The Vault

Abe Lincoln’s Log Cabin: Solo Feat or Community Effort?

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Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln in a modest, one-room log cabin in 1809, and within a few years the family built another log cabin near Knob Creek Farm, Ky.  Fleeing a land dispute—and, in smaller part, protesting Kentucky’s use of slaves—Thomas moved his family in 1816 to what is now Spencer County, Ind., where they lived in yet more log cabins.

During the 14 years Abraham lived in Spencer County, did he build the cabin pictured here by himself, as the scrawled note at the bottom of this undated photo by C.S. Bradford suggests?

Rangers and interpreters at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County find the handwritten claim highly suspect, for a number of pragmatic reasons.

Building a log cabin was, by nature of the arduous task, a collective effort, usually led by the eldest participant. Axe men felled trees and cut them into logs, which oxen dragged to the cabin site. After all four walls were erected, an axe was used to fashion a hole for the door, windows, and chimney—all of which were made with whatever materials were available. Much time was devoted to chinking and daubing the spaces and cracks between each log.

Thomas Lincoln, a skilled carpenter, was rumored to be able to erect a cabin from the ground up in a mere four days, but he probably did so with the teenaged Abraham holding up the other end of each heavy log as they stacked them, one by one. Neighbors were likely present as well, hoping the favor would be returned later.

Thanks to the staff of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

“Log cabin built by Abraham Lincoln in Spencer Co., Ind.” Charles Sydney Bradford. New York Public Library Digital Collections.