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Sarah Lincoln (Bush)

Also Known As: "Sally Bush"
Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: (Present Elizabethtown), Nelson County (Present Hardin County), Virginia (Present Kentucky), United States
Death: April 10, 1869 (80)
Lincoln Homestead, Charleston, Coles County, Illinois, United States
Place of Burial: Pleasant Grove Township, Coles County, Illinois, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Christopher Bush and Hannah
Wife of Daniel Johnston and Thomas Herring Lincoln, I
Mother of Sarah Elizabeth "Betsy" Johnston; John Daniel Johnston, Sr. and Matilda Anne Johnston
Sister of William Bush; Samuel Bush; Hannah Radley; Isaac Shelby Bush; Rachel Smallwood and 3 others

Occupation: could not read or write, Mother
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sarah Lincoln

Click here to view Sarah (Bush) Lincoln's web page, that includes her grave marker, at

The following is excerpted from the National Park Service retrieved October 31, 2007 from

“Abraham Lincoln's stepmother was born in what is today Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Her first husband, Daniel Johnston, whom she married in 1806, appeared on the delinquent tax list for Hardin County in 1806. When he was sued to collect a debt in 1810, he was found without funds.

“In 1814, Daniel Johnston was appointed Hardin County jailer but died two years later leaving Sarah with no money.

“Widower Thomas Lincoln (President Abraham Lincoln's father), travelled from southern Indiana to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, in 1819 to marry her. The two had known each other while they were both living in Kentucky. Thomas and Sarah married on December 2, and soon travelled to the Lincoln farm in Indiana. John C. Waugh, in his book, Lincoln and McClellan, discusses how the union of Thomas Lincoln and Sarah Bush came about. Thomas could stand the misery for only so long after the death of his first wife without a companion for himself and a mother for his children. In late 1819, he rode back to Kentucky to try his luck. He remembered Sarah Johnston, a woman he had known before, now a widow with three children of her own. Wasting no time or words, he said to her, "Well, Miss Johnson, I have no wife & you have no husband. I came a purpose to marry you. I knowed you from a gal & you knowed me from a boy. I have no time to lose and if you are willing, let it be done straight off." Sarah is said to have said, "Tommy, I know you well & have no objection to marrying you, but I cannot do it straight off as I owe some debts that must first be paid." tom covered her debts that same day, and the next, December 2, 1819, they were married. They packed all she owned and her three children, ages nine, seven, and five, in a four-horse wagon and left for Indiana. there Sarah became an instant and beloved mother to her two new stepchildren.

“She found the country ‘wild, and desolate’ and Thomas' children in meager conditions. She claimed that they needed to be ‘dressed...up’ to look ‘more human.’

“Nine people lived in the Lincoln cabin, two from Thomas' first marriage and three from Sarah's first marriage: Thomas and Sarah, their five children (Sarah Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Johnston, John D. Johnston, and Matilda Johnston.) Abraham's cousin -- Dennis Hanks -- also lived with them throughout most of their Indiana years.

“Sarah always spoke fondly of Abraham and he spoke fondly of her. He described her as ‘a good and kind mother’ and referred to her as ‘Mother’ in his letters. After Abraham left home, he visited her ‘every year or two’ in Coles County, Illinois, where she lived from 1831 until her death.

“Lincoln attended to her welfare as much as he could from a distance. When Thomas died in 1851, Lincoln retained a 40-acre plot of land in his own name ‘for Mother while she lives.’

“Abraham last saw his stepmother on January 31 and February 1, 1861, when he came to bid her farewell before going to the White House. When she later recalled the visit after her stepson's death in 1865, she wept. She died in 1869, and was buried next to her husband Thomas Lincoln in the Shiloh Cemetery in Coles County.

“Sources: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, (1982) by Mark Neely and Lincoln's Youth (1959) by Louis A. Warren.”

The following is excerpted from Wikipedia retrieved October 31, 2007 from

“Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln (1788-1869) was the second wife of Thomas Lincoln and stepmother of President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. She was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky to Christopher and Hannah Bush. She married her first husband, Daniel Johnston, in 1806, and they had three children. When he died in 1816 she was left penniless.

“Thomas Lincoln had met Sarah while living in Kentucky. After his first wife, Nancy Hanks, died in 1818, Thomas married Sarah in 1819 and brought her and her children to his farm in Indiana. She treated the two children from Thomas's first marriage the same as her own, earning the lasting affection of Abraham, who always addressed her as "Mother." He visited her "every year or two," and was apparently closer to her than to his father.[1] After Thomas died, Lincoln maintained the family's farm in Coles County, Illinois for her and supported her until his death. Their final visit occurred on January 31 and February 1, 1861, just before Lincoln left Illinois for the White House.

