“My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place.”
– Abraham Lincoln on June 4, 1860
Abraham Lincoln’s earliest recollection of his youth was of the Lincoln homestead on Knob Creek in Kentucky. That farm was not his birthplace, however. Instead, Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin three miles south of Hogdenville, Kentucky, on the south fork of Nolin Creek in Hardin (now Larue) County.
He was the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. His sister, Sarah, was born in 1807.
The Lincoln family lived on 30 acres of the 228-acre Knob Creek Farm near Hodgenville from the time Abraham was two and a half until he was almost eight years old. Here he learned to talk and grew big enough to run errands such as carrying water, and gathering wood for the fires.
Abraham recalled in later years numerous memories of his childhood here; a stone house he had passed while taking corn to Hodgen’s Mill; a certain big tree that had attracted his boyish fancy; the old homestead; the clear stream where he fished, and the surrounding hills where he picked berries were all impressed on his mind.
He could remember how he stayed by his mother’s side and watched her face while listening to her read the Bible. Lincoln could also remember the baby brother who was born and died on the Knob Creek Farm.
He remembered one occasion when he and his sister, Sarah, had planted the garden. Abraham said that he planted pumpkin seeds in every other hill and every other row while Sarah and others planted the corn. The following night a big rain in the hills sent water rushing into the creek, the creek flooded the fields and washed away their garden.
It was also at Knob Creek that Abraham first saw African Americans being taken south along the Louisville – Nashville Turnpike, part of the old Cumberland Road, to be sold as slaves.
Lincoln once wrote that while living on Knob Creek he and his sister were sent for short periods to an A, B, C school – the first kept by Zachariah Riney, and the second by Caleb Hazel. These were subscription schools and lasted only a few months. Free schools did not come to Kentucky until the 1830s.
Likewise, he never forgot the time he fell in the swollen Knob Creek while playing on a foot log. Had it not been for Austin Gollaher, a friend and schoolmate, Abraham probably would have drowned. Austin, with a keen sense of pioneer knowledge, grabbed a long tree limb from the bank and held it out like a strong arm to the struggling Lincoln. Abraham spoke of the incident after he became President.
In 1816, the Lincolns left Knob Creek and Kentucky, moving to Spencer County, Indiana. Abraham Lincoln recalled in 1860 that their move was “partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Kentucky.”
Problems with land titles were plentiful in Kentucky at that time, and Thomas Lincoln had more than his fair share of them. Inaccurate private surveys and conflicting government land policies made Kentucky a crazy quilt of overlapping claims.
Thomas Lincoln owned three farms while he lived in Kentucky. The first proved to have fewer acres than he thought, and he sold it at a loss in 1814 after 11 years of ownership. The second (on which Abraham was born and which Thomas owned concurrently with the first from late 1808) became the object of litigation, and another claimant sued to dispossess him of the third one, on Knob Creek.
Slavery may well have genuinely troubled Thomas, as well. In 1811, Hardin County had 1,007 slaves and only 1,627 white males over 16 years of age. The Lincolns attended the Little Mount (Baptist) Church, which had been founded in 1811 by former South Fork Church members who had left their church as a result of a controversy over slavery.