Rethinking Thomas Lincoln

100_1265I believe that in the past I have judged Thomas Lincoln too harshly.

You know Thomas Lincoln – the 16th President’s father?  (I was going to post a photo of him here, but I’m not sure I can find one that’s not copywrited, so if you want to see a photo, you can google it.)

I don’t remember when I got this impression – probably in elementary school when we first learned about Abraham Lincoln.  I just remember thinking that Abe’s dad was a bit controlling.  And it seems that they didn’t have a good relationship, by all reports.  All the boy wanted to do was grow up and live his own life.  But his dad wouldn’t let him go until he was 21, which was the age of adulthood in the early 1800’s.  He mostly kept him working on the homestead and also made Abe give him any money he earned elsewhere.  I know, I know – that was normal at that time.  Life was hard, yada yada.  But sheesh!  It wasn’t fair.  Let the boy live his life, keep what he earned, do your own work for pete’s sake!

Yeah – typical response of a late 20th Century American – and suburban – child.

Well, now I’m 46.  And I’ve been at this “farming” thing for just over 15 years.  I put “farming” in quotes, because we only own 1.65 acres.  Though we produce a good amount of our own food when things work out well, we are FAR (FAR!!!) from self-sufficient.  My husband has a job that keeps us from being homeless, naked, and hungry.  Which is a very good thing.  We are working at making our little place profitable, but we could give it up tomorrow – sell all the animals, replant grass where the gardens are, and go back to buying all our food someplace else – and survive just fine.  But we like raising as much of our own food as we can.  We know where it came from, if there were any chemicals sprayed on it (usually not), we pick it fresh and eat it almost right away, or preserve it for winter.  We like being able to walk out the back door and collect our eggs from our free-ranging chickens, and get milk from our dairy goats.

100_1298Back to poor, misunderstood Thomas…  We have only 1.65 acres.  I have no serious idea of what it was like to TRULY be self-sufficient.  To travel, by foot, from one state to another with just a wagon-load of belongings to find a piece of land and start to carve out a homestead out of it.  To have to grow, glean wild plants, or hunt all my food.  How hard it is to have to cut down – with a HAND-powered saw – EVERY tree you need to build your little log cabin.  And to cut down more trees, or dig up prairie grasses, to make a garden.  There were no seed catalogs, with hundreds of varieties, to order from.  They had to go long distances to find livestock to buy to start their farms off with.  And if all went well, in a few years they’d have a small herd and maybe be able to sell or trade some extra animals for money or something else they needed.  After doing this little farming thing for over a decade, and visiting many historical, pioneer sites, I have much more respect for the people that settled this land.

And I have more understanding of the elder Mr. Lincoln.

He had ONE son to help him.  With all that work, I can seriously understand why he wasn’t too keen on the boy leaving.  Especially now, after my THIRD boy has started to work part-time for ANOTHER farmer.

100_4849He’s 16 years old and can be really helpful around here.  When Keith isn’t home, he’s my right-hand man.  He’s almost as strong as his dad, so when I need to catch pigs to sell, which always happens on days when he’s at work – he’s the man.  He does most of the stall cleaning.  He hauls the water in buckets in the winter, through the snow, because the younger kids can’t.  He helps me dig holes when we have an animal to bury, fix fences, catch loose animals, etc., etc.




Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

I’ve been through it before.  He has 2 older brothers, both of whom started working outside the home at the same age.  Sixteen.  They get their driver’s licenses, then they start leaving me to fend for myself with all these little children who are still in training.  JUST when they are the most useful to me.  They start disappearing.  So I have to do more work myself, while working on training the younger ones to do the work he was doing.  And I let them keep the money they earn.

Keith says that’s what we had them for.  Raise them up to know how to work, take care of themselves, and go live their own lives and  be productive members of society.  Sure.  That’s true.

But, after starting to lose son #3, I’m starting to think that maybe Thomas Lincoln wasn’t as bad as I first thought.