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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'William G. Greene to William H. Herndon (interview)' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: interview]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon017.html


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11. William G. Greene to William H. Herndon (interview) [1].

Elm Wood May 30th 1865

My Dear Sir:

I came to Illinois in the year AD 1820 and settled on the Sangamon River above Petersburg and near the town of New Salem, then in Sangamon County — Now Menard County, this last County having been cut off Sangamon County in the year AD 1838 & 9. Abraham Lincoln Came to Sangamon Town in the fall of 1829 [2] and to New Salem in the Spring of 1831. Mr Lincoln built a flat boat on the Sangamon River for Denton Offutt at Sangamon Town, about 7 miles north west of the City of Springfield. Before landing at New Salem: He then Came down the River on the flat boat with Dennis Hanks — Jno Johnson a step brother of Lincoln, & Offutt. The boat in coming down the Sangamon River grounded & lodged on the New Salem Mill dam at the foot of the hill on which Salem was built. I Saw the boat soon after it landed — on the same hour or day. and then and there for the first time I saw Abraham Lincoln. He had on a pair of mixed blue jeans pants — a hickory shirt and a Common Chip hat. He was at that time well and firmly built: his thigs were as perfect as a human being Could be. and weighed 214: his height was six feet four inches. When I first saw him he was endeavring to pry the boat over the dam. Whilst straining every nerve to push the boat off the dam Mr Lincoln having noticed by his quick river eye that the River was falling remarked to Offut — "We will have to get the boat to the shore and unload it or it will sink". Offutt submitted — the boat was got off the dam and brought to the shore and unloaded. It was loaded with wheat — dry goods —. [3] Offutt then rented the grist mill at the foot of Salem hill, owned by Cameron & Rutledge. Here he ground his wheat and put up his goods in the store. Lincoln was made Offutts, Chief and head Clerk. Within a few days after the goods were put up in the store at New Salem I went down there and was Employed by Offutt as clerk to keep the store. Mr Lincoln & I clerked together for Offutt about 18 months & slept

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on the same cott & when one turned over the other had to do likewise. He was an attentive — Kind — generous & accommodating Clerk and was then as much a Centre of attraction as he was when President of the U.S. though not quite so grand a one. Whilst Mr Lincoln & I were clerk together he often Stated to me that his mothers name was — Hanks. Lincoln told me he was born in Hardin County in Kentuck — moved to Indiana in about 1817 & to Illinois in 1830. & then came down the Sangamon River as stated before. Soon after he landed and Commenced clerking he took a notion to study grammar & surveying. I told him I had a grammar & surveying books at home. This remark was in the summer & fall of 1830. He went down with me and got them and instantly Commenced his studies. Mr. Lincoln studied the grammar & surveying privately in his store — worked it out by himself alone as I recollect it, though others may have explained special problems — rules & such like things which he could not Easily Master. Mr Lincoln soon mastered his grammar & the general practical rules of surveying. He mastered them rapidly — like reading — so quick and Comprehensive was his mind. He generally mastered a book quickly — as one who was simply reading — so comprehensive was his mind. This studying & reading was whilst he was clerk for Offutt. Offutt was a wild — recless — careless man, — a kind of wandering horse tamer. He was somewhat Enthusiastic — intuitive and prophetic. He said — By God — Lincoln will yet be President of these U.S." Mr Lincoln after he had mastered the grammar & the practical rules of surveying Commenced the studying the fall & winter & Spring of 1832 & 33. He borrowed his books — his books — Blackstone — Kent and other law books of Jno. T. Stuart of Springfield, who was somewhat older than Lincoln. Mr Lincoln first commenced surveying in 1833 & 4 and Continued to do so till about the close of 1836. I hold in my hands his field notes made on the 16 & 17th 1836: he was then deputy of Thomas. M. Neal surveyor of Sangamon County.

