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Abraham Lincoln's Sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby

The drawing to the left depicts the first school Sarah Lincoln attended in Kentucky. The drawing to the right is the Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church which Sarah Lincoln joined on April 8, 1826.

On June 10, 1806, Thomas Lincoln of Hardin County, Kentucky, traveled to the Washington County Courthouse to obtain a bond to marry Nancy Hanks. Two days later the wedding took place in Richard Berry’s cabin located close to Beechland in Washington County, Kentucky. Reverend Jesse Head, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, performed the ceremony in the evening after a day of festivities.

The Lincolns settled in Elizabethtown. Their first home was a rustic cabin not far from the courthouse. and they celebrated the birth of their first child, Sarah, on February 10, 1807. In 1808 the Lincolns moved to the Sinking Spring Farm located on the south fork of Nolin Creek, around two and a half miles from Hodgenville, Kentucky. There a second child was born on February 12, 1809. This time the Lincolns had a boy and named him Abraham. In 1811 the Lincolns moved to the Knob Creek Farm. In 1812 a third child was born to the family, but Thomas died in infancy.

In 1815-1816 Sarah (who was often called Sally) and Abraham attended a log schoolhouse taught by Zachariah Riney and Caleb Hazel. In 1897 Susan Riney Yeager, Zachariah Riney's daughter, was interviewed by the Elizabethtown (KY) News. Here is a part of that interview:

Yes I remember Abe Lincoln well as a little bit of a fellow, she said It was what now is Larue County, but was then a part of Hardin County. Abe and I went to the same school. My father Zachariah Riney, was the teacher.

I can see the old school house now, the old lady continues with a far-away look in her eyes. It was built of rough logs, as all school houses were in those days and mostly all of the dwelling houses, daubed with mud. The school house had no windows, but one log removed the length of the building served for light and ventilation. The floor was a dirt one, leveled and beaten solid. The benches consisted of logs split in the middle and place alongside the walls. There was just one bench made of plank supported by stumps. This the privilege of sitting upon it.

The old lady laughed as her memory called her back eighty long years and evidently the senses of her childhood were vividly presented to her mind. She continued...

But you want to know about little Abe. He was then barely seven years old and I was ten. I remember his big sister bringing him to school the first day. Oh, she was fond of him, she also attended school there; and all day long, whether at lessons or at play, her careful eye was constantly watching him. She was a regular little mother to him. I have seen her on rainy days, or when the roads were muddy, carrying him in her arms to and from the school house. At playtime she would always insist that he play with her and the girls., telling him to keep away from the big boys, as they were likely to hurt him in their rough play. In those days quit a number of the scholars were full grown men.

The Lincoln children attended school in Kentucky for about three months. It was obvious Sarah was very loving and protective of her little brother. She was also learning basic housekeeping skills from her mother. Both children heard the scriptures read from the family Bible.

In 1816 the Lincolns moved to southern Indiana. They settled in the wilderness on Little Pigeon Creek in Perry (later Spencer) County. Tragedy struck in 1818 when Nancy Hanks Lincoln passed away from milk sickness. Nancy's cousin, Dennis Hanks, remembered that she called Sarah and Abraham to her bedside and asked them to be good and kind to their father, to each other, and to the world. Sarah, although still very young, now became the one woman of the household. Although she was only 11 years old she looked after such jobs as cooking, cleaning, and keeping the clothing in order. These responsibilities would last until Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston late in 1819.

With a new mother in the home Sarah and Abraham were able to attend school for brief periods. During the winter of 1820 they attended a school taught by Andrew Crawford. In 1822 Sarah and Abraham walked four miles to attend a school taught by James Swaney. In 1824 the Lincoln children attended a school taught by Azel Dorsey. Sarah continued to look after her younger brother. Elizabeth Crawford, who had hired Sarah to work in her home in 1825, told the following story to William Herndon:

Abe Lincoln was one day bothering the girls — his sister & others playing yonder and his Sister Scolded him — Saying Abe you ought to be ashamed of yourself — what do you Expect will become of you "Be Presdt of the U.S," promptly responded Abe.

Descriptions of Sarah vary although most accounts indicate she was more like her father than her mother. She was solid in build and had dark brown hair which was straight and rather course. Like Abraham she had gray eyes. Most people agreed she was good-natured, kind, and a wonderful companion for her younger brother. She had a good-humored laugh. She was a hard worker who was intelligent and modest.

On August 2, 1826, Sarah married Aaron Grigsby. Reverend Charles Harper, minister of the Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church, conducted the marriage ceremony. The Grigsby family had been neighbors of the Lincolns for many years. Sarah first met Aaron in late 1816 when the two were at the wash-place below the spring on the Grigsby's property. When they first met Aaron was 15 and Sarah was 9. For years the two met regularly at the spring on washdays. Once Elizabeth Crawford's four-year-old son saw the couple together and said to his mother, "I saw Aaron sparking Sally (Sarah). I saw him kiss her."

Sarah and Aaron moved to a new cabin only two miles from the Lincoln home. Sarah became pregnant in 1827. In January, 1828, Sarah experienced severe labor problems. Aaron ran to his parents house for help. Eventually Sarah was loaded onto a sled and taken to the Grigsby home. A doctor and several midwives were called, but it was too late. On Sunday, January 20, 1828, Sarah died in childbirth. Her child, a boy, was stillborn. She was only 20 years old. When Abraham heard the sad news he buried his face in his hands and his body shook with sobs. He had been very close to his sister, and her passing profoundly impacted him.

No photographs of Sarah exist. The first American daguerreotypes were made in 1839, 11 years after her untimely death.

Sources: The Women Lincoln Loved by William E. Barton (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1927), Of Rustic Eloquence: Lincoln and the People by Lynda la' Suisse Smith (2009), Lincoln's Boyhood: A Chronicle of His Indiana Years by Francis Marion Van Natter (Washington, D.C., Public Affairs Press, 1963), Following Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865 by Bernhardt Wall (New York, Wise-Parslow Company, 1943), Lincoln's Youth Indiana Years 1816-1830 by Louis A. Warren (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Society, 1991), Herndon's Informants edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis (Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1998) and The Women in Lincoln's Life by H. Donald Winkler (Nashville, Rutledge Hill Press, 2001).

All of the drawings on this page came from Bernhardt Wall's Following Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865. Also, I would like to thank Diane Hosek, Susan Riney's great-great-great granddaughter, for sending me the interview with Susan Riney Yeager. Diane’s aunt, Martina Barker Aldred, discovered the interview.

Sarah Lincoln Grigsby was buried with her stillborn baby boy in the churchyard behind the Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church. Aaron Grigsby, who died in 1833, was buried beside her. Their graves are located within the boundary of Lincoln State Park in Lincoln City, Indiana.

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