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February 9, 2009


According to most, Thursday, February 12, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Others disagree.

            Two years ago I wrote about the possibility that Abe was actually born in North Carolina, just across the state line from our Spartanburg County. Many of you responded. Some were mad; some were sad; some were glad. For those who missed it, let me reiterate.

Traditionally, Lincoln’s birthplace is identified as an humble log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. 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 an authentic historical artifact, much like the one in which Abraham Lincoln was born.

A surprising number of people assert that our 16th President was actually born in North Carolina. The Genesis of Lincoln, written by James H. Cathey in 1899, thirty-five years after the President’s death, contained numerous interviews with mountain people who had preserved the story as oral history.

In The Tarheel Lincoln, Richard Eller and Jerry Goodnight explore claims that Abe was born in Rutherford County, near the town of Bostic.

In the late 1700s, an unmarried woman named Lucy Hanks lived in Rutherford County. She worked as an itinerate spinner. She had two daughters, Nancy and Amanda. Lucy was unable to provide for her children and bound them out for raising,  the practice of giving children to families who could care for them.

Nancy was sent to the Abraham Enloe family in the community of Bostic. Enloe was a farmer who raised cattle. He had large land holdings in Rutherford County. He and his wife had sixteen children. Abraham Enloe stood over six feet tall. He had dark eyes and dark hair.

Nancy Hanks was about ten years of age when she came to live with the Enloe family in their home on Puzzle Creek. After a few years in Rutherford County, the Enloe family moved to Swain County. Shortly after their arrival at the new home, Nancy became pregnant. Mrs. Enloe accused her husband of being the father of Nancy’s child. Mr. Enloe knew that he had to send Nancy away. He arranged for an old friend, Felix Walker to take Nancy back to Puzzle Creek in Bostic.

Once she returned to Rutherford County, Nancy 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, he decided to take further action.

Enloe asked Michael Tanner to bring Nancy and her infant son back to Swain County. Enloe arranged for a sawmill worker named Tom Lincoln to marry Nancy Hanks. Abraham Enloe gave Tom 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.

Reverend Jesse Head performed the wedding of Tom and Nancy in Kentucky in 1806. The minister said that the Lincolns left their wedding with a little black-haired boy.

James Cathey reported that Abraham Enloe fathered nine sons and seven daughters by his wife. Abraham 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 interviews 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 . . . 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 who was Lincoln’s father.

On December 20, 1859, Lincoln wrote, “I was born February 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 as sufficient evidence of his Kentucky birth. Others point out that political allies issued the statement shortly before Lincoln was nominated as candidate for president. They reason that being born out of wedlock was not politically correct in 1859.

Proponents for Abe’s Carolina heritage cite a private conversation he had with a delegation from North Carolina. The president allegedly commented that he was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina, and that his name should have been Enloe.

The debate continues as the nation commemorates the Lincoln Bicentennial.

The Bostic Lincoln Center opened in April 2008. A marker designating the North Carolina site as his true birthplace has been placed on Lincoln Hill above Puzzle Creek

Puzzle indeed!




Kirk H. Neely

© February 2009

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