Graphic Enterprises - Home of the Pioneer Times - A Web Site for Living History



 Highlights from The Kentucky Historical Society about Abraham Lincoln


As the nation prepares to celebrate the Lincoln Bicentennial - read some lesser known facts about Kentucky’s Lincoln connections.

Dennis Hanks

Dennis Hanks, the cousin of Abraham Lincoln's mother, was born in Hardin County, Kentucky. He was the illegitimate son of Nancy Hanks, an aunt of Lincoln's mother, also named Nancy Hanks.

Dennis moved to southern Indiana in 1817 and lived with the Sparrow family, relatives of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Abraham and Dennis became close friends. In 1818, when both the Sparrows' mother and Lincoln's mother died, Dennis moved in with the Lincolns. He and Abraham Lincoln shared the loft space in their cabin. In 1821, he married Sarah Elizabeth Johnston, the daughter of Thomas Lincoln's second wife, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln. They moved with the Lincoln family to Illinois in 1830.


Photo of an elderly Dennis Hanks

Photo by Hannah Cornett

Though Dennis and Abraham parted ways after moving to Illinois, they still stayed connected to some degree. From 1844 to 1846, Harriet, his daughter, boarded with Abraham and Mary Lincoln in Springfield while she was at school. In 1851, Lincoln represented Dennis in a lawsuit against William B. White. During Lincoln's presidency, Dennis assisted in the care of Lincoln's aging and ill stepmother.

After Lincoln's assassination, Hanks was a key player in purchasing and displaying to the public a cabin Lincoln lived in briefly in Decatur, Illinois.

Peter Cartwright (1785-1872)

Peter Cartwright was a Methodist minister born in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1785. His family moved to Logan County, Kentucky, when he was five years old. Cartwright joined the Methodists after a Great Revival camp meeting near his family's home in 1801. Licensed to preach in 1802, he became known as "Kentucky Boy" because of his powerful speaking voice and skills in oratory.

In 1824, Cartwright moved to Sangamon County, Illinois, because of his strong feelings against slavery. He entered politics and was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1828 and 1832. The election of 1832 brought Cartwright and Abraham Lincoln into direct competition since they were both running for the Sangamon County seat in the Illinois House. The election results ended with Lincoln's defeat.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln House

Postcard showing childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln, ca. 1940s
Kentucky Historical Society Collections

"No other house in Kentucky has as many associations with President Lincoln and his family as does this red brick house on West Main Street." - J. Winston Coleman Jr.

The Mary Todd Lincoln house, at present-day 578 West Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky, was built ca. 1803-6 as an inn called "The Sign of the Green Tree," operated by William P. Monteer who sold the property to Robert S. Todd, Mary Todd's father, in May 1832. Mary Todd was thirteen years old when the Todds moved there, and this was her home until she left Kentucky to live with her sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield, Illinois, in 1839.

The home was a spacious, fourteen-room, two-story brick Georgian house with double parlors, a wide central hall, and a long ell. The grounds were large enough to accommodate a kitchen, servants' quarters, a washhouse, a springhouse, a smokehouse, and stables with a carriage house. The side lawn was a flower garden with a gravel walk close to the Town Fork of Elkhorn Creek.

Abraham Lincoln visited the home several times and spent nearly a month there in 1847 on his way to Washington, D.C. After Robert Todd's death in 1849, the house was sold at auction.

After being in private hands for many years, it was acquired by the Kentucky State Parks Department in 1967. It was opened to the public by the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation Inc. in 1977. An inventory of the auction was used as a guide for furnishing the house. The Lincoln and Todd families have donated family pieces to the home over the years. The Mary Todd Lincoln House has the distinction of being the first historic site restored in honor of a First Lady.

Joshua Fry Speed (1814-1882)

"Well, Speed, I'm moved!" - Abraham Lincoln, 1837

Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed became friends on April 15, 1837. The story is a familiar one. Young, lanky Lincoln rode into Springfield, Illinois, with nothing more than his saddlebags. Inquiring at the general store about lodging, Speed, a coproprietor (who knew him by reputation), offered to share his bed with Lincoln-on credit. In the few minutes it took to climb the stairs and drop his bags, Lincoln had made a new home and a lifelong friend.

Both of these Illinois Whigs hailed from Kentucky-but from very different circumstances. Joshua Speed, the younger of the two, was the son of Judge James and Lucy (Fry) Speed. Raised at Farmington, the family's plantation estate near Louisville, Joshua received a superb private education and a year at St. Joseph's Academy before moving to Springfield in 1835.