“The homestead where she and Thomas lived is preserved as the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Sarah is buried next to Thomas in nearby Shiloh Cemetery, just south of Lerna, Illinois. Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Coles County was named after her.

“This page includes text from the public domain page on Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln maintained by the National Park Service.”

   	Lincoln’s Other Mother


On the evening of Jan. 30, 1861, a slow freight train chugged into the small hamlet of Charleston, Ill., having completed a 12-mile run from Mattoon. Or nearly 12 miles — the train didn’t quite make it all the way to the station. A few people straggled out of the caboose and trudged through slush and ice toward the depot, where a gaggle of townsfolk loitered. To their astonishment, they realized that the tall man coming toward them, wearing a shawl, was Abraham Lincoln.

He did not seem very presidential. He had been traveling all day to cover the 120 miles from Springfield, and had missed the last passenger train to Charleston — hence the ignominious arrival by freight. According to an observer, he wore “a faded hat, innocent of a nap, and his coat was extremely short, more like a sailor’s pea-jacket than any other describable garment. A well-worn carpet-bag, quite collapsed, comprised his baggage.” He had no bodyguard.

Across the country, people were saying goodbye as the new world shaped by secession came into focus. Some did it loudly — the grandiloquent farewell speeches of Southern senators and still-serving cabinet members — but most did it quietly, inside the family. As Lincoln wrapped up his affairs in Springfield, he realized that he needed to say a special goodbye to someone who had arguably done more to shape him than any other.

And so on the morning of the 30th, this most closely observed person slipped away from it all and boarded a train in Springfield to the southeast. We know that it departed at 9:50 — the United States was beginning to acquire the railroad precision for which it would become famous. But that precision was not yet universal, and Lincoln did not make all of his planned transfers. He handled it the way he usually did — fellow passengers that day remembered that he told an endless succession of droll stories, punctuated by his own hearty laughter.

Lincoln spent the night of the 30th in Charleston, and the next morning began the final phase of his journey, to reach the secluded farmhouse where he found a 72-year-old woman, his father’s widow, Sarah Bush Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project, Source: Chicago Historical Society Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother. “Stepmother” can be a fraught phrase in the telling of childhood stories — one thinks of Cinderella and the well-named Brothers Grimm — yet it was a very good day for Lincoln when she came into his life. His mother, Nancy Hanks, had died when he was nine years old, and we don’t have to look far for the sources of his legendary melancholia. In 1844, as a rising local politician, he returned to the Indiana of his boyhood and was so moved by the experience of being near the graves of his mother and sister that he wrote an uncharacteristically emotional poem about it.

It began: My childhood home I see again, And gladden with the view; And still as mem’ries crowd my brain, There’s sadness in it too —

Sarah Bush Lincoln had known sadness, too — a difficult marriage to an improvident husband — but after her husband died, Thomas Lincoln came to Kentucky and proposed to her on the spot (they knew each other from childhood). She accepted, on condition that her late husband’s debts be paid, and together they came to the Pigeon Creek settlement in Indiana, with her three children and all of her worldly possessions.

Although she was illiterate, these possessions included several books, including “Aesop’s Fables,” “Robinson Crusoe,” Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and “Sinbad the Sailor.” We are today so cosseted by technology that it is difficult to imagine the impact that these world-expanding devices — the iPads of their day — must have had on the young Lincoln. Years later, she remembered that moment, and remarked that she instantly set to work to help Abe and his sister become “more human” — implying that, like Robinson Crusoe, she had discovered young savages in the wilderness.

Under her guidance, Lincoln made rapid progress. “He read all the books he could get his hands on,” she recalled, and was already practicing writing and speaking at a young age, eager to get at the exact meaning of words. After hearing sermons by a local preacher, he would sometimes stand on a stump, gather the children around, and “almost repeat it word for word.”

She obviously was behind this progress — she remembered, “His mind and mine, what little I had, seemed to run together, more in the same channel.” She added other information, vital to future biographers — that he cared little for clothes, or food, but a great deal for ideas. Also, tucked away in her memories, the surprising physical fact that young Lincoln was “more fleshy in Indiana than ever in Illinois.”

As his star rose, he saw her less and less, and did not attend his father’s funeral in 1851, which has led scholars to speculate about what may or may not have been a difficult relationship. But there is no doubt about the closeness of stepmother and stepson. On Jan. 3, as Lincoln was preparing his cabinet, he received a letter from a kinsman, saying that “she is getting somewhat childish and is very uneasy about you fearing some of your political opponents will kill you. She is very anxious to see you once more.” And so he went.

