Nancy Lincoln

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Nancy Lincoln
Nancy Hanks

February 5, 1784
DiedOctober 5, 1818(1818-10-05) (aged 34)
Cause of deathMilk sickness
Known forMother of Abraham Lincoln
(m. 1806)
Parent(s)Lucy Hanks (mother), daughter of Ann Lee and Joseph Hanks

Nancy Hanks Lincoln (February 5, 1784 – October 5, 1818) was the mother of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Her marriage to Thomas Lincoln also produced a daughter, Sarah, and a son, Thomas Jr. When Nancy and Thomas had been married for just over 10 years, the family moved from Kentucky to western Perry County, Indiana, in 1816. When Spencer County was formed in 1818, the Lincoln Homestead lay within its current boundaries. Nancy Lincoln died from milk sickness or consumption in 1818 at the Little Pigeon Creek Community in Spencer County when Abraham was nine years old.


Early life and education[edit]

Early home of Nancy Hanks Lincoln in Springfield, Kentucky

Nancy's mother, by popular theory among historians and genealogists, and supported by a mtDNA study in 2015,[1][2] was Lucy Hanks, who later married Henry Sparrow in 1790 in Mercer County, Kentucky.[3][4][5][nb 1]

Abraham Lincoln's law partner William Herndon reported that Lincoln told him that his maternal grandfather was "a well-bred Virginia farmer or planter."[8] According to William E. Barton in The Life of Abraham Lincoln and Michael Burkhimer in 100 Essential Lincoln Books, Nancy was most likely born illegitimate and her family created stories to lead Abraham to believe he was a legitimate member of the Sparrow family.[9]

It is believed that Nancy Hanks' grandparents were Ann and Joseph Hanks and that they raised her from infancy until her grandfather died when she was about nine years old.[10][11] At the time of Nancy's birth, Joseph and his wife and children were all living on 108 acres near Patterson Creek in then-Hampshire County, Virginia. In March 1784, Joseph Hanks sold his property via a mortgage and moved his wife, eight children and young granddaughter Nancy to Kentucky.[12][13]

The family lived on land along Pottinger's Creek, in a settlement called Rolling Fork in Nelson County, Kentucky, until patriarch Joseph's death in 1793. Nancy's grandmother, who was called by the more formal name Ann rather than the common nickname of Nancy, decided to return to her homeland, Farnham parish in Virginia. At that time, Nancy went to live with her mother, now Lucy Hanks Sparrow,[14] having married Henry Sparrow in Harrodsburg, Kentucky two or three years earlier.[11][15][16][17][18][19][20]

After Lucy's sister Elizabeth Hanks married Henry Sparrow's brother Thomas in Mercer County, Kentucky in 1796, Nancy, now about age 12, went to live with the couple, whom she called mother and father. She was known as Nancy Sparrow[11][15][17][18][19][20] and was described as "intelligent, deeply religious, kindly and affectionate." Lucy's sister gave birth to an illegitimate son in 1799 named Dennis Friend Hanks, who was also raised by Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow.[21]

At the home of Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow, Nancy would have learned the skills and crafts a woman needed on the frontier to cultivate crops and clothe and feed her family. She learned to read the Bible and became an excellent seamstress, working at the Richard Berry home before her marriage.[22]

Lucy's marriage to Henry Sparrow produced eight children, and Lucy had a reputation as a "fine Christian woman." Two sons were loyal to the Union during the Civil War and were preachers.[10][18]

Timeline of events and relationships[edit]

Grandparents Joseph and Ann Hanks
Mother Lucy
Eliz. & Thomas
Sparrow and/or Berry home
Married to Thomas Lincoln
While grandfather is alive
Unclear (1)
Unclear (2)
Marriage until death
(1) It is unclear whether Nancy Hanks lived the entire three years (1793–1796) with her mother prior to moving in with her aunt, Elizabeth Hanks, and newly married uncle, Thomas Sparrow; (2) It is unclear when Nancy went to work for the Berrys.

