The Story of Abraham Lincoln

by James Baldwin

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter VII: The First Years in Illinois

Early in the spring of 1830, Thomas Lincoln sold his farm in Indiana, and the whole family moved to Illinois. The household goods were put in a wagon drawn by four yoke of oxen. The kind step-mother and her daughters rode also in the wagon.

Abraham Lincoln, with a long whip in his hand, trudged through the mud by the side of the road and guided the oxen. Who that saw him thus going into Illinois would have dreamed that he would in time become that state's greatest citizen?

The journey was a long and hard one; but in two weeks they reached Decatur, where they had decided to make their new home. Abraham Lincoln was now over twenty-one years old. He was his own man. But he stayed with his father that spring. He helped him fence his land; he helped him plant his corn.

But his father had no money to give him. The young man's clothing was all worn out, and he had nothing with which to buy any more. What should he do?

Three miles from his father's cabin there lived a thrifty woman, whose name was Nancy Miller. Mrs. Miller owned a flock of sheep, and in her house there were a spinning-wheel and a loom that were always busy. And so you must know that she wove a great deal of jeans and home-made cloth.

Abraham Lincoln bargained with this woman to make him a pair of trousers. He agreed that for each yard of cloth required, he would split for her four hundred rails.

He had to split fourteen hundred rails in all; but he worked so fast that he had finished them before the trousers were ready.

The next April saw young Lincoln piloting another flatboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans. His companion this time was his mother's relative, John Hanks. This time he stayed longer in New Orleans, and he saw some things which he had barely noticed on his first trip.

He saw gangs of slaves being driven through the streets. He visited the slave-market, and saw women and girls sold to the highest bidder like so many cattle.

The young man, who would not be unkind to any living being, was shocked by these sights. "His heart bled; he was mad, thoughtful, sad, and depressed."

He said to John Hanks, "If I ever get a chance to hit that institution, I'll hit it hard, John." He came back from New Orleans in July. Mr. Offut, the owner of the flatboat which he had taken down, then employed him to act as clerk in a country store which he had at New Salem.

New Salem was a little town not far from Springfield.

Young Lincoln was a good salesman, and all the customers liked him. Mr. Offut declared that the young man knew more than anyone else in the United States, and that he could outrun and outwrestle any man in the county. But in the spring of the next year Mr. Offut failed. The store was closed, and Abraham Lincoln was out of employment again.

Return to the The Story of Abraham Lincoln Summary Return to the James Baldwin Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson