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Lincoln’s Indiana Legacy: Historians Preserve His Boyhood Years

A statue of young Abraham Lincoln near the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

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President Abraham Lincoln looms large in our nation’s history, and for that very reason, many states lay claim to Lincoln as part of their own history.

But Lincoln might have been more of a Hoosier than people realize.

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County, Indiana commemorates the time our 16th president spent in the state from age 7 to 21.

A log cabin, a smokehouse and a living farm can all be found at the national memorial. Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management at the memorial, Mike Capps says these buildings were constructed in an effort to recreate the kind of life our 16th president lived for fourteen years of his life.

“This is an area where we talk about the pioneer life of Abraham Lincoln, his early years in Indiana,” he says.

Abraham Lincoln’s family moved to Spencer County Indiana in 1816, the year Indiana became a state.

Indiana State Museum Curator Dale Ogden says Lincoln’s story is like many pioneers of the time, who regularly packed up their belongings and moved just to survive.

“It was a difficult life, trying to eke out a living on the frontier, and Indiana was the American frontier during the time that the Lincoln’s lived in the state,” he says.

But Lincoln’s Indiana heritage isn’t always discussed as a big part of the president’s life.

While Kentucky is known as the Birthplace of Lincoln, and Illinois calls itself the land of Lincoln, Indiana chose the moniker, “Lincoln’s Boyhood Home,” a name that isn’t always clear.

“The 14 years that he spent in IN, you can say Lincoln Boyhood home, but what does that mean? Does that mean he lived here for 2 years? Does it mean he lived here for 20 years? Did he come when he was 2? Did he come when he was 15?” Ogden says.

To add to the confusion, there aren’t many physical artifacts to link Abraham Lincoln to his time in Indiana.

On the frontier, pioneers like the Lincolns would have used tools until they were no longer usable or even refashioned them into something else. What is left is few and far between, like several cabinets built by Abraham’s father, Thomas, and a bench mallet that once belonged to the president.

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Although, his things may be hard to stumble across, his family is still present in Indiana.

Megan Fernandez grew up in southern Indiana and is one of Lincoln’s closest living relatives. Her great, great, great, great, great grandfather was Josiah Lincoln, uncle to Abraham, making the president her 1st cousin, 7 times removed.

“My mom’s family is named Lincoln, so I had a grandma Lincoln,” she says. “So it was always very present, but it wasn’t something we talked about very much.”

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Sometimes it’s hard for her to feel connected to her distant relative because of a lack of documentation about the time period. But Fernandez remembers one moment, when she visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois and saw a statue of Lincoln. She saw her family’s features in his face.

“It wasn’t just that I had a connection to this person, he’s one of my family members, he’s not, to me, primarily a president of the United states, he’s my cousin,” she says.

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Getting people to see Lincoln as a real person, rather than a figure in our country’s history is all part of Capps’ job at the national memorial. He thinks more efforts to educate the public about Lincoln’s life in Indiana will help people embrace him as a part of the state’s history.

“What we try to do here is get people to think of him in different terms, personalize him a little bit, think of him as a young boy. and to learn about these experience that he was having, and to help them understand how these experiences shaped him,” he says.

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