Let me go back a little. The Black Hawk war broke out in the year 1832. Lincoln volunteered as a private and was soon Elected Captain of the Company over Wm Kirkpatrick. He went through the Black Hawk war & was idolized by his men & generally by all the Regiment & Core to which he belonged. I want to tell you a fact about Mr Lincoln discretion true valor & mercy. An old Indian Came to Camp [4] & delivered himself up, showing us an old paper written by Lewis Cass, Stating that the Indian was a good & true man Many of the men of the Army said "we have come out to fight the Indians and by God we intend to do so". Mr Lincoln in the goodness & kindness and humanity & justice of his nature stood — got between the Indian and the outraged men — saying — "Men this must not be done — he must not be shot and killed by us". Some of the men remarked — "The Indian is a damned Spy" Still Lincoln stood between the Indian & the vengeance of the outraged soldiers — brave, good & true. Some of the men said to Mr Lincoln — "This is cowardly on your part Lincoln". Lincoln remarked if

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any man thinks I am a coward let him test it," rising to an unusual height. One of the Regiment made this reply to Mr Lincoln's last remarks — "Lincoln — you are larger & heavier than we are". "This you can guard against — Choose your weapons", replied Mr Lincoln somewhat sourly. This soon put to silence quickly all Charges of the Cowardice Cowardice of Lincoln. This is the first time or amongst the first times I ever saw Mr Lincoln aroused. He was unusually kind, pleasant — good humored, taking any & all things. But this was too much for Lincoln. This hushed up at once all disputes about Lincolns courage. I was through the Black Hawk war with Lincoln and can say no man was more Courageous, truly & manly so. No man had more moral courage. He would do justice to all though the heavens fell. He had a considerible Eye for military affairs. By the by he was the strongest man in our regiment and one of the very best wrestlers. One man in the army alone could throw him and that man's name was Thompson. Speaking of Lincoln physical Strength let me say I saw him lift one thousand & twenty four pounds. He was harnessed with straps in the New Salem Mills. One other instance of his honor — his moral Courage. The Company to which I belonged knew that Mr Lincoln was physically powerful and artful & skilled in wrestling. The Company bet their Knives — blankets — tomahaks &c. on Mr Lincolns wrestling. The man Thompson was his opponent. The men Lincoln & Thompson walked out & fixed for the match. Thompson threw Lincoln fairly the first fall. Lincoln remarked to his friends "This man is the most powerful man I ever had hold of: he will throw me and you will loose your all unless I act on the defensive Mr Lincoln caugh Mr Thompson and held him off sometime. At last the man got the crotch lock on Mr Lincoln. Lincoln slid off, but the man Caught him and partially threw Mr Lincoln. We were taken by surprise at the result & being unwilling to give up our property & lose our bets got up a kind of an Excuse as to the result in order to avoid giving up our bets. We declared that the fall was a kind of a Dog. fall. We so asserted — did so apparently angrily to avoid the result. A fuss was about to be a fight in the Companies generally. Lincoln rose up and said — "Boys the man actually threw me once fair — broadly so. & the second time — this very fall he threw me fairly, though not so apparently so. One other word in reference to Mr Lincolns Care for the health — welfare & justice to his men. Some officer of the US had claimed that the Regular Army had a preference in the rations & pay. Mr Lincoln was ordered to do some act, which he decreed unauthorized: he however obeyed, but went to the officer and said to him — "Sir — you forget that we are not under the rules and regulations of the war department at Washington — are only volunteers under the orders & Regulations of Illinois. Keep in your own speere & and there will be no difculty, but resistance will hereafter be made to your injust orders. & further my men must be Equal in all particulars in rations — arms — camps &c to the regular Army." The man saw that Mr L was right and determined to have justice done. Always after this we were treated

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Equally well & just as the regular Army was in evry particular. This brave — just and humane act in behalf of the volunteers at once firmly attached officers & rank to him as with hooks of Steel.

Lincoln returned from the black Hawk war and became in 1832 a Candidate — for the Legislature. He address the People in the town of Petersburg on the Election and the Causes which he advocated. It was what the world would call an awkward speech, but it was a powerful one, cutting the centre Evry shot. He was defeated at this Election, though the People in and around New Salem precinct voted him 275 — out of the 278 voters — so popular was he. After this he read law — studied surveying — read the newspapers, wrote deeds — Contracts and general business & official man for the whole Community, never charging one cent for his time & trouble —