Marriage and family[edit]

Rear of the Lincoln Marriage Temple, which shelters the cabin in which Thomas Lincoln married Nancy Hanks. Built in 1931, it is part of Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

On June 12, 1806, Hanks married Thomas Lincoln at Beechland,[23] the home of Richard Berry, by Reverend Jesse Head.[15][16] Nancy was brought to the home to work as a seamstress by her friend Polly Ewing Berry, the wife of Richard Berry Jr. since October 10, 1794. Polly was a friend of Nancy's from Mercer County, Kentucky, and Richard Berry Jr. was a good friend of Thomas Lincoln.[24][25] Lincoln proposed to her in his childhood home at what is now Lincoln Homestead State Park[26] or in the Francis Berry house in front of the fireplace.[27]

Nancy's marriage bond was signed by Richard Berry Jr., who identified himself as her guardian.[10][15] Per Warren, "The title had no legal significance, Berry having never been so appointed, and Nancy Hanks was then of age. But to him to call himself 'guardian' was a courtesy customary under such circumstances [no father able to sign the marriage bond]."[24] A record of their marriage license is held at the county courthouse.

They had three children:

  • Sarah Lincoln (February 10, 1807 – January 20, 1828)
  • Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865)
  • Thomas Lincoln Jr. (died in infancy, 1812)

The young family lived in what was then Hardin County, Kentucky, (now LaRue) on the Knob Creek Farm. Neighbors reported[28] that Nancy Hanks Lincoln was "superior" to her husband, a mild yet strong personality who taught young Abraham his letters as well as the extraordinary sweetness and forbearance for which he was known.[29] In 1816, the year that Indiana became the 19th state, the Lincoln family moved to Spencer County in southern Indiana and proceeded to homestead at Little Pigeon Creek Settlement (now Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial). Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow and Dennis Hanks settled at Little Pigeon Creek the following fall, having lived in a shelter in which the Lincolns had lived until they built their cabin. While Abraham was ten years younger than his second cousin Dennis, the boys were good friends.[30][31]


William Herndon, author of Life of Lincoln, describes Nancy Hanks Lincoln:

She was above the ordinary height in stature, weighed about 130 pounds, was slenderly built, and had much the appearance of one inclined to consumption. Her skin was dark; hair dark brown; eyes gray and small; forehead prominent; face sharp and angular, with a marked expression for melancholy which fixed itself in the memory of all who ever saw or knew her. Though her life was clouded by a spirit of sadness, she was in disposition amiable and generally cheerful.[32][nb 2]

Nancy was also described as "a bold, reckless, daredevil kind of woman, stepping on to the very verge of propriety."[33]

Abraham Lincoln inherited his mother's appearance[33] and manner. She was "mild, tender, and intellectually inclined."[34]


Nancy Hanks Lincoln Gravestone

While living at Little Pigeon Creek Settlement, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on October 5, 1818, age 34. Her nine-year-old son Abraham assisted his father in the making of her coffin by whittling the wooden pegs that held the planks together. Eleven-year-old Sarah cared for Abraham until their father remarried the next year.[35][36]

There are two views as to the cause of Nancy Hanks Lincoln's death. One view is that she died of "milk sickness." Several people had died that fall from the illness, including Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow, who raised her and then lived with her on the Lincolns' property at the Little Pigeon Creek settlement. The Sparrows died in September, weeks before Nancy's death, and Dennis moved in with the Lincolns.[36][37][38][nb 3] The illness was caused by drinking the milk or eating the meat of cows that had eaten white snakeroot. The plant contains the potent toxin tremetol, which is passed through the milk.[40] The migrants from the East were unfamiliar with the Midwestern plant and its effects. In the 19th century before people understood the cause of the illness, thousands in the Midwest died of milk sickness.[41]

The second view is that Nancy died of consumption. In 1870 Lincoln's law partner and biographer, William Herndon, wrote to fellow Lincoln biographer Ward Lamon saying that "Mrs. Lincoln died as said by some with the milk sickness, some with a galloping quick consumption",[42] i.e. a wasting disease[43] or tuberculosis. It has also been theorized that Nancy Lincoln had a marfanoid body habitus (or a marfanoid type of physique) with the same unusual facial features as her son.[44] This theory suggests that she died of cancer (which is a wasting disease) related to multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2b (MEN2B), and that she passed the gene for this syndrome to her son (see Medical and mental health of Abraham Lincoln).[44]