During 1837-41, Lincoln's friendship with Joshua Speed flourished. Speed introduced his socially awkward friend to Ninian and Elizabeth (Todd) Edwards-in whose home he met his future wife, Mary Todd of Lexington. Their most intense period of friendship culminated in the few weeks they spent together at Farmington in 1841. Soon after, Joshua returned to Louisville, marrying Fannie Henning in 1842, and quickly becoming an active member of the community. Both friends settled into careers, and correspondence lessened. After a term in the state legislature during 1848-49, Speed and brother-in-law William Henning soon formed a successful real estate partnership. A successful businessman from 1853 to 1855, Speed also served as president of the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad.

By 1860, Speed was a Democrat. He disagreed with Lincoln over slavery, stringently protested John C. Fremont's proclamation of military emancipation, and advised Lincoln against issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, during the Civil War he remained one of Lincoln's most loyal friends and an important Kentucky Unionist. Early on, he assisted in the distribution of "Lincoln guns." Throughout the war, he kept Lincoln abreast of the situation in Kentucky and made numerous confidential trips to Washington. Two weeks before Lincoln's assassination, Joshua Speed saw his friend one last time.


Ninian Edwards (1809-1889)
Elizabeth Todd Edwards (1813-1888)

(Pictured at left)

Few native Kentuckians played so instrumental a role in the life and career of Abraham Lincoln as Ninian Edwards and Elizabeth (Todd) Edwards. Born to wealth and aristocratic culture, the couple became leaders of Springfield, Illinois, society, and close acquaintances of Lincoln at a crucial time in his own social and political rise.

At their weekly, nonpartisan Sunday soirées, the aristocratic couple played host to Springfield's elite - among whom Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a growing association. It was on one such occasion that he met Elizabeth's sister, and his future wife. Mary Todd, whose relationship with her stepmother was growing increasingly strained, had visited the Edwardses in 1837, and two years later she came to live with them.

As the story goes, Lincoln had wanted to dance with Mary "in the worst way." According to Mary, he did. Soon after, she and Lincoln began to court. Though Mary had other suitors, including Stephen A. Douglas, she and Lincoln shared much in common: Kentucky roots, poetry, Whig politics, and fierce ambition.

The Edwardses thought Lincoln talented and politically useful, but they initially opposed the match. Elizabeth, as she later recalled, considered him "not sufficiently educated & intelligent in the female line." Ninian, as Mary's guardian, thought Lincoln "mighty rough." But the Edwardses came around, even hosting the wedding at their home on November 4, 1842.

Despite Ninian's embrace of the Democratic Party in the mid-1850s and his support of Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 and 1860, Lincoln assisted his brother-in-law financially at a critical moment, and in 1861 appointed him to the position of captain and commissary of subsistence, which he held until his replacement in June 1863. After Lincoln's death, the Edwardses remained among Mary's closest and most helpful family members. It was in their home that Mary died in 1882.

John Todd Stuart (1807-1885)

When Abraham Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois, Kentuckian John Todd Stuart encouraged Lincoln to study law. He also became Lincoln's friend and first law partner.

Stuart was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, on November 10, 1807. A cousin to Mary Todd Lincoln, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister and Mary's  aunt. Stuart graduated from  Centre


 College in 1826, and, two years later, became an attorney in Springfield, Illinois. He met Lincoln during the Black Hawk War when both served in the Illinois militia. Stuart encouraged Lincoln to study law, lent Lincoln his law books, and the two men were law partners from 1837 to 1841.

Like Lincoln, Stuart served in the Illinois legislature and the U. S. Congress. Although he and Lincoln were friends, Stuart backed Constitutional Union candidate John Bell in the 1860 presidential election instead of Lincoln. In 1862, Stuart went to Congress as a Democrat, where he disagreed with several of Lincoln's wartime policies, including emancipation. Stuart saw the Civil War "as a mistake and crime on the part of the South" and thought that the "battle should have been fought at the ballot-box, under the Union and constitution." Despite his political disagreements with Lincoln, Stuart, friend of the president and cousin to the first lady, was a frequent visitor to the White House. After Lincoln's death, Stuart was president of the Lincoln Monument Association in Illinois.

John Todd Stuart
Kentucky Historical Society Collections

White Hall

White Hall State Historic Site was the home of Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903), emancipationist, newspaper publisher, and friend to Abraham Lincoln. Clay was born in 1810, the son of a prominent slave-holding family. Educated at Transylvania University and Yale, Clay began forming antislavery views in his college years.


Cassius Clay began a political career in the 1830s, winning election to the Kentucky General Assembly. He became known as a gifted orator, often making bold and inflammatory statements on the subject of slavery. In 1845, Clay founded the True American, an antislavery newspaper published in Lexington. True to his firebrand style, his newspaper aroused the animosity of many proslavery Kentuckians.

Clay's brashness created many enemies in the commonwealth and beyond, and he was often subjected to violence. Clay brawled and dueled on many occasions, often suffering serious wounds but always recovering to resume his outspoken ways.

Clay supported Lincoln in the 1860 election and was rewarded by being appointed as minister to Russia. After serving for one year, Clay returned to America where he was commissioned a major general in the Union army.

Today, White Hall is interpreted by the Kentucky Department of Parks. The house is decorated with period furnishings and authentic artifacts from the nineteenth century, including many items related to Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln's Grandfather,
Abraham Lincoln Sr. (1744-1786)


The story of Abraham Lincoln and his immediate family begins and ends with a tragedy." - Louis A. Warren

In referring to his grandfather in a letter to Jesse Lincoln in 1854, Lincoln wrote that "the story of his death by the Indians, and of Uncle Mordecai, then fourteen years old, killing one of the Indians, is the legend more strongly than all others imprinted upon my mind and memory."

Abraham Lincoln's forty-two-year-old grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Sr., purchased a four-hundred-acre tract near Hughes Station in eastern Jefferson County in 1780. He migrated to Kentucky from Virginia in 1782. His land on "the Fork of Floyd's Fork now called Long Run" was surveyed by William May, surveyor of Jefferson County, in 1785.

In May 1786, Abraham Lincoln was putting in a crop of corn with his sons, Josiah, Mordecai, and Thomas, when they were attacked by a small war party. He was killed in the initial volley. Josiah ran to Hughes Station for help. Mordecai and Thomas ran to the cabin, and Mordecai emerged with a rifle in time to kill the Indian who was preparing to scalp his father. Men from Hughes Station pursued the retreating Indians.

After this attack, the Lincoln family moved to a part of Nelson County which later became part of Washington County. The estate of Abraham Lincoln Sr. was administered in Nelson County in 1789.

Postcard showing a cabin where President Lincoln's grandfather built his cabin in 1782, Lincoln Homestead State Park, Springfield, Kentucky.
Kentucky Historical Society Collections

Thomas E. Bramlette


Kentucky governor Thomas E. Bramlette, elected in 1863, frequently tangled with President Abraham Lincoln over Union military policy in the commonwealth.

Born on January 3, 1817, in present-day Clinton County, Bramlette was a lawyer, legislator, and politician.

During the Civil War, Bramlette raised the 3rd Kentucky Union Infantry and was elected colonel of the regiment. In 1862, Lincoln appointed him U. S. district attorney for Kentucky. The next year Bramlette was elected governor in a race rife with Union military interference. As wartime governor, Bramlette resisted Confederate guerrillas and battled Lincoln over the enlistment of African American troops, the suspension of habeas corpus, and civilian arrests. He was governor until 1867, and in the postwar years he supported pardons for ex-Confederate soldiers yet resisted the Freedmen's Bureau and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth constitutional amendments. One of Bramlette's greatest legacies was establishing the Agricultural and Mechanical College, which eventually became the University of Kentucky. When Bramlette's term ended, he was a philanthropist and attorney in Louisville.

Although Bramlette disagreed with Lincoln over many major issues, after Lincoln's assassination the governor recognized the enduring legacy of Lincoln's policies. Bramlette said, "We may differ with him, and have differed with him, but when the judgment of future events has come, we found we were differing blindly; that he was right and we were wrong . . . experience and time have demonstrated that his was the only line of salvation for our country."

Portrait of Thomas E. Bramlette by William Ver Bryck, 1874
Kentucky Historical Society Collections

Lincoln Portrait

"Nearly a lifetime has elapsed since Abraham Lincoln, first son of Kentucky, passed away, a martyr to Union and Liberty, the foundation stones of our government and civilization." - Willard R. Jillson, 1932

Kentucky Memory and the
 Williams Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

At the turn of the twentieth century, the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) largely reflected the commonwealth's pro-Confederate identity of the post-Civil-War era. In the 1920s, however, KHS holdings expanded to include a modest collection Lincolniana-mostly small prints and engravings. Members of the KHS Executive Committee had taken to heart the "growing sense of appreciation" for the Lincoln figure. As Jillson later observed, regard for Lincoln's image had "swept beyond the natural bounds of Commonwealth and nation to grace distant places, to adorn imperishable halls of fame and intellectual sanctuaries throughout the world." On January 29, 1929, the Executive Committee decided to commission "a suitable portrait" of Abraham Lincoln to be placed in the Old State Capitol Building in Frankfort.

