Nancy Hanks Lincoln Tent 5
San Diego, California
The Life & Times of Nancy Hanks Lincoln
Nancy Hanks was born to Lucy Hanks in Hampshire County, Virginia. Today, the same location is in Antioch, Mineral County, West Virginia.
It is believed that Nancy Hanks grandparents were Ann and Joseph Hanks and that they raised Nancy from infancy until her grandfather died when she was about 9 years old.
At the time of Nancy's birth, Joseph, Ann and their 8 children were all living on 108 acres near Patterson Creek in Hampshire County, Virginia. In March, 1784 Joseph Hanks sold his property and the family, including granddaughter Nancy moved to Rolling Fork, Nelson County, Kentucky and settled along side of Pottinger's Creek, living there until Joseph's death in 1793.
At the time of his death Nancy's grandmother, who was called by the more formal name Ann rather than its common nickname Nancy, decided to return to her homeland, old Farnham Parish, Virginia. Nancy then went to live with her mother, who, during the interim had married Henry Sparrow in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Lucy and Henry Sparrow had 8 children, and Lucy had a reputation as a "fine Christian woman". Two of their sons were loyal to the Union during the Civil War and were preachers.
After Nancy's Aunt Elizabeth Hanks, Lucy's sister, married Henry Sparrow's brother Thomas in Mercer County, Kentucky in 1796, Nancy went to live with them. She would call them "mother and father." She was then known as Nancy Sparrow and described as intelligent, deeply religious, kindly and affectionate. Lucy's sister Nancy Hanks gave birth to an illegitimate son in 1799 named Dennis Friend Hanks, who became Nancy Hanks Lincoln's cousin, and who was also raised by Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow.
At the Sparrow home, Nancy learned the skills and crafts a woman needed on the frontier to cultivate crops and clothe and feed her family. She learned to read the Bible and became an excellent seamstress, evidenced by working at the Richard Berry home before her marriage.
On June 12, 1806, Nancy married Thomas Lincoln at the home of Richard Berry in Beechland by Reverend Jesse Head. Nancy had been brought to the home to work as a seamstress by her friend Polly Ewing Berry, the wife of Richard Berry Jr. Polly was a friend of Nancy's from Mercer County, Kentucky and Richard Berry, Jr. was a good friend of Thomas Lincoln. Lincoln proposed to her in his childhood home at what is now Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service).
Nancy's marriage bond was signed by Richard Berry, Jr. who identified himself as her guardian. The title had no legal significance, as Berry had not ever been appointed her guardian, and because Nancy was already of age at the time of her marriage. For him to call himself 'guardian' was a courtesy customary under circumstance such as no father able to sign the marriage bond. A record of their marriage license is held at the county courthouse.
Nancy and Thomas Lincoln went on to have three children: Sarah (February 10, 1807), Abraham (February 12, 1809) and Thomas, Jr. born in 1812 but who died in infancy. By 1816 the Lincolns had moved westward from Kentucky to Perry County, an area in what is today known as Spencer County, Indiana.
While living at Little Pigeon Creek Settlement, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on October 5, 1818 at the age of 34. Abraham, then 9 years old assisted his father in the making of her coffin by whittling the wooden pegs that held the planks together. Sarah, then 11 years old cared for Abraham until their father remarried the next year.
There are several possible causes for the death of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The most popular is that she died of milk sickness as several others had already died of the illness, including Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow, the aunt and uncle who had raised her and then lived with her on the Lincoln's property at the Little Pigeon Creek settlement. The Sparrows died in September, weeks before Nancy's death, and Dennis then moved in with the Lincolns. Milk sickness was caused by drinking the milk or eating the meat of a cow that had eaten the white snakeroot which contains temetrol, a toxin passed through the milk. Settlers from farther East were unfamiliar with the Midwestern plant and its effects. In the nineteenth century before it was totally understood, thousands in the Midwest died of milk sickness.
Other views are that Nancy died of consumption (an early term for Tuberculosis) or of cancer. In 1870 Lincoln's law partner and biographer, William Herndon, wrote to fellow Lincoln biographer Ward Lamon suggesting that Mrs. Lincoln died as said by some with the milk sickness, others said she died with a quick wasting away.
Some newer information now also suggests that Nancy had marfanoid body habitus with the same unusual facial features as Abraham, which would suggest that she passed the gene for this syndrome to her son.
Nancy's grave is located on what is known as the hill top Pioneer Cemetery or also Nancy Hanks Lincoln Cemetery. Her headstone was purchased by P.E. Studebaker, an industrialist from South Bend, in 1878. There are also at least twenty unmarked and eight marked graves in the same cemetery. Nancy Lincoln is buried next to Nancy Rusher Brooner, a neighbor who died a week earlier than she from milk sickness. Nancy Brooner's son Henry Brooner who was Abraham's best childhood friend is said to have recalled, "I remember very distinctly that when Mrs. Lincoln's grave was filled, my father, Peter Brooner, extended his hand to Thomas Lincoln and said, 'We are brothers now', meaning that they were brothers in the same kind of sorrow. The bodies of my mother and Mrs. Lincoln were conveyed to their graves on sleds."
Nancy's childhood caregivers, Aunt Elizabeth (Hanks) and Uncle Thomas Sparrow are buried nearby. Pioneer cemetery is located on the grounds of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, a National Historic Landmark District which is managed by the U.S. National Park Service in present-day Lincoln City, Indiana.
Abraham probably knew little of his mother's background since she died when he was only nine. His father, Thomas, quickly remarried. In his later years Abraham referred to Nancy as his "Angel Mother."
Sources: Wikipedia & the World Wide Web