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

Lincoln's Early Life

Page 75

In the following letters which may follow, I am indebted for many of the facts to Harvey L. Ross, who with his father, Ossian Ross, settled in Havana in 1828, and built the Havana Hotel, which was the largest house within fifty miles of Havana. The house stood for twenty years and was burned in 1848. Ross kept the ferry, which was the only place where the river could be crossed between Beardstown and Pekin.

There was a great deal of travel and crossing at that point. Ross run the ferry, kept the hotel, carried on a farm, kept store, was postmaster and carried the mail between Lewiston and Havana. He had four sons, Lewis, Harvey, Leonard and Pike. Harvey carried the mail, though only a boy of fifteen years of age. The offices between Lewistown and Springfield were Havana, New Salem, Athens, and Sangamontown. At New Salem Harvey Ross and Lincoln first met. Lincoln was a year the oldest, and now we will let Harvey Ross tell his own story:

"The first time I ever met, saw or heard of Abraham Lincoln was in 1832. I had stopped over night at Jack Armstrong's, who lived on a farm five miles northwest of Salem. Petersburg had not then been laid out. I then saw a young man whom I had never met before. I asked him who he was, and he said his name was Abe Lincoln. He was tall and slender, and was dressed in common home spun jeans that the majority of young men wore - about the same as I wore myself. The next time I saw Lincoln to become acquainted with him was at the log tavern at New Salem, kept by James Rutledge. I was carrying the mail from Lewistown and Springfield, and put up at the tavern where Lincoln was boarding. He was at that time a clerk in the store of Samuel Hill, a merchant of Salem. Mr. Lincoln had been to New Orleans with a flat boat load of produce, and Mr. Hill had sent 100 barrels of flour that was ground at the Salem Water Mill. Lincoln had sold the flour at a good price and was so prompt in making returns that Hill made him a clerk in the store. Hill had the largest stock of goods in town and also kept the postoffice. Mr. Lincoln was very attentive to business; was kind and obliging to the customers, and they had so much confidence in his honesty that the preferred to trade with him rather than Hill. This was true of the ladies who said he was honest and would tell the truth about the goods. I went into the store one day to buy a pair of buckskin gloves, and asked him if he had a pair that would fit me. He threw down a pair on the counter: 'There is a pair of dogskin gloves that I think will fit you, and you can have them for 75 cents.' When he called them dogskin I was surprised, as I had never heard of such a thing before. At that time no factory gloves had been brought into the county. All the gloves and mittens then worn were made by hand, and by the women of the neighborhood from tanned deer skins, and the Indians did the tanning. A large buckskin could be bought for 50 to 75 cents. So I said to Lincoln; 'How do you know they are dogskin?' 'Well,' he said, 'I'll tell you how I know they are dogskin. Jack Clary's dog killed Tom Watkin's sheep, and Tom Watkin's boy killed the dog, old John Mounts tanned the dogskin and Sally Spears made the gloves, and that is the way I know they are dogskin gloves.' So I asked no ore, but paid six-bits, took the gloves, and can truly say that I have worn buckskin and dogskin gloves for 60 years and never found a pair that did me such service as the pair I got from Lincoln.

"I understand that Lincoln received $20 a month clerking for Hill, which was considered good wages at the time, though he had to pay $2 a week for his board. While Lincoln was clerking for $20 a month, Hill gave him the privilege of going out to work in time of harvest, where he could earn from $1 to 1.25 per day, and when the harvest was over he would come back to the store again.

"In 1835, I had taken my brother back to college, and met many of the boys who had been at home to help take care of the harvest, among them William G. Green, who while at home, said a young man named Abe Lincoln, from Salem, had come on to help them. He said that Lincoln could pitch more hay than any hand his father had. When Lincoln found that Green had been to college he asked if he had brought his books home with him. He said he never had the advantage of an educator and would like to study grammar and arithmetic, and asked Green if he would assist him and Green consented to do so.

Lincoln had a warm place in his heart for Green and showed him many favors after he was elected president. He went to see him at Washington while he was president. Lincoln was very glad to see him and introduced him to his cabinet officers and told them that he was the young man who had taught him grammar and arithmetic. W. G. Green has been dead several years, but was more intimately acquainted with 'Honest Old Abe' than any other living person."

After Lincoln left Hill, he took the postoffice and finding that it would not support him he took a young man by the name of William Berry in partnership and opened a country store. Their stock consisted mostly of groceries, but they also had many notions, hats, mittens, etc. The entire stock could not have been worth more than $1,200. The charge has been made that Lincoln took out license and kept a saloon in the store. Judge Douglass, in his debate with Lincoln, occasionally charged Lincoln that he had kept a saloon. Lincoln replied that he had never sold a glass of liquor over the counter, but if he had run a saloon and Douglass had lived in the vicinity he would have been his best customer. Mr. Ross is certain that no whisky was sold by the drink while Lincoln had an interest in it. It may have been sold by the gallon, as all stores kept it as the kept vinegar.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



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Illinois Ancestors