Funds for the painting were raised through a "Lincoln Gift Box," which received donations, large and small, by adults and children from throughout Kentucky, the United States, and the world. Miss Mary Mason Scott, Mrs. John Peyton Hobson, and Mrs. Jouett Taylor Cannon were charged with selecting an artist and acquiring the portrait. The committee chose for this work Charles Sneed Williams (1882-1964), a well- respected, Kentucky-born painter, then living and working in London and Chicago. In the resulting portrait, Williams sought to capture what he called Lincoln's "greatness," by which he meant: a quality which seems to me to rise far beyond all political or even historical boundaries-beyond even his fame-a quality of greatness of spirit, a quality which for many years made him to me the human man at his highest point-no superman but a warm-hearted being.

The painting was unveiled at the Boone Day festivities on June 7, 1932. Louis A. Warren, director of the Lincoln Historical Research Foundation of The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, gave the dedicatory talk. Today, visitors can see the portrait in the KHS permanent exhibition gallery.

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Charles Sneed Williams, 1932
Kentucky Historical Society Collection

Lincoln Birthplace

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site is located in Larue County near the city of Hodgenville. The site features an early nineteenth- century cabin symbolic of the one in which Lincoln was born. Lincoln's parents, Thomas and Nancy, moved to the Sinking Spring farm in 1808 where the sixteenth president was born on February 12, 1809.


The Lincolns resided at the Sinking Spring Farm for two years until they were forced to relocate because of a conflicting land claim. The family moved approximately ten miles northeast to the Knob Creek farm, where they resided until 1816.

The Birthplace Cabin is housed in a memorial building--the cornerstone of which was placed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. President William Howard Taft dedicated the memorial building in

1911, and a visitor center was completed in 1959. The visitor center currently houses a museum exhibit, theatre space, and a gift shop. Annual visitation at the Lincoln Birthplace averages 200,000 people.

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site is a focal point of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commemoration scheduled from 2008 to 2010.

Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851)

Thomas Lincoln was the son of Revolutionary War veteran Abraham Lincoln and Bersheba Herring, both of Virginia. While still a youth in the 1780s, Thomas moved with his family to Kentucky, where he lived a typical settler's life. Receiving no formal education, he could nonetheless read a little and became a skilled carpenter and aspiring landowner. By all accounts, Thomas Lincoln was an active citizen of middling means.

In 1802, twenty-four-year-old Thomas moved to Hardin County, Kentucky, and in 1806 married Nancy Hanks. The couple produced three children: Sarah, Abraham, and Thomas, the last dying in infancy. In 1816, Thomas and Nancy joined the growing stream of Kentuckians then moving north of the Ohio and settled in the area of Pidgeon Creek, in Perry (later Spencer) County, Indiana.

In 1818, Nancy contracted milk sickness and died. Soon thereafter, Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. In 1830, the Lincolns moved to Macon County, then in 1831 to Coles County, Illinois, where Thomas remained the rest of his life.

Thomas and his son Abraham were never close. In his few autobiographical writings, Abraham had little good to say about his father and did not attend his funeral. Despite their strained relationship, father and son appear to have shared important characteristics - not least of which were their natural sociability, good storytelling, and Whig politics.

Thomas Lincoln

This cabinet-sized photograph was originally owned by Lieutenant O. V. Flora, who had served in the Tenth Ohio Battery from Springfield, Ohio. While in Charleston, Illinois, he bought the photograph from someone close to the Lincoln family who claimed it to be an authentic image of Thomas Lincoln.
Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Museum of Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN

The Lincolns Leave Kentucky

In a rare autobiographical statement, Abraham Lincoln wrote that his father left the Bluegrass state "partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty of land titles in Ky."


