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Lincoln as a young man
Lincoln Bust by Fairbanks
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Lincoln Early Life Timeline

Like many Americans of his era, Abraham Lincoln's early life was characterized by steep obstacles and scant resources. Years later his life story still fascinates: the steady, slow rise from a setting of poverty, deprivation, and discouragement to a place of high national esteem.

Joshua Speed, a long-time friend, recalled, "Now, for me to have lived to see such a man rise from point to point, and from place to place, filling all the places to which he was called with honor and distinction, until he reached the presidency, filling the presidential chair in the most trying time that any ruler ever had, seems to me more like fiction than fact. None but a genius like his could have accomplished so much; and none but a government like ours could produce such a man. It gave the young eagle scope for his wings; he tried it, and soared to the top!"

Lincoln himself offers the best description of his early years in three short autobiographies written before the presidency. The timeline below offers highlights of his life from birth to the start of his law career.

Timeline

JUNE 12, 1806
Lincoln's parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, marry in Washington County, Kentucky

FEBRUARY 10, 1807
Lincoln's sister Sarah is born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky

FEBRUARY 12, 1809
Lincoln is born on a farm in Hardin County (now LaRue County), Kentucky

SPRING 1811
His family moves to a nearby farm on Knob Creek

(Date unknown) 1812
His brother Thomas dies soon after birth at the Knob Creek place

FALL 1815
With his sister attends school briefly taught by Zachariah Riney

FALL 1816
With his sister attends school briefly taught by Caleb Hazel

DECEMBER 1816
Moves with his family to Perry County (now Spencer County) in southern Indiana

OCTOBER 5, 1818
His mother Nancy dies of illness in Indiana

DECEMBER 2, 1819
His father marries Sarah (Sally) Bush Johnston, a widow, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky

(Date unknown) 1820
His father returns to Indiana with his new wife and her children, Elizabeth, Matilda, and John

JUNE 14, 1821
His stepsister Elizabeth Johnston marries Dennis Hanks, cousin of Nancy Lincoln

(Date unknown) 1822
For a brief period attends school taught by James Swaney

(Date unknown) 1824
For a brief period attends school taught by Azel W. Dorsey

AUGUST 2, 1826
His sister Sarah marries Aaron Grigsby in southern Indiana

JANUARY 20, 1828
His sister dies at age 20 during childbirth

(Date unknown) 1828
Makes first flatboat trip to New Orleans with Allen and James Gentry

MARCH 1830
Moves with his extended family to a home near Decatur, Illinois

(Date unknown) 1831
His brother-in-law Aaron dies in Indiana and is buried beside Sarah

APRIL 1831
Makes second flatboat trip to New Orleans for Denton Offutt

JULY 1831
Settles in New Salem, Illinois and works various jobs

MARCH 9, 1832
Makes first-known published political announcement

APRIL - JULY 1832
Serves with state militia in Illinois and Wisconsin during the Black Hawk War

AUGUST 6, 1832
Loses first race for the Illinois House of Representatives

JANUARY 15, 1833
Buys a general store with William Berry in New Salem

MAY 7, 1833
Becomes postmaster of New Salem as appointed by President Andrew Jackson

FALL 1833
Teaches himself surveying and becomes assistant surveyor in part of Sangamon County

JANUARY 6, 1834
Makes first-known land survey

AUGUST 4, 1834
Wins election to his first term in the Illinois House of Representatives

FALL 1834
Borrows law books from John Todd Stuart and studies on his own

AUGUST 25, 1835
His sweetheart, Ann Rutledge, dies at age 22 in Sangamon County

MARCH 24, 1836
Takes first step for obtaining law license in Sangamon County

AUGUST 1, 1836
Wins election to a second term in the Illinois House of Representatives

SEPTEMBER 9, 1836
Receives license to practice law in all Illinois state courts

MARCH 1, 1837
Name entered on list of lawyers in the Illinois Supreme Court office

APRIL 15, 1837
Moves to Springfield, Illinois, to practice law with John Todd Stuart


Timeline Sources: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler and others; Lincoln Day by Day edited by Earl Miers

Documents

  • Autobiographies of 1858-60*
  • Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (ALA)
  • Family Record Written by Abraham Lincoln (CWAL)
  • Lincoln Poetry*
  • The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Series I (IHPA et al)

