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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Melville Stone

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a small unpainted rectangular wood house, withan attic under its gabled roof pitched at about 40°. It has one chimney. It is the Sarah Lincoln House near Charleston, Illinois.]

Sarah Lincoln House, near Charleston, Built 1830's.

 p48  A Famous Stepmother Lived Here

A few days before leaving his home in Springfield for the inaugural ceremonies in the nation's capital, President-elect Lincoln paid a farewell visit to his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, who was then living in a plain little clapboarded house in Coles County. That house still stands today on its original site only a few miles south of Charleston and is now a much-visited Lincoln shrine, owned and maintained by the state.

Few episodes in the life of Lincoln, according to biographers, reveal his humanness, kindness, and devotion to family more touchingly than the last meeting in this house between the tall, ungainly man and the little, white-haired woman who was his foster mother; who reared him from a boy of ten until he reached the age of twenty-one. She understood her stepson better than his own father, we are told, and this understanding was appreciated by Abe Lincoln, who remained devoted to her throughout his life. As soon as he had the means, he purchased his father's farm so that Thomas and Sarah Lincoln would have a permanent home for the rest of their days.

It was a raw day in winter when President-elect Lincoln arrived in Charleston for the meeting with his stepmother. He came in the crude  p49 caboose of a freight train, the passenger train he intended to take having missed connections at Mattoon. The story is told that when the locomotive of the freight train stopped in front of the little station at Charleston for orders, Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect of the United States, got out of the caboose and walked in mud, ice, and slush, with a shawl over his shoulders, alongside the freight cars to the station. Here, friends were waiting for him with a horse and carriage.

After stopping overnight at the home of Colonel A. H. Chapman, who had married a daughter of Dennis Hanks, a cousin of Lincoln's, the President-elect and Colonel Chapman drove a buggy to the home of Sarah Lincoln at the near-by crossroads village of Farmington, now known as Campbell. Here Sarah Lincoln — or "Sally," as she was called — greeted her famous stepson and was undoubtedly the proudest mother in America at that moment.

In his monumental six-volume biography of the Civil War President, Carl Sandburg poetically describes the meeting: "Sally Bush and he put their arms around each other and listened to each other's heartbeats. They held hands and talked, they talked without holding hands. Each looked into eyes thrust back in deep sockets. She was all of a mother to him."

Sandburg continues: "He was her boy more than any born to her. He gave her a photograph of her boy, a hungry picture of him standing and wanting, wanting. He stroked her face a last time, kissed good-by, and went away."

In Ida M. Tarbell's biography of Lincoln we are told that at that meeting Sarah Lincoln expressed fear for her stepson, saying that she was afraid she would never see him again. To this humble house on the prairies of Coles County had come rumors that Lincoln's life might be taken and these Sarah Lincoln had heard with motherly apprehension.

As subsequent events proved, her fears were well founded. She was living in this unpretentious house when the tragic news of the assassination of her stepson was brought to her in 1865. Here she continued to live until her own death in 1869. Not far away, in Shiloh Cemetery, lie her mortal remains alongside those of her husband, Thomas Lincoln.

A short distance from the Sarah Bush Lincoln dwelling is the full-sized reproduction of the Thomas Lincoln log cabin, outstanding exhibit of the eighty-six-acre Lincoln Log Cabin State Park, established as a memorial to Lincoln's father. The park comprises the major portion of Thomas Lincoln's farm. Thomas and Sarah Lincoln lived in the log cabin until the former's death in 1851. Afterward, Sarah Lincoln moved to the clapboarded dwelling.

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Page updated: 7 Dec 07