Archive for September 9th, 2009


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: There I Grew Up

September 9, 2009

The long weekend gave me the chance to finish William E. Bartelt’s book on Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana years. At almost exactly the time when Indiana became a state (Dec. 1816), the Lincoln family moved across the Ohio River to their new home in southwestern Indiana. Abe was 7 years old. He remained a Hoosier until the Lincolns moved west to Illinois when he was 21.

Bartelt has collected much of the original source material related to what we know about Lincoln in Indiana, but he has also researched and interpreted those stories and testimonies, with additions and corrections. The result is a readable, well-illustrated text that describes this extraordinary individual in the context of his family, his community, and his moment in Indiana history.

Hoosier Youth by Manship

Hoosier Youth by Manship

Lincoln wrote about himself: “We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up.” And also: “He settled in an unbroken forest; and the clearing away of surplus wood was the great task ahead. A. though very young, was large of his age, and had an axe put into his hands at once . . . .” The natural environment and frontier conditions were primitive, but soon a small community around Little Pigeon Creek began to form as families claimed land in early Perry and Spencer counties.

If young Abe had an axe in one hand, he had a book in the other. With little formal education, he nonetheless learned to read, write, and cipher. Determined to improve himself, he read all the books he could beg or borrow. Bartelt provides a list of books he probably read, including Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and biographies of Washington and Ben Franklin. Abe also read newspapers and wrote essays (on temperance and animal cruelty, for example). Popular and well able to hold an audience, he used his natural gifts to entertain and to persuade by making speeches and telling stories.

It was both a privilege and a pleasure to spend some time getting to know a young man on his way to history and a young state on its way from woods to fields.

William E. Bartelt. “There I Grew Up”: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.