Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Full Version: Lincoln boyhood cabin article
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Here's a very interesting article, well worth reading:
Thanks for the link Steve. Tarbell was deeply involved in the issue of the log cabin. The following is part of an early draft of my book when it was about Tarbell and Lincoln.


Much of the nation’s focus in 1909, and Tarbell’s as well, centered on a small piece of land in Hodgenville, Kentucky where Lincoln was born. Collier’s Magazine publisher Robert J. Collier bought the Sinking Spring Farm for $3,600 on August 28, 1905 at the urging of Richard Lloyd Jones, who took care of the transaction on his behalf. Jones wrote Tarbell a year later asking to meet her and discuss the farm and its future. During that discussion, Tarbell agreed to serve on the board of directors of the nascent Lincoln Farm Association, organized and funded by Collier.
After Thomas Lincoln lost the farm and the family moved to Knob Creek, the 300 acres which had comprised the property were parceled out to various individuals. The site where the Lincoln cabin was said to have stood was purchased by a man named R. A. Creal. Later the property was purchased by Major S.P. Gross. After letting it remain inactive, Gross sold his land to restaurateur Alfred W. Dennett, who planned to turn the property into a money-making venture. At the time of the sale, there was no cabin on the site.

On August 29, 1895, Dennett announced plans to build a log cabin in the same spot where the original cabin stood, built “of the identical logs that were in the original cabin.” Logs from an old cabin standing nearby the site were purchased and a cabin was built by the Sinking Spring.
In November 1895 in the inaugural article in McClure’s Magazine on the early life of Lincoln, a picture appears, purported to be the birthplace cabin. In the caption below it notes that while the cabin “was long ago torn down…the logs were saved.” The picture of the cabin came from a set of pictures taken by Russell T. Evans, a photographer hired by Dennett’s agent James W. Bigham to create photos that would be used as promotional material to advertise the site. During her visit to Kentucky doing research for the series, Tarbell likely met with Evans (with Bigham’s guidance) and from him, she obtained the photograph used in the McClure’s article.
In spite of financial difficulties which plagued the Lincoln Farm Association, and questions surrounding whether logs that were being paraded around the east coast were genuinely from Lincoln’s birthplace cabin, a celebration was finally held on a rainy February 12, 1909 in which President Theodore Roosevelt helped lay the cornerstone for a memorial building which enclosed what was touted as the birthplace of Lincoln. Tarbell, whose participation up to that point with the Lincoln Farm Association had been limited to writing short editorial pieces, did not attend the ceremony.

Questions about the authenticity of the cabin were hardly stilled in spite of twelve affidavits collected in 1907 by Williams and Handley, a Hodgenville law firm hired by the Lincoln Farm Association. Three years later, and a year after the cornerstone laying, Richard Lloyd Jones asked Tarbell to look over the affidavits and give her opinion on the cabin. Jones told Tarbell that he had also solicited and received opinions from Harvard Professor Albert Bushnell Hart, Yale’s George B. Adams, and Frederick Jackson Turner of the University of Wisconsin. All three academics agreed, Jones said, that “these affidavits proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the cabin in the possession of the Lincoln Farm Association was genuine.”
Tarbell examined the affidavits and announced, “It seems to me that there is little reasonable doubt that the cabin is constructed in the main from the logs of the original cabin; that these logs were taken from the farm in 1860 to what was known as the Davenport Farm; that this structure was sold in the early ‘90s and moved back to the Lincoln Farm.” Tarbell noted that the idea the logs were part of an outbuilding wasn’t sound, given that outbuildings of that era were not made of such substantial logs. “Comparisons with other cabins known to be of the period show that they are of the same general type as this structure.”
Roy Hays, writing in the September 1948 Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, checked with the office of the Chief Historian of the National Park Service, the War Department (which took over the site in 1916), and the National Archives and could find no written opinion by any of the four. At the time of his article’s publication Tarbell had been dead for four years, and her papers were at Allegheny College, which would explain why he found nothing from her at any of the locations he checked. Turner had discussed the authenticity of the cabin sometime around 1906 and agreed that “the cabin in question was of the type and in the general vicinity of that in which Lincoln was born. But he could not say it was the original cabin and doubted whether anyone else could.”
Given that at the time of Jones’s statement, the three academic historians were still very much alive and able to deny they had ever said anything of the sort, it seems unlikely that Jones invented the claim. In December 1909, Hart made a statement, picked up by the national press, that “The pressing danger of the Republic is inaccuracy. Even historical scholars are not without their failings, their prejudices and their falsehoods.” Had a falsehood been attributed to him, it seems likely he and the other two would have categorically denied it in a very public manner. Even the federal government never questioned the legitimacy of the cabin until Hays published his article. As National Park Service Historian Gloria Peterson wrote in 1968, the site, under the unwatchful eye of the War Department, was hardly maintained, let alone properly interpreted.
That Tarbell did no detailed research into the affidavits seems obvious. In addition to being embroiled in the subscription edition, she was working on the series of articles that appeared in the American and would later become The Tariff in Our Times. It appears that she relied on her time spent in Kentucky in the 1890s and with the information supplied to her by Evans and Bigham. But while James G. Randall would in 1936 use the birthplace saga as yet another example of what passed for Lincoln scholarship in America at the hands of the amateur, it should be noted that Tarbell wasn’t the only one duped. So were Hart, Turner and Adams and, worst of all, so was the federal government.
Here's a companion video to Steve's post from CBS Sunday Morning posted on Youtube from Feb 11, 2018 about the Lincoln Cabins.
Reference URL's