Nancy's grave is located in what has been named the Pioneer Cemetery,[45] also known as the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Cemetery.[46] Her headstone was purchased by P. E. Studebaker, an industrialist from South Bend, in 1878.[47] At least 20 unmarked and eight marked graves are at the site; Nancy Lincoln is buried next to Nancy Rusher Brooner, a neighbor who died a week before Nancy from milk sickness. Henry Brooner, Nancy Brooner's son and best childhood friend of Abraham Lincoln, later recalled, "I remember very distinctly that when Mrs. Lincoln's grave was filled, my father, Peter Brooner, extended his hand to Thomas Lincoln and said, 'We are brothers now', meaning that they were brothers in the same kind of sorrow. The bodies of my mother and Mrs. Lincoln were conveyed to their graves on sleds."[46][48] Her aunt and uncle Elizabeth (Hanks) and Thomas Sparrow, also her childhood caregivers, are buried nearby.[46] The cemetery is located on the grounds of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, a National Historic Landmark District managed by the National Park Service in present-day Lincoln City, Indiana.[47]


Memorial to Nancy Hanks in Mineral County, West Virginia, at the site of her birth.

If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She'd ask first
"Where's my son?
What's happened to Abe?
What's he done?"... ...
"You wouldn't know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?"[52]

  • North Spencer School Corporation, in Spencer County, Indiana, opened the Nancy Hanks Elementary School around 1990.[53]
  • In November 2008, the Mineral County Historical Society and the Mineral County Historic Landmarks Commission officially recognized the researched site of the birthplace of Nancy Hanks in Mineral County, West Virginia, which was first identified in 1929. They had a memorial placed at the site.[54]
  • On February 12, 2009, on the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution recognizing Nancy Hanks Lincoln for her contributions and her birth site in Mineral County.[54]
  • A rest station on Interstate 64 in Dale, Indiana is named for Nancy Hanks. In January 2019, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced plans to shut down the rest station because of low usage.[55]

Notable relatives[edit]

  • Nancy Hanks is a third cousin four times removed of actor, producer, writer and director Tom Hanks.[56]
  • Through his mother's Hanks bloodline, George Clooney is related to Nancy Hanks through Lucy Hanks Sparrow and Henry Sparrow's daughter, Mary Ann Sparrow, a half-sister to Nancy Hanks. Mary Ann Sparrow was Clooney's fourth great-grandmother.[57]
  • Camille Cosby, wife of Bill Cosby, was born Camille Olivia Hanks, a distant cousin of Nancy Hanks.


The Hanks–Lincoln wedding was portrayed in a play called Dearly Beloved: The Vows of a Lincoln Legacy to kick off a three-year bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln's life. The play was held at the Lincoln Homestead State Park in Springfield, Kentucky.[58][59]

Nancy is portrayed by Maria Hill in the Daniel Boone episode "Before the Tall Man."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Independent researchers determined in 2015 that Nancy Hanks Lincoln was the daughter of Lucey Hanks, the daughter of farmers Anna Lee and Joseph Hanks from the Nancy Hanks Lincoln mtDNA Study.[6] The information was published in For the People, a newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association. Gene By Gene Ltd. in Houston, Texas performed the lab testing using mtDNA from five matrilineal descendants of Joseph and Ann Lee Hanks. However, it has not been published in a peer-reviewed scholarly scientific journal.[7] The article states, "Because there are no living descendants in the Nancy Hanks Lincoln / Abraham Lincoln / Robert T. Lincoln line, nor any extant DNA chain for them, it is possible only to analyze data from daughters, sisters, or aunts of Sarah Hanks, Lucey Hanks, or Ann Lee Hanks."[7]
  2. ^ William Herndon's accounts of Nancy Hanks Lincoln are based upon interviews with Dennis Hanks, who lived near and with the Lincolns in his childhood, John Hanks and Sara Bush Johnson Lincoln.[32]
  3. ^ Dennis married one of Abraham's stepmother's daughters named Sara Elizabeth in 1821.[39]


