The Hanks and Family & the Old Charleston
. . . 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
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
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.
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
Embarrass 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 &
. . . 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
returning 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.
"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