    Classroom Aids

  • Lincoln Birthplace Curriculum Materials (NPS)
  • Lincoln Boyhood Classroom Resources (NPS)
  • Lincoln Boyhood Stories (NPS)
  • Lincoln's New Salem Student Resources (IHPA)

    Commentary

  • Abraham Lincoln and the Two Peters (JALA)
  • Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made Man (JALA)
  • Abraham Lincoln's Paternity (Steers)
  • Indian Fighting and Politics in New Salem 1831-36 (NIU)
  • Lincoln as Postmaster (Onstot)
  • Lincoln the Postmaster (ALA)
  • Lincoln Boyhood and Migration (NIU)
  • Lincoln's Early Years (NYT)
  • Lincoln's Lincoln Grandmother (JISHS)
  • Lincoln's New Salem 1830-1837 (NPS)
  • Old New Salem (ALA)
  • The Formative Years 1809-1830 (NPS)
  • The Howard Family Legacy at the Knob Creek Farm (ALA)
  • Three R's in Lincoln's Education: Rogers, Riggin and Rankin (JISHS)
  • Young Man Lincoln (GC/YouTube)

    Lincolniana

  • Lincolniana -- The Original of a February 12, 1809 Story (JISHS)

    Places

  • Birthplace
  • Indiana Boyhood Home
  • Jones Home*
  • Knob Creek Farm*
  • Lincoln Homestead State Park
  • Lincoln Trail Homestead*
  • New Salem*
  • Stillman's Run Memorial*
  • Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail
  • Lincoln Heritage House
  • Lincoln Homestead State Park
  • Lincoln Pioneer Village
  • Sarah Johnston Lincoln Cabin

    Books -- General

  • Angle, Paul M. Here I Have Lived: A History of Lincoln's Springfield, 1821-1865. Springfield: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1935.

  • Baringer, William E. Lincoln's Vandalia. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1949.

  • Bartelt, William E. There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln's Indiana Youth. Indiana Historical Society, 2008.

  • Capps, Mike, and Ammeson, Jane. Indiana's Lincolnland. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

  • Davenport, Don. In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Revised edition, Trails Books, 2002.

  • Gary, Ralph. Following in Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Reference to Hundreds of Sites Visited by Abraham Lincoln. Carroll & Graf, 2001.

  • Harrison, Lowell Hayes. Lincoln of Kentucky. University of Kentucky Press, 2000.

  • Mazrim, Robert. The Sangamo Frontier: History and Archaeology in the Shadow of Abraham Lincoln. University of Chicago Press, 2006.

  • Tarbell, Ida M. In the Footsteps of the Lincolns. Harper and Bros., 1924.

  • Tarbell, Ida M. The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln. Forgotten Books, 2012.

  • Thomas, Benjamin. Lincoln's New Salem. Southern Illinois University Press, paperback edition, 1988.

  • Walsh, John E. The Shadows Rise: Abraham Lincoln and the Ann Rutledge Legend. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

  • Warren, Louis A. Lincoln's Parentage and Childhood. New York: The Century Company, 1926.

  • Warren, Louis A. Lincoln's Youth: Indiana Years, 1816-1830. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2002 (paperback edition).

  • Wilson, Douglas L. and Davis, Rodney O. Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

  • Wilson, Douglas. Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln. Knopf, 1998.

    Books -- Genealogy

  • Barton, William. The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln. New York: George H. Doren, 1920.

  • Barton, William E. The Lineage of Lincoln. Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1929.

  • Lea, James H. and J.R. Hutchinson. The Ancestry of Abraham Lincoln. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1909.

  • Learned, Marion Dexter. Abraham Lincoln: An American Migration. Philadelphia: William J. Campbell, 1909.

  • Lincoln, Waldo. History of the Lincoln Family. Worcester: Commonwealth Press, 1923.

  • Tarbell, Ida M. Abraham Lincoln and His Ancestors. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

  • Warren, Louis A. The Lincoln Kinsman. Fort Wayne: Lincolniana Publishers, 1938-1942. (A periodical published from July, 1938 to December, 1942.)

    Other Timelines

  • Lincoln and Gettysburg Timeline*
  • Lincoln Family Timeline*
  • Lincoln Legal Career Timeline*
  • Lincoln Pre-Presidential Political Timeline*
  • Lincoln Tomb Timeline*
  • Mary Todd Lincoln Timeline*
  • Robert Todd Lincoln Timeline*

    *Indicates pages created by Abraham Lincoln Online

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