  1. ^ Murr, J. Edward (2022). Abraham Lincoln's Wilderness Years: Collected Works of J. Edward Murr. Indiana University Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-253-06269-7.
  2. ^ "Lincoln". The Reporter. November 2, 2015. pp. A4. Retrieved 2023-05-22.
  3. ^ Edward Steers (2007). Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President. University Press of Kentucky. p. 26. ISBN 978-0813172750.
  4. ^ David Herbert Donald (1995). Lincoln. New York: Touchstone. pp. 20, 23.
  5. ^ Burlingame, Michael (April 2013). Abraham Lincoln: A Life. JHU Press. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-1-4214-0973-3.
  6. ^ Kent, David J. (2022-09-01). Lincoln: The Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln's Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4930-6388-8.
  7. ^ a b "DNA Tests: Nancy Hanks is Daughter of Lucey Hanks" (PDF). For the People. Vol. 17, no. 4. Springfield, Illinois. Winter 2015.
  8. ^ David Herbert Donald (1995). Lincoln. New York: Touchstone. pp. 20, 23.Wayne Soini (2022). Abraham Lincoln, American Prince; Ancestry, Ambition and the Anti-Slavery Cause. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 47–56].
  9. ^ Michael Burkhimer (2003). 100 Essential Lincoln Books. Cumberland House Publishing. pp. 52, 54–55, 63–64. ISBN 158182369X.
  10. ^ a b c Ralph Gary (2001). Following in Lincoln's Footsteps. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 207–209.
  11. ^ a b c Doug Wead (2005). The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders. Simon and Schuster. p. 110. ISBN 1416513078.
  12. ^ Clara McCormack Sage; Laura Elizabeth Sage Jones (1939). Early Records, Hampshire County, Virginia: Now West Virginia, Including at the Start Most of Known Va. Aside from Augusta District. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 23. ISBN 0806303050.
  13. ^ William H. Herndon (2008). Herndon's Life of Lincoln. Wildside Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-1434476524.
  14. ^ William E. Barton (article); Henry Ford (book) (2003). W. J. Cameron (ed.). Nancy Hanks, the Mother of Lincoln. Dearborn Independent Magazine January 1927-October 1927. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 15–19. ISBN 0766159914.
  15. ^ a b c d Carl Sandburg (2007). Edward C. Goodman (ed.). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. Sterling Publishing Company. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-1402742880.
  16. ^ a b William Eleazar Barton (2005) [1920]. The Soul of Abraham Lincoln. University of Illinois Press. p. 48. ISBN 025207291X.
  17. ^ a b Carl Sandburg (1975) [1928]. Abe Lincoln Grows Up. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 25. ISBN 0156026155.
  18. ^ a b c Jesse W. Weik (1922). The Real Lincoln; a portrait. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 43.
  19. ^ a b Lowell H. Harrison (2010). Lincoln of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky. pp. PT23. ISBN 978-0813139371.
  20. ^ a b Appendix: Brief Outline of the Joseph Hanks Family, Book published by the University of Illinois. Northern Illinois University Libraries. Archived from the original on 2013-04-09.
  21. ^ Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 193159905X.
  22. ^ Doug Wead (2005). The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders. Simon and Schuster. p. 111. ISBN 1416513078.
  23. ^ Connelley, William Elsey; Coulter, E. M. (1922). History of Kentucky, Volume 5. Chicago and New York: American Historical Society. p. 607. ISBN 9780598572943. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  24. ^ a b Raymond Warren (2004). The Prairie President: Living Through The Years With Lincoln 1809 To 1861 (reprint ed.). Kessinger Publishing. pp. 5–6. ISBN 1417913347.
  25. ^ Louis Austin Warren (1933). The Shipley ancestry of Lincoln's mother. Lincolniana Publishers. pp. 204–205. (Reprint from Indiana Magazine of History, September 1933.)
  26. ^ DuPont-Ewing, Annette C. (2007). Washington County. Arcadia Publishing. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-7385-5299-6.
  27. ^ "Lincoln Homestead State Historic Site Historic Pocket Brochure" (PDF). Kentucky State Parks. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 31, 2013. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
  28. ^ Doris Kearns Goodwin (2006). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. p. 47.
  29. ^ David Hackett Fischer (1991). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press paperback. p. 491.
  30. ^ Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. pp. 29, 32. ISBN 193159905X.
