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by Annette Wynne

A log cabin, rude and rough—
This was house and home enough
For one small boy; there in the chimney place
With glowing face
The eager young eyes learned to trace
Staunch old tales of staunch old men;
In the firelight there and then
The soul of Lincoln grew—
And no one knew!
Only the great and bitter strife
Of later days brought into life
Great deeds that blossomed in the gloom
Of that dim shadowy firelit room.


What do the four U.S. presidents depicted on Mt. Rushmore all have in common from their adolescent years?

The four U.S. presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. They all spent relatively little time attending school. They acquired much of their education at home and also gained real world experience from an early age. They were not unique in this regard. This pattern was repeated in the lives of many of America's most exceptional individuals. Inventors such as Thomas Edison, Samuel Leeds Allen, and Alexander Graham Bell; businessmen such as Andrew Carnegie, Barzilla L. Marble, and E. C. Atkins; statesmen such as Ben Franklin, Patrick Henry, and Frederick Douglass; naval officers such as John Paul Jones and David Farrgut; and presidents such as John Quincy Adams, James Garfield, and the aforementioned four to name a few examples. Many of America's greatest thinkers spent a significant amount of their early years outside of the confines of a school building.


Lincoln acquired much of his early education at home. In the evening he would pile sticks of dry wood into the brick fireplace. These would blaze up brightly and shed a strong light over the room, and the boy would lie down flat on the floor before the hearth with his book in front of him. He used to write his arithmetic sums on a large wooden shovel with a piece of charcoal. After covering it all over with examples, he would take his jack-knife and whittle and scrape the surface clean, ready for more ciphering. Paper was expensive, and he could not even afford a slate. Sometimes when the shovel was not at hand, he did his figuring on the logs of the house walls and on the doorposts, and other woodwork that afforded a surface he could mark on with his charcoal.

– Clifton Johnson
Old-Time Schools and School-Books

The Boyhood Homes of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace at Sinking Spring Farm, Hodgenville, Kentucky, 1809

Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home at Knob Creek, Kentucky, 1811-1816 (age 2-7)

After a land dispute, the Lincoln family moved a short distance to a new home on Knob Creek. Lincoln's earliest childhood memories were of this new home. Lincoln's brother Thomas was born and died here, and Lincoln himself almost drowned in a nearby creek.

Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home near Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana, 1816-1830 (age 7-21)

We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals, still in the woods. There I grew up.

– Abraham Lincoln
excerpt from Lincoln's four paragraph autobiography written in 1859

A second land dispute drove the Lincoln family to move approximately 100 miles northwest to southern Indiana when Lincoln was 7. Most of Lincoln's formative childhood years were spent in this home. It was here, at the age of 9, that Lincoln's mother died from milk sickness, and it was here that Lincoln learned to read.

Thomas and Sarah Lincoln 1840s Family Homestead, Illinois

In the 1840s, after Abraham Lincoln had become a lawyer and had moved to Springfield, Lincoln's father and stepmother moved westwad once more, and farmed this homestead in Illinois. Lincoln periodically visited his parents at this home.

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