Coles County, Illinois
| . . . . Dennis
. . . and the Old Charleston Cemetery, in Charleston, Illinois
Who is Dennis Friend Hanks?
. . . A Pioneer Business- man in Charleston and cousin of Abraham Lincoln
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 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.
. . . 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.
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