  31. ^ "Indiana History – Indiana, the Nineteenth State". Center for History. 1816. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved March 20, 2013.
  32. ^ a b William Eleazar Barton (1920). The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln: Was He the Son of Thomas Lincoln? An Essay on the Chastity of Nancy Hanks. New York: George H. Doran Company. pp. 273–274, 275.
  33. ^ a b Thomas Keneally (2003). Abraham Lincoln. New York: Penguin Group. p. 1. ISBN 0-670-03175-5.
  34. ^ Philip B. Kunhardt Jr.; Philip B. Kunhardt, III; Peter W. Kunhardt (1992). Lincoln. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 34. ISBN 0-679-40862-2.
  35. ^ Carl Sandburg (2007). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years. p. 22. ISBN 9781402742880. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  36. ^ a b Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. pp. 32–33. ISBN 193159905X.
  37. ^ Carl Sandburg (2007). Edward C. Goodman (ed.). Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. Sterling Publishing Company. p. 22. ISBN 978-1402742880.
  38. ^ Organization of American Historians (2009). Sean Wilentz; Organization of American Historians (eds.). The Best American History Essays on Lincoln Best American History Essays. Macmillan. p. 89. ISBN 978-0230609143.
  39. ^ Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. p. 38. ISBN 193159905X.
  40. ^ "Abraham Lincoln Biography". Archived from the original on April 18, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  41. ^ Walter J. Daly (March 2006). "'The Slows', The Torment of Milk Sickness on the Midwest Frontier". Indiana Magazine of History. 102 (1): 29–40. JSTOR 27792690.
  42. ^ Herndon, William (1940). Emanuel Hertz (ed.). The Hidden Lincoln. New York, New York: Blue Ribbon Books. p. 74. (Quoted letter to Ward Lamon written in 1870.)
  43. ^ John G. Sotos (2008). The Physical Lincoln Sourcebook. Mount Vernon, VA: Mt. Vernon Book Systems. pp. 108–109. ISBN 978-0-9818193-3-4.
  44. ^ a b John G. Sotos (2012). "Abraham Lincoln's marfanoid mother: the earliest known case of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B?". Clinical Dysmorphology. 21 (3): 131–136. doi:10.1097/MCD.0b013e328353ae0c. PMID 22504423. S2CID 26805372.
  45. ^ "Pioneer Cemetery, Nancy Hanks gravestone, photo 3 of 8". Graveyards of Illinois. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
  46. ^ a b c "Nancy Hanks Lincoln Cemetery". National Park Service. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  47. ^ a b Don Davenport (2002). In Lincoln's Footsteps: A Historical Guide to the Lincoln Sites in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky Trails Books Guide. Big Earth Publishing. pp. 38–39. ISBN 193159905X.
  48. ^ Richard Lawrence Miller (2006). Lincoln and His World. p. 41. ISBN 9780811701877.
  49. ^ Catalog of copyright entries: Musical compositions, Part 3. Library of Congress, Copyright office. 1941. p. 959. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  50. ^ "A Book of Americans". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  51. ^ Monaco, James (1992). The Movie Guide. p. 1093. ISBN 9780399517808. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  52. ^ Gallagher, Tag (1986). John Ford: The Man and His Films. University of California Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780520063341.
  53. ^ "Welcome to Nancy Hanks Elementary School". 2005-09-01. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05. Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  54. ^ a b "House Resolution No". West Virginia Legislature.
  55. ^ Laman, Allen (January 14, 2019). "With usage low, Dale-area rest stops to close". The Herald. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  56. ^ "Tom Hanks related to President Abraham Lincoln". ANI. September 23, 2012. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  57. ^ "Names Friday 110212." Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME). McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. 2012. HighBeam Research. March 31, 2013.
  58. ^ "LINCOLN BICENTENNIAL COMMISSION ENDORSES JUNE 3 LINCOLN-HANKS WEDDING EVENT." US Fed News Service, Including US State News. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. 2006. HighBeam Research. March 29, 2013.
  59. ^ "LINCOLN-HANKS WEDDING PART OF WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORY." US Fed News Service, Including US State News. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. 2006. HighBeam Research. March 29, 2013.