It was quite a reunion. Local folk remembered it for decades. Word got out quickly to neighboring farms, and families came over to celebrate, bringing turkey, chicken,and pie. The local school released the children for the day, and Lincoln laughed with them (he told them he’d rather be in their place than his). Some of them walked in his shoes, to feel what it must be like to be president. One youngster there, a six-year-old named Buck Best, lived until 1947, and never tired of reliving the day.

That evening Lincoln gave a speech in Charleston’s town hall, one of many we do not have recorded. It’s a pity, because he spoke about his boyhood that night. Lincoln rarely went into autobiographical territory, to put it mildly. Unlike today’s politicians, for whom every childhood challenge is an opportunity for publicity, Lincoln was reticent to a fault about the traumas of his youth. He had conquered all that — why go back there?

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, Illinois Historic Preservation AgencyMoore Home State Historic Site, where Lincoln and his stepmother last saw each other. And yet, he did go back there, this one time. Charleston was a typical community in 1861, split like many others between pro- and anti-slavery families (though in Illinois, it was founded by Southerners). Surprisingly, Lincoln had argued a legal case there in 1847, Matson v. Ashmore, defending the rights of slaveowners to have their runaway slaves returned. Three years after Lincoln’s visit, in 1864, a riot broke out in Charleston when marauding Confederate sympathizers attacked half-drunk Union soldiers preparing to return to their regiment. But that night in late January, the town turned out as one to hear a son honor his mother. He told a resident, “she had been his best friend in this world and that no son could love a mother more than he loved her.”

There are several versions of their final goodbye, which each probably knew would be their last. Like him, she was haunted by visions of the future. A letter written by one of her kinsmen recorded the scene, complete with grammatical inexactitudes: “She embraced him when they parted and said she would never be permitted to see him again that she felt his enemies would assassinate him. He replied no no Mama (he always called her Mama) they will not do that. Trust in the Lord and all will be well We will see each other again.”

They did not, but today we can see her thanks to a single daguerreotype taken near the end of her time on earth, a striking likeness of an old lady who had a more than ordinary brush with greatness. Two years ago, it was brilliantly reinterpreted here by the artist Maira Kalman.

Four years later, after her premonition came true, another lawyer from Springfield made the pilgrimage to Coles County. William Herndon, Lincoln’s former law partner, was in mourning like the rest of the country in 1865, and undertook to find everyone he could who had known Lincoln, and to record their impressions. Long before the phrase “oral history” existed, he was undertaking one of the most important efforts to recapture the past yet attempted in the United States. Nearly every story we know of the young Lincoln is traceable to these researches. Herndon found Sarah Lincoln feeble and breathing with difficulty, but by asking her simple questions about her life, he breathed new life into her.

After she died in 1869, she was buried in a black dress Lincoln gave her on this visit — as if they were both already in mourning. She then lay in an unmarked grave until 1924, when a local Lions Club erected a stone marker for her.

That seems appropriate — for if Lincoln saved the Union, she saved him, and for that alone she’s entitled to a decent respect. Measured by the usual yardsticks of wealth and distinction, her own life may not have made much of a dent in the historical record. But at just the right moment, she encountered a small motherless boy, and helped him to become Abraham Lincoln.

There is a photo of Sarah Bush Lincoln; along with this article at er-mother/

Sources: Michael Burlingame, “Abraham Lincoln: A Life”; Emmanuel Hertz, “The Hidden Lincoln”; Charles H. Coleman, “Sarah Bush Lincoln, The Mother Who Survived Him”; Charles H. Coleman, “Abraham Lincoln and Coles County, Illinois”; Thomas J. Malone, “Stepmothered to Greatness; The Service of Dedication of the Monument Erected Above the Graves of Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln.”

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Sarah Lincoln's Timeline

December 13, 1788
(Present Elizabethtown), Nelson County (Present Hardin County), Virginia (Present Kentucky), United States
January 9, 1807
Age 18
Elizabethtown, Hardin, Kentucky, United States
May 10, 1810
Age 21
Elizabethtown, Hardin, Kentucky, United States
Age 22
Elizabethtown, Hardin, Kentucky, United States
January 16, 1813
Age 24
Hardin, Kentucky, United States
April 10, 1869
Age 80
Charleston, Coles County, Illinois, United States
Pleasant Grove Township, Coles County, Illinois, United States