fall. Thomas, still in shock, turned to the Indian, who was now reaching towards Thomas, who Mordecai thought was about to be killed or carried off.
In that second, 14 year old Mordecai rose to his feet, took aim, and fired, hitting the Indian in the chest and killing him instantly. Bathsheba Lincoln, Abraham’s grandmother, was left a widow with five underage children.
Thomas Lincoln’s story had a powerful affect on young Abraham. “The story of his death by the Indians,” President Lincoln later wrote, “and of Uncle Mordecai, then fourteen years old, killing one of the Indians, is the legend more strongly than all others imprinted on my mind and memory.”
I started loving history when I realized that the figures of history are just as real as you or I. I started feeling socially responsible when I realized the future, though unknown, is still infinitely more real than the best fiction. Connecting the past, the present, and the future, are stories–stories that formed us before we were born, and, through the telling, continue to form us today. For Lincoln, his Father’s account of his grandfather’s death was such a story. For me, my Father has told me a family story with similar effect. I have invited him to re-tell it on my blog. I also invite any of my readers, if you have a family legend, a connection to the past, which strongly imprinted itself on “mind and memory,” please share it on my blog. The door is open.