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Abraham Lincoln Story:  Abe's Tutor, Dennis Hanks and the Old Charleston Cemetery
The Lincoln Heritage Trail. . .
Coles County, Illinois
Dennis Hanks 
. . . and the Old Charleston Cemetery, in Charleston,  Illinois
A History On-Line Resource Page by Howard Taylor


Who is Dennis Friend Hanks?
. . . Dennis Friend Hanks

. . . A Pioneer Business- man in Charleston and cousin of Abraham Lincoln

Information for this page was gained from
Recollections of 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 Charleston Cemetery
. . . 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 Lincoln family. 
     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 people were. 

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 relationships. 
     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 Site
. . . 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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