Early Life

Map of the Western States, c. 1839

Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery and race were shaped during his early life and public career. He was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky, a slave state on the western frontier. Contrary to popular myth, his parents, Nancy and Thomas Lincoln, were not poor but typical farmers of the time. They also had an older daughter, Sarah. In 1811, the Lincolns moved to nearby Knob Creek; five years later, they moved again to southwest Indiana in search of better land, and as Lincoln wrote later, to get away from slavery. Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine years old, but his stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, lovingly raised him as her own.

Although Lincoln received little formal schooling, he read extensively on his own. His favorite books included the Bible, Aesop’s Fables, Shakespeare, and works of history. Growing up, Lincoln farmed alongside his father but yearned for something more. After moving with his family to central Illinois in 1830, Lincoln struck out on his own, winding up in the small but promising village of New Salem in Sangamon County, Illinois. He lived there from July 1831 until the spring of 1837, working as a store clerk, postmaster, surveyor, and state legislator. Lincoln also served in the state militia for a three month tour of duty during the Black Hawk War. Although he saw no combat, he was elected company captain and gained valuable leadership experience.