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.