Thomas Lincoln's aversion to slavery appears to have been grounded in both religious and economic principles. Thomas and Nancy were both members of Little Mount Baptist Church, a congregation founded on antislavery principles and part of a larger network of antislavery churches in Kentucky. As the slave population in and around Hardin County increased during this period, Thomas Lincoln, a small farmer and artisan, may have feared growing competition in the labor market. Surely such worries would lessen in the newly formed "free" states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Paralleling Lincoln's own recollections, the historical record is much clearer on Thomas Lincoln's inability to secure title to the Sinking Spring farm near Hodgen's Mill - birthplace of our sixteenth president. Believing he had purchased the farm "free and clear" from Richard Mather, difficulties over the agreement soon surfaced. While embarking on what became a protracted legal process to obtain title to the land at Sinking Spring, in 1811, Thomas moved his family to the Knob Creek area, leasing thirty acres along the old Bardstown-Green River turnpike. In the fall of 1816, however, his prospects for owning land in Kentucky had all but evaporated. By December, Thomas had scouted out land in Indiana and moved his family to a new frontier.

This example of the surveying practice called "shingling" is from a manuscript collection consisting of a group of surveys and plats from various counties in Kentucky. The location of these parcels is most likely from the Spencer/Shelby County region or the Spencer/Nelson/Washington County area, based on the names and acreage allocations.
Kentucky Historical Society Collections.

Buena Vista

Buena Vista

Buena Vista, the summer home of Robert S. Todd, on Leestown Pike six miles from Frankfort, ca. 1930
Kentucky Historical Society Collections

The Todd summer home was a tall, rambling frame house surrounded by large locust trees, situated on a beautiful knoll a quarter of a mile from the highway." - William H. Townsend

Buena Vista had an eventful history. It began as a get- away summer house for the Todds but later became the principal family residence.

In 1826, a year after the death of Mary Todd's mother, Eliza (Parker) Todd, her father, Robert S. Todd, married Elizabeth L. Humphreys. In 1830, Elizabeth's uncle, James Brown, sold to her brother, David C. Humphreys, 162 acres on the Frankfort Pike about eighteen miles west of Lexington. Sometime in the 1830s-40s Robert Todd built Buena Vista, a two-story frame house, as a family summer home on this property. Mary Todd visited Buena Vista frequently as a child. Elizabeth managed the property with her brother, David, rather than with her husband. Evidently the property remained in the Humphreys family.

As a summer home, Buena Vista was the site of important comings and goings. During their month- long visit to Lexington in 1847, for example, the Lincolns visited the Todd family at Buena Vista. But significant change came quickly. Robert Todd died in 1849. In 1851, Lincoln returned to Lexington with his family to deal with a lawsuit over the Todd estate. As a result of this lawsuit, the entire estate was liquidated and the proceeds distributed to the heirs. So Elizabeth Todd could not save the Lexington home and was forced to move to Buena Vista with her children. In 1859, David and Elizabeth Humphreys sold Buena Vista.

Over the years, the property was sold several times until in 1888 the "Todd Farm," as it was referred to in the deed books, was reduced to around sixty acres. The house was razed in 1947; only part of the stone springhouse remains.

Union Military Policy in Kentucky

Union military policy in the commonwealth angered many Kentuckians and pushed Kentucky to support ex- Confederate politicians after the Civil War.

It was difficult for the Lincoln administration to handle the border state of Kentucky, which was full of pro- Union, proslavery residents. Because some Kentuckians overtly supported the Confederacy, the Federal government viewed the commonwealth with a wary eye. Lincoln worked to keep Kentuckians out of the Confederate army, but heavy-handed Union military policies sometimes alienated Kentuckians from his administration. Lincoln gave Union commanders a free hand, and usually checked abuses only if he were personally contacted.

Several military policies angered Kentuckians. Hundreds of Southern sympathizers were arrested, forced to take Union loyalty oaths, and made to pay security bonds for their future conduct. Citizens who supported guerrilla activity were arrested, and, if the property of loyal Kentuckians was damaged by guerrillas, local secessionists were forced to pay reparations. Ministers were occasionally imprisoned for giving pro-Confederate sermons, Southern-leaning newspapers were shut down, and secessionist political candidates were forced to withdraw their names from ballots. Later in the war, Kentuckians complained when more than fifty Confederate prisoners were executed in retaliation for guerrilla depredations. In several instances, Lincoln stepped in and stopped military executions.

The wartime anger of Kentuckians at Federal policies kept Kentucky in the Democratic camp for decades after the war. Kentuckians supported ex-Confederates for many political offices, including the governorship of Kentucky. Several postbellum Kentucky governors (including James B. McCreary, Luke P. Blackburn, and Simon Bolivar Buckner), congressmen, and legislators were ex-Confederate soldiers.

The Photo Gallery of Events

18th Century Living History Events

Fort Boonesborough Events

19th Century Living History Events

Civil War Living History Events

Timeline Events

Indoor Trade Events

Museums, Workshops, Schools and Other Events