Daily Archives: June 29, 2009

Yep, he was born in Kentucky

At a speaking engagement this weekend somebody asked me whether I believe Abraham Lincoln was born in North Carolina.  I don’t.

The story is that Lincoln’s biological father was a North Carolinian named Abraham Enloe (or Enlow, depending on who’s doing the telling).  After Enloe fathered a child with Nancy Hanks, he passed her and the kid off to Thomas Lincoln, who was supposedly in the Tar Heel State at the time.

We can document Thomas Lincoln’s whereabouts for the period in question (as for much of his life), and he wasn’t in North Carolina.  As far as anyone can tell, he never set foot in the state during his entire life.

There were a number of women named Nancy Hanks living in North Carolina during this era, and Enloe enthusiasts often assume that one of them just had to be Lincoln’s mom.  If this line of reasoning is correct, then that would make me an evolutionary biologist, a philosopher, an energy analyst, a cartoonist, an Irish politician, and not one but two deceased baseball players.  (I’ve lived a remarkably full life.)

As for the Nancy Hanks who married Thomas Lincoln, we have no evidence placing her in North Carolina at the time that Abraham Enloe supposedly impregnated her, but we do have evidence that places her in Kentucky shortly thereafter.  If you’re going to conceive a child with someone, it helps to be in the same state.

One bit of evidence often cited in favor of the Enloe theory is Lincoln’s physical resemblance to members of the family.  Unfortunately, this argument also applies to Thomas Lincoln, who of course has the benefit of the documentary record on his side.

Other problems include the information we have on Lincoln’s older sister, the year in which Lincoln left home to strike out on his own, and documentary evidence written by Lincoln himself.  This essay by Lincoln researcher Ed Steers covers the discrepancies clearly and concisely.

I think the Enloe theory has a lot more to do with wishful thinking than it does with scholarship.  If I were you, I’d skip that family vacation to the Bostic Lincoln Center and drive on up to Hodgenville, instead.


Filed under Abraham Lincoln