Learning Lincoln On-line

Topic Sets to Study Abraham Lincoln His Life and Before the Civil War

CONTENTS SET A:

Topic Three: Lincoln Family Genealogy Project- Nancy Lincoln Death

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Abraham Lincoln's Birthmother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln Passes Away When He Was Only Eleven Years Old

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The Story of Her Death

Nancy Hanks Lincoln Gravestone

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       While living at Little Pigeon Creek Settlement, Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on October 5, 1818, age 34. Her 9-year-old son Abraham assisted his father in the making of her coffin by whittling the wooden pegs that held the planks together. 11-year-old Sarah cared for Abraham until their father remarried the next year. 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 died that fall from the illness, including Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow, who raised her and then lived with on the Lincoln's property at the Little Pigeon Creek settlement. The Sparrows died in September, weeks before Nancy's death, and Dennis moved in with the Lincolns. It was caused by settlers drinking the milk or eating the meat of cows that had eaten the white snakeroot. The plant contains the potent toxin temetrol, which is passed through the milk. The migrants from the East were unfamiliar with the Midwestern plant and its effects. In the nineteenth century before people understood the cause of the illness, thousands in the Midwest died of milk sickness.

       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",  i.e. a wasting disease or tuberculosis. This, with the recent demonstration that Nancy had a marfanoid body habitus and the same unusual facial features as her son, would suggest 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).

       Nancy's grave is located in what has been named the Pioneer Cemetery, also known as the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Cemetery. Her headstone was purchased by P.E. Studebaker, an industrialist from South Bend, in 1878.At least twenty unmarked and eight marked graves are at the site; Nancy Lincoln is buried next to Nancy Rusher Brooner, a neighbor who died a week earlier than she 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." Her aunt and uncle, also her childhood caregivers, Elizabeth (Hanks) and Thomas Sparrow are buried nearby. 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.


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