Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

President Lincoln's First Dollar

Page 51

During an evening in the executive chamber a number of gentlemen were present and among them was a Mr. Seward. A point in the conversation suggested the thought and Lincoln said: "Seward, did you ever hear how I earned my first dollar." "No," said Seward. "Well," replied Mr. Lincoln, "I was about eighteen years of age; I belonged, you know, to what they called the scrubs. People who did not own land or slaves were nobody then. However, we succeeded in raising sufficient produce, as I thought, to justify me in taking it down the river to sell. After much persuasion I got my mother's consent to go. I constructed a flat boat large enough to carry the barrel, other things, which we had gathered, myself and a little bundle down to New Orleans. A steamboat was coming down the river - we have no wharf, you know - and the custom was if passengers were at the landings for them to get out in a boat, the steamer stopping and taking them on board. I was contemplating my new flat boat and wondering whether I could improve it in any particular way, when two men came down to the shore in carriages with trunks and looking at the different boats they singled out mine and asked: "Who owns this?" I answered somewhat modestly, "I do." "Will you," said one of them, "take us and our trunks out to the steamer?" "Certainly," said I. I was very glad to have the opportunity to earn something. I supposed they would give me a quarter. The trunks were put on the boat and the passengers seated themselves on the trunks and I sculled them out to the steamboat. They got on board and I lifted their trunks and put them on the deck. The steamer was about to put on steam again and I called out that they had forgotten to pay me. Each of them took from his pocket a silver half dollar and threw them on the floor of my boat. Gentlemen, you may think it is a very little thing, and in these days it seems like a trifle, but it was the most important thing in my life. I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day and that I had earned it by honest work. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was more hopeful and confident than before.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors