Migration

"Western States," A Guide for Emigrants, John Mason Peck, 1831

From this place, he [Thomas Lincoln] removed to what is now Spencer county Indiana, in the autumn of 1816, A.[braham] then being in his eighth year.”Lincoln autobiography, 1860

Abraham Lincoln’s North American ancestry dates back at least seven generations. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, his ancestors moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln’s grandfather, also named Abraham, was living in Virginia when he heard from a distant relative, Daniel Boone, about opportunities to acquire land in Kentucky.

Abraham Lincoln also moved frequently, first with his family and eventually on his own. With each successive move, he settled in places of greater population density, going from his rural Kentucky birthplace to a frontier settlement to a commercial village during his first twenty-one years.

Lincoln’s father, Thomas, took the family from Kentucky, a slave state, north across the Ohio River to Spencer County, Indiana, in December 1816, the same month that Indiana became a state. Slavery and difficulty stemming from land title disputes in Kentucky motivated Thomas Lincoln’s decision to move his family to Indiana, where the Land Ordinance of 1785 established a more rational system for dividing and selling land. The Lincolns moved again in 1830 — to Macon County, Illinois — after hearing rumors of an outbreak of milk sickness, the poison that had killed Abraham’s mother, Nancy Hanks, in 1818.

Abraham Lincoln left his father’s household in 1831 for New Salem, Illinois, which he first encountered while taking a flatboat of goods down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. In New Salem, he held odd jobs, including surveyor and store clerk, before relocating to Springfield, Illinois, in 1837.