Research revises view of young Lincoln
Historians could soon begin imagining a different man when they think of Abraham Lincoln as a young adult.
New artifacts and documents discovered this month at New Salem, a state historic site northeast of Springfield where Lincoln lived in his 20s, show that he may have owned property and one or more buildings, which indicates he was much more invested in the community than historians previously believed.
Tom Schwartz, Illinois' state historian and interim director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, said the find "completely changes" the picture of the Great Emancipator in his younger years.
"It immediately roots him, makes him a gentleman of property. He's not this living this Bohemian life where it's kind of carefree, no property, no worries, where he can sit under the trees and read," Schwartz said.
That image of the 16th president as a young man -- a sort of loafer who gradually became one of the world's greatest statesmen -- could give way to an image of someone who was mature and sensible from the first, Schwartz said.
For example, historians have long believed from firsthand accounts that at times Lincoln had to rely completely on the townsfolk for lodging and meals. But Schwartz said new research shows that Lincoln probably had his own place and dined with his neighbors because he wasn't a very good cook.
"Just when you think you know everything about Abraham Lincoln you're proven wrong," said David Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Historic Preservation.
Schwartz says that New Salem itself, which has more than a dozen log cabin-type buildings built in the 1930s to recreate Lincoln's era, also may need to be rethought. Archaeologists found glass, plaster and fine china on the site of one of the original buildings, which suggests that they were finished and furnished much better than the austere dirt-floor cabins now on the site.
This month's dig also turned up an American Indian burial mound that could predate the New Salem settlement, showing that Europeans weren't the first people to value the town's location along the Sangamon River in Menard County.
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