In the year 1832 about the month of May or June I sold to Wm Berry & A. Lincoln my grocery store — I gave $400 — for it and they gave me $750 — (Here tell the Radford story — the Clary grove story of the men who got drunk — broke up Radfords store &c. My father was a babtist — came home told my father &c — he said Lizzie get up — [dollars?] — [blaze?] &c —). [6] Lincoln & Berry kept the grocery store, containing dry good — groceries — liquors — such a one as was kept Evry where in the Country at that time — . Offutt had broke up before the Black Hawk war and there was no other house of the kind was kept in town beside Lincoln's & Berrys. Hill & McNamar kept a dry good store at that time. Lincoln & Berry kept store about 6 or 9 months and through Berry's negligence & bad management — though not through dishonesty the store was broken up. A judgement was received against Lincoln & Myself on the old Radford note. Lincoln & Berry were to pay this note: it was now Lincolns & Berrys debt. At last I paid it. Lincoln however paid me, writing to me in Tennessee to come out and get my money. For some of the other debts of Lincoln & Berry execution were had against Lincoln & Berry Lincolns law books were sold — his Compass — flag staff — Jacob Staff &c were sold to pay the debts. James Short bought them and gave them back to Lincoln. After this & being out of business Mr Lincoln read law with renewed Energy — studied surveying & practiced it — read the Sangamon Journal — the Louisville Journal & Mo Republican & other papers — in fact he read all he could touch his hands to. This was during the summer & fall of 1832. He now Commenced surveying in fact. through the Country: he surveyed a race track for Thos Wadkins — or the Wadkins track. He likewise at this time would and frequently did, as we say Pettifog before Justice of the Peace in and about the County. This was studiously & energetically Continued up to 1834. when he became a Candidate for the legislature. He was Elected in 1834 and I think him the foremost man, the People all over Sangamon were beginning to fully appreciate him as did his neighbors here in 1832. He went to Vandalia in Decm 1834 and became a leading member at once. It was at the subsequent legislature that

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Lincoln became with S. A Douglas. Mr Lincoln was a short time before this Dep. for Saml Hill and was now himself P.M himself. He continued to practice law, survey & read history — Shakespear — Burns. By the by Shakespear — Burns & Byron were his favorite books. He nearly knew Shakespear by heart. Mr Lincoln was a very gentle — kind & humane man. His mind was skeptical and hence his deep humanity & skeptical tinge of mind made him love Burns — as well as Shakespear. He read Rollin — Gibbons histories. I loaned them to him.

In the summer of 1836 Lincoln was elected again to the Legislature and about this time I left the State of Ills & went to South. Here it was that Mr Lincoln wrote to me that he was happy to inform me that he had my money — the money he owed me which I came up and got. in 1838 — 9 — 40.

The boreing the hole in the boat is a story made out of whole cloth — Offutt suggested it and Lincoln said he couldnt see it. I know of no personal difficulties made or had between Lincoln & any one. —

Lincoln's physical Exercise running — jumping — pitching quoits — hopping swimming — shooting — he never played cards for money — never bet a cent in my life. He played for Sport — to pass time & purely for fun — just as gentlemen & ladies do now and with no other intent. He was a virtuous man — as much any man the sons of Adam. He, in the years year 1833 & 4 was in love with a young lady in New Salem by the name of Mis Ann Rutledge. She accepted the overtures of Lincoln and they were engaged to be be married. This young lady was a woman of Exquisite beauty, but her intellect was quick — Sharp — deep & philosophic as well as brilliant. She had a gentle & kind a heart as an angl — full of love — kindless — sympathy. She was beloved by evry body and evry boody respected and lovd her — so sweet & angelic was she. Her Character was more than good: it was positively noted throughout the County. She was a woman worthy of Lincoln's love & she was most worthy of his. She was suddenly — a short time before the marriage was to be she took sick with the brain-fever and died in 4 or 5 days. Lincoln went & saw her during her sickness — just before her death. Mr Lincolns friends after this sudden death of one whom his soul & heart dearly & lovd were Compelled to keep watch and ward over Mr Lincoln, he being from the sudden shock somewhat temporarily deranged. We watched during storms — fogs — damp gloomy weather Mr Lincoln for fear of an accident. He said "I can never be reconcile to have the snow — rains & storms to beat on her grave."

Mr Lincoln, in Conclusion, was a man of kindness — Courtesy — sincerity & honor, having a mind of great force & depth. and was as much a centre of attraction in that Early day as he was while President. He grasped the Peoples affections through simplicity of his good nature — his honesty — his integrity — his virtue — his high moral &noble qualities and when he once had a man's or a woman's love he never willingly let go its hold. He was a greatly manly man in Evry particular and will go down to history the greatest & foremost man of the world —

Verry Truly your friend
W G Greene

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2137 — 49; Huntington Library: LN2408, 1:324 — 35

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Greene, William G. 'William G. Greene to William H. Herndon (interview)' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: interview]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon017.html
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