Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Abraham Lincoln Enloe?

Tom Melton

Abraham Lincoln is in the newspaper every day.

He is, really. Not in every newspaper, of course, but if you scan enough papers you will find him.

Today, a story in The Star in Cleveland County, North Carolina caught my eye.

Tom Melton (pictured above) passed away on Sunday at the age of 88. The paper praised his efforts in establishing a new non-profit museum near Bostic, NC called The Lincoln Center.

I wanted to know more about the Lincoln Center in North Carolina, so I visited their website. I was very interested in what I found.

If you believe that Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, the Lincoln Center says you are mistaken.

"There is substantial evidence that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th prsident of the United States, was born not in Kentucky, but on Puzzle Creek near Bostic, North Carolina, in Rutherford County," claims the website.

I admit, I was skeptical. I decided to examine the "substantial evidence." I encourage you to read it for yourself and form your own interpretation, but I'll share my impressions with you.

First, a synopsis. The ideological godfather of the Lincoln Center appears to be James H. Cathey, who in 1899, authored a book called The Genesis of Lincoln. He argued that the sixteenth president's father was not Thomas Lincoln, but a fellow named Abraham Enloe.

Sometime in the 1890s, Cathey tracked down Enloe's last surviving child, an 88 year old man named Wesley, who apparently knew how to tell a good story.

Wesley explained that Nancy Hanks had worked as a servant girl on the Enloe farm when she became pregnant. When Wesley's mother found out that her husband was the father of Nancy's unborn child, she was understandably outraged. She fired Nancy and banished her from the Enloe farm.

Enloe reportedly hired a family to take care of her. They soon sent word that Nancy had delivered a baby boy in North Carolina. She named him after his father, Abraham.

Though Wesley was born after all of this occured, he claimed he had "a vivid recollection of hearing the name Nancy Hanks frequently mentioned when I was a boy." Though he had never heard his father talk about the episode, Wesley had "no doubt" that he had fathered her child.

Cathey found another source named Joseph A. Collins who claimed he met a man named Judge Gilmore in 1867. Gilmore reportedly told Collins that he knew Nancy Hanks while she lived in North Carolina. He claimed that she had a young child, a boy named Abraham, before she moved to Kentucky.

So, as the story goes, on June 12, 1806 in Kentucky, Thomas Lincoln married Nancy Hanks, the mother of a two or three year old baby boy.

Where do I begin with this one?

I suppose the sources are a good place to start. Wesley was not even born when his father's supposed infidelity took place. He had heard stories and somehow connected the name of Nancy Hanks to the episode. Even if he was correct, what evidence do we have that the girl named Nancy Hanks was indeed the same Nancy Hanks that gave birth to the future president? Moreover, if the interview took place in 1899, then that means Wesley was telling us about something that happend more than 90 years ago!

Similarly, the Collins-Gilmore testimony is problematic. To accept it in full, we must believe some really fantastic details. First, we must believe that Collins is accurately describing what Judge Gilmore told him during a brief encounter more than 30 years ago.

Second, if we accept the accuracy of Collins' memory, then we must also accept the power of Judge Gilmore's memory: he was able to recall a woman he knew in North Carolina some 60 years ago.

Third, if we accept both of those details, then we must also believe that the woman Gilmore knew was indeed Nancy Hanks, the same woman who was the future president's mother. However, we know there were other women with the same name. In fact, the president's mother was related to at least one other woman named Nancy Hanks! Needless to say, Lincoln genealogy is very confusing; yet, we must accept that the Nancy Hanks Gilmore met was the future president's mother.

Fourth, we must also believe that Nancy Hanks' child, Abraham, was the future president. This means Lincoln's traditional birth date, February 12, 1809, is simply wrong. Either he never knew when he was born or he was being dishonest when he cited it. At any rate, Gilmore says Nancy had her son, Abraham, before she married Thomas Lincoln on June 12, 1806. Sorry bicentennial folks, the big event already happened!

Fifth, and to me most incredibly, we must totally deny the existence of Lincoln's older sister, Sarah! How does she fit into this story? Advocates of the Enloe theory do not mention her, yet Lincoln, as well as dozens of eye-witnesses throughout Herndon's Informants, absolutely document her existence! If Nancy gave birth to Abraham out of wedlock, was Enloe also Sarah's father or was it some other North Carolinian? Moreover, why doesn't anyone mention the existence of a little girl with Nancy and young Abraham in North Carolina?

For a full examination of the Enloe theory, I encourage you to read William E. Barton's The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln. Though it was written in 1920, I think it does a fine job of chronicling, as well as debunking, the many theories about Lincoln's parents.

Though I don't believe that Lincoln was born in North Carolina, I sincerely wish the folks at the Bostic Lincoln Center the best of luck. It is not easy to get a museum off the ground and I admire their hard work and determination.

While the Lincoln Center advocates for a North Carolinian Lincoln birthplace, it may indeed evolve in the future. A museum in a former Confederate state, for instance, devoted to Lincoln's parents: Nancy, Thomas, and Sarah Bush Johnston (Lincoln's step mother) would be interesting to say the least!

The Lincoln Center will hold an open house on March 12 from 10:30 am to 3 pm. The museum dedication is April 12. For more information, send them an email.

15 comments:

ancestor said...

There is a book by a couple of professors which has a picture of an Enloe and it looks startingly like Lincoln. It also has a picture of Lincoln's father Tom and it looks nothing like Lincoln. And as we know, Lincoln had little use for his father. And Lincoln's lawpartner Herndon wrote about it and apparently believed Tom was not his father. You can get the book on Amazon.

