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Book Alleges 16th President Was Born in North Carolina

February 11, 2000


The birthplace of Abraham Lincoln is identified as a humble log cabin near Hodgenville, Ky. A tract of Thomas Lincoln’s Sinking Spring Farm has been preserved as a National Historic Site. The original cabin in which the Lincoln family lived is long gone. The 19th-century Kentucky cabin on display for visitors is a historical artifact, much like the one in which Abraham Lincoln was born.

The February 2003 issue of Carolina Country, a monthly magazine distributed by subscription to members of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperative, included an interesting article written by Charles G. Joyner. The article gave an alternate account of the birth story of our 16th president, asserting that Lincoln was actually born in North Carolina.

Joyner based much of his information on “The Genesis of Lincoln,” a book written in 1899 by James H. Cathey. The book, written 35 years after the president’s death, contained numerous interviews with mountain people who had preserved the story as oral history.

In their book, “The Tarheel Lincoln,” history professor Richard Eller and retired schoolteacher Jerry Goodnight explore claims that the 16th president was born in Rutherford County, near the town of Bostic, not far from Forest City.

In the late 1700s, an unmarried woman named Lucy Hanks lived in Rutherford County. She worked as an itinerate spinner. She had two illegitimate daughters, Nancy and Amanda. Lucy was unable to provide for her children and “bound them out for raising,” the practice of giving children without fathers to families who could care for them.

Nancy Hanks was sent to the Abraham Enloe family in the community of Bostic. Enloe was a farmer who raised cattle and had large land holdings in Rutherford County. He and his wife had 16 children. Standing more than six feet tall, he had dark eyes and dark hair.

Hanks was about 10 years old when she went to live with the Enloe family in the home on Puzzle Creek. After a few years of living in Rutherford County, the Enloe family moved to a home in Swain County. Shortly after their arrival at the new home, Hanks became pregnant.

Mrs. Enloe accused her husband of being the father of Hank’s child. Mr. Enloe knew that he had to send Nancy away. He arranged for an old friend, Felix Walker, to take Hanks back to Puzzle Creek in Bostic.

Once she returned to Rutherford County, Hanks moved back in the old Enloe house with a family that had rented the home. It was in that house that she gave birth to a son. She named the child Abraham.

When word reached Enloe that he was the subject of gossip about the illegitimate child’s conception, he decided to take further action.

Enloe asked Michael Tanner, believed to be Hanks’s father, to bring Hanks and her infant son back to Swain County. Enloe arranged for an illiterate sawmill worker named Tom Lincoln to marry Hanks. Enloe gave Lincoln a substantial sum of money, a team of mules and a wagon, with the agreement that Lincoln would move his new family to Kentucky.

A Methodist minister, the Rev. Jesse Head, performed the wedding in 1806. The minister said that the Lincolns left their wedding with a little black-haired boy.

James Cathey reported that Enloe fathered nine sons and seven daughters by his wife. Enloe and his sons were tall and lanky, as was Abraham Lincoln. Tom Lincoln was a stocky man of average height.

When Cathey wrote his book in 1899, he interviewed Wesley M. Enloe, then 88 years old. Wesley was the ninth and only surviving son of Abraham Enloe. He was living in the same house on the same farm where his father and mother lived when Nancy Hanks was banished from the household and sent to Kentucky.

Wesley Enloe said in 1899, “I was born after the incident between father and Nancy Hanks. I have, however, a vivid recollection of hearing the name Nancy Hanks frequently mentioned when I was a boy. No, I never heard my father mention it; he was always silent on the subject so far as I know. … I have no doubt that the cause of my father’s sending her to Kentucky is the one generally alleged.”

There is no question that Abraham Lincoln’s mother was Nancy Hanks. The dispute lies in where Nancy Hanks was when Abraham was born, and in the question, “Who was Lincoln’s father?”

On Dec. 20, 1859, Lincoln wrote, “I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families. … My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Kentucky, about 1781 or 2, where he was killed by Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks County, Pennsylvania.”

Most historians accept this statement from Lincoln himself as sufficient evidence of his Kentucky birth. Whether born in Hardin County, Ky., or Rutherford County, N.C., this man of humble origin, keen mind, charming wit, and compassionate heart became one of our greatest presidents.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2007

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