Abraham Lincoln Story: Abe's
Tutor, Dennis Hanks and the Old Charleston Cemetery
Heritage Trail. . .
Coles County, Illinois
. . . and the Old Charleston
Cemetery, in Charleston, Illinois
On-Line Resource Page by Howard Taylor
Information for this page was gained from
Who is Dennis Friend Hanks?
. . . Dennis Friend
. . . A Pioneer Business-
man in Charleston and cousin of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln in Coles County
by David Kent Coy, the Looking for Lincoln Project
Abraham Lincoln, the Boy and the Man
, by Lloyd Ostendorf
The Hanks and Family & the Old
. . . Probably everybody that is famous, or was famous, has a special
person from their past that was a big influence, and maybe even a really
good friend. One such person was Charleston, Illinois resident Dennis
Friend Hanks (1799-1892). This business man originally from Kentucky,
Indiana and long-time resident of Charleston happened to be the cousin of
the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The important
aspect of this fact is that Dennis was raised with Abraham in the Thomas
The Old Charleston Cemetery, located next to the
Coles County Fairgrounds on the west edge of Charleston contains the grave
of Dennis Hanks, his wife Sarah Elizabeth "Betsy" Johnston Hanks. Betsy Hanks
was the daughter of Sarah Bush Lincoln.
Dennis Hanks is quoted in old biographies
and stories of Abraham Lincoln as saying shortly after the birth of Abraham
on February 12, 1809, that "...he'll never come to much, fur I'll tell you
he wuz the puniest, cryin'est little youngster I ever saw."
Dennis Hanks was known for telling a lot
of stories about the events of living with the President and growing up together.
Some wonder if some a more folklore and legend than truth, but Charlestonians
and Coles historians love to hear the stories from Dennis Friend Hanks.
This little biography is in memory of him, his family and the other pioneers
who were first in Illinois to attempt to do good and make a living.
The tombstone in Old Charleston Cemetery is
inscribed with this statement, ". . . Dennis F. Hanks, Tutor of the Martyred
President, Abraham Lincoln, Born May 15, 1799, Died Oct. 21, 1892."
Just next to that stone is the stone of "Elizabeth, Wife of Dennis F. Hanks,
died Dec. 1864, Aged 56 y. 11m."
The old cemetery contains the graves
of many other Hanks family members as well as other early pioneer settlers
of Old Charleston. A stone bench recently has been installed in the
old cemetery as a memorial to all the pioneer Charlestonians that are buried
in the cemetery, but not marked. B.F. McClerren and many other volunteers
were responsible for finding the tombstones for Elizabeth and others.
Our primary grade students from Cowden Grade School found the grave of Dennis
Hanks, Elizabeth and others and were impressed about "how important" these
Dennis Friend Hanks Biography
Dennis was born some ten years before Abraham
near Elizabethtown, in Hardin County, Kentucky (May 15, 1799). Dennis'
mother's name was Nancy, and she was the aunt of Abraham Lincoln's mother,
Nancy. The family tree of the Hanks, Lincolns, Halls and Friends is
very complex. See the family tree diagram to visually figure out the
Dennis was reared by his mother's sister Elizabeth
Sparrow and her husband Tomas until they died of the milk sickness in Spencer
County, Indiana. Abraham's mother, Nancy would die of the same milk
sickness at the same time. Dennis would then move in with Thomas Lincoln,
young Abraham and Sarah. Hardship and sadness would rule the household
until Thomas would take hold, go to Kentucky and bring back a new wife, Sarah
Bush Johnston. Sarah Bush's daughter, Sarah Elizabeth "Betsy" Johnston
would marry Dennis on September 13, 1826. The family tree gets very
complicated with this marriage.
Dennis and Betsy would have thirteen children, eight
of which survived infancy. These eight children and all of the other
Sarah Bush Lincoln grandchildren would grow up calling Abraham Lincoln "Uncle
Abe." These children would be the only nephews and nieces he
would have. His brother Thomas died at infancy and his sister, Sarah
died in childbirth.
The Dennis and Betsy Hanks children which survived
infancy were: Sarah "Jane" Dowling, Nancy Melvina Shoaff, John Talbott
Hanks, Amanda Poorman, Charles F.M. Hanks, Mary Shriver, and Theophilus Van
Deren Hanks. Another daughter, Harriett Ann HANKS lived and bore a
number of children. Harriett was noted as Abe's favorite niece.
She lived in Abe's Springfield home around 1843, while she continued her
schooling. A memorial to Harriet and husband, Col. Augustus H. CHAPMAN,
is found in the Chambers Cemetery near the stones of Dennis and Betsey.
Dennis Hanks and Abraham Lincoln
Sarah "Elizabeth" and
Dennis F. Hanks
The story of Dennis Hanks, the Halls and the Lincolns moving
from Indiana to Illinois in 1830, and settling in Macon County represents
the last time the two would live together. Abraham was a young man,
and would move to New Salem after a year. The Lincolns, Hanks and Halls
would move to Coles County. Dennis and Betsy would become "City Folk"
at Charleston, where Dennis would help to develop the small pioneer village
of log cabins and shacks. The distance from Charleston to the Thomas
Lincoln farm was some ten miles. Dennis was known as a shoe cobbler
and maker, and would also run a tavern/inn/boarding house called the "Illinois
House." He would also run a gristmill on the Embarras River.
He was quite a business man.
Dennis and Abraham would visit often when Lincoln
would come to the Coles County courthouse for legal dealings in the 8th Judicial
Circuit. "Uncle Abe" was popular with all his nieces and nephews.
After the Charleston Riot, Dennis was concerned
for the fate of the men imprisoned for the riot, and would make a journey
to Washington to see his old friend and cousin, Abraham Lincoln, the President,
to see if he could get the men released. This was the last contact
Dennis Hanks would have with Abraham Lincoln.
Dennis Hanks Death & Burial
. . . Dennis Hanks lived a long life
of 93 years old. His death was a bit unusual, but kind of represents
the kind of rough pioneer life he led. He was invited to nearby Edgar
County Fairgrounds for an "Emancipation Day" celebration. He was living
at Charleston and at Paris, where the fairgrounds were located with his children.
On going home from the celebration, he was struck by a wagon, knocked down,
with one wheel passing over his arm and shoulder. He survived almost
a month more and died October 21, 1892 in his daughter's home at Paris.
It seem he almost could have lived into the 20th Century. A lot of
history was lost with the death of Dennis Friend Hanks. He could relate
stories of Abraham even until the time of his unfortunate death.
This "memorial" tombstone for Dennis F. Hanks is in the
old Charleston Cemetery, near the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum. The
actual tombstone is very faded and lies on the ground next to his wife's
tombstone. Her name was Elizabeth "Sarah." She was Abraham Lincoln's
step-sister. Dennis Hanks was Abe Lincoln's first cousin once-removed,
and his brother-in-law.
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