John McKinsey said...

I am the author of a historical mystery adventure novel (The Lincoln Secret) that takes place in modern day and involves characters unraveling real mysteries including this one.

While I agree that the evidence does not prove that Abe was an Enloe, I find it amazing how readily people assume that an already accepted historical theory is accurate.

Look closely at the accepted theory and you will discover there is no contemporaneous evidence for it either. The best we can say is that Abraham Lincoln probably believed and certainly officially told others that he was the son of Thomas Lincoln. But he might have been the last to know the truth. Bottom line is that short of DNA testing, it is a mystery with most of the world accepting the standard story that Abraham Lincoln was the son of Thomas Lincoln with out really personally examining and weighing the evidence in support of that theory.
A good historian starts with a blank slate, gets original documents, considers all evidence in the context of its timing, source, and verifiability, and then writes an opinion supported by evidence and explanatory of why the historian belives a particular version to be true vice others.

Anonymous said...

while reading Herndon's Life of Lincoln I came across Herndon's description of a conversation he had with Lincoln's step mother. The fact is that Lincoln's step mother mentions the Enloe family. I don't have the book with me and I don't have the exact page but this can be found by anyone reading that particular book. If Lincoln was not related to the Enloes in some way why does his step mother bring them up?

Anonymous said...

I was led to believe at some point in my life that Lincoln's sister was younger than he.

Anonymous said...

I live in the area where the Enloe's come from. That story has been told for many, many years and hasn't changed a bit. We know the truth in NC, despite what historians want you to think. As a child growing up in school, we were often told of Abraham Lincoln's "real" father, we would visit his grave, but no one explained to us the name difference. He is buried in Murphy, NC in the one of the town's oldest cemetaries. My question is, why are we so quick to believe what is printed in history books when we are aware that historians have written certain aspects of the past untruthfully. I say.....do a DNA test and put the truth to rest.

Loretta Lynn Layman said...

One of the arguments for the Enloe story is President Lincoln's complete lack of resemblance to Thomas Lincoln. That argument simply ignores the other half of the President's genetic make-up - his mother, Nancy Hanks. In fact, however, I have a copy of a photograph of Josiah Lincoln, brother of Thomas Lincoln, which truly does bear a striking resemblance to President Lincoln. I'm happy to give my URL to anyone interested in seeing a photo comparison. The page also explains why we should doubt the claims of William Herndon, President Lincoln's former law partner.

Anonymous said...

One correction - the photograph I mentioned is of Josiah Lincoln's son, Jacob Lincoln. Jacob and President Lincoln would have been first cousins.

Anonymous said...

Oops - how did that happen? (Always preview!) I am not anonymous. I am Loretta.

jamckinsey said...

Never hestitate to question the supposedly "established" history. Often you will discover that it is anything but "established" or "proven". After almost a full year of book talks and lectures on my novel and its connection to the Enloe theory, and having lots of vigorous debates, I still have yet to see any conclusive evidence for either theroy. Truth is that both our accepted theory and the Enloe theory of oral histories with equal evidentiary support. That tells me both should be in history books.

Anonymous said...

My Mother told me when I was young that her Uncle on her Mother's side was related to Abraham Lincoln. He was named Abraham Lincoln Enloe. My Mother was born Irene Fuller in Oklahoma in December of 1895. My Grandmother Fuller died of TB in 1910 and her brother Uncle Abe lived many more years. He had a son and daughter and was murdered along with his son while on horses in Texas. My Great Grandfather was a Enloe. It is all interesting to me. My Mother died just before turning 97 but she never forgot anything.
C. Gustafson

Anonymous said...

Abraham Enloe and Nancy Hanks's story is remarkably similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Patty Baena's story! Both have sons. Unlike like Arnold, Abraham Enloe did not even divorce from his wife Sarah.

Anonymous said...

Stories like this one are not uncommon in human history. Many people believe history began on their own birth date. My family roots are from this area of North Carolina and I have heard this story bantered about many, many times at what is called “Home Coming” in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in NC. As for me I believe it because people have been he-ing and she-ing for a long time!

Jessica Brown said...

I am an Enloe and my family is from Rutherfordton, NC. I live about 30 minutes from there now & don't go back much now since my Grandparents have both passed. I am willing to donate my DNA if we can convince the government to dig up ol' Abe! Would love to know the truth myself! :-)

Annis Ward Jackson said...

Let me state upfront that I am the author of an historical novel (Into The Twilight: The True Origins of Abe Lincoln). The story concerns Abe Lincoln only until he leaves Kentucky to move to Indiana. The rest of the story concerns the Enloes and Nancy Hanks.

I was born in Watauga County, in the north west North Carolina mountains, quite a distance from Rutherford County. When I was ten years old, (56 years ago) I told my grandmother we were studying the "War Between the States," (a title she insisted upon) and Abraham Lincoln. I expected her to make some negative statement about Lincoln. Instead, she said, "Old Abe wasn't all bad. You know, he was born in North Carolina."

That remark remained with me but not until I began to read about the Rutherford connection did I wonder how my grandmother, that far away from Rutherford County, had heard that particular story.

Later, I learned that some family members had moved to Madison County, and other points south of us in the late 1800's and must have heard the story and repeated it to the cousins they left behind.

I became intrigued with the story and the more I researched the more convinced I was that it had a sound basis.

Maybe when DNA is done (and it will, eventually) we will know the truth. Some of us will not be surprised.

Anonymous said...

Really? I study family history based on facial and body structure resemblance . I think I can help .