By Mary Joyce, website editor
With one noted exception, the following information is from an 1899 book titled “The Genesis of Lincoln” by James H. Cathey who personally interviewed numerous people in Western North Carolina who knew Abraham Lincoln’s biological father, Abraham (Abram) Enloe, and his family.
Abraham Lincoln (L) and his half brother Wesley M. Enloe at age 81
To declare that President Abraham Lincoln was the illegitimate son of a Western North Carolina man requires evidence so take a moment to compare Lincoln’s photo with that of his half-brother Wesley M. Enloe. The similarity is obvious to most people but the story behind Lincoln’s birth is worthy of a television soap opera.
Abraham Enloe, biological father of Lincoln, was a pioneer and founder of the Ocona Lufta community in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina.
Today tourists can see a homestead typical of that community behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Highway 441 which is the main road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
(R) Photo of a homestead building at the visitor center by Darlene Sizemore
First-hand descriptions of Lincoln’s biological father
According to H.J. Beck who lived his entire life in the Ocona Lufta community, Abram Enloe “was a very large man, weighing between two and three hundred.He was justice of the peace. The first I remember of him, I was before him in trials. In these cases, of difference between neighbors, he was always for peace and compromise. If an amicable adjustment could not be effected he was firm and unyielding. He was an excellent business man.”
Another man who personally knew Abram Enloe, Mr. Dills of Jackson County, described him as “a large man, tall, with dark complexion, and coarse, black hair. He was a splended looking man, and a man of fine sense. His judgment was taken as a guide, and he was respected and looked up to in his time.”
A third friend of Abram Enloe, James Conley, said he was “an impressive looking man. On first sight you were compelled to think that there was something extraordinary in him, and when you became acquainted with him your first impression was confirmed. He was far above the average man in mind.”
At a time when many White Men provoked conflicts with the Cherokees, Enloe’s house (L) was often a sanctuary for his Cherokee neighbors.
Author James Cathey wrote that Enloe “and his dusky neighbors snugly reclined in the bosom of peace” and “he ever enjoyed the respect and confidence of the band, and his relations with the two chiefs, Yonaguskah and Sawinookih, were the most intimate and pleasant.”
Known as a man “with a great compassionate heart,”Enloe also opened his home to a young orphan girl who became a servant and practically a member of the family.
Then the soap opera began when the girl, Nancy Hanks, blossomed into an attractive teen.
Cathey’s book provides many accounts confirming what happened next. One was by Phillis Wells who traveled as a young man selling tinware and buying furs, feathers and ginseng for William Johnston of Waynesville, NC. During his travels, he often stayed at the Enloe home. On one visit as Wells put his horse in the barn, Enloe accompanied him and said:
“My wife is mad; about to tear up the place; she has not spoken to me in two weeks, and I wanted to tell you about it before you went in the house.” When Wells asked what was the matter, Enloe said, “The trouble is about Nancy Hanks, a hired girl we have living with us.”
Wells stayed all night and said Mrs. Enloe did not speak to her husband while he was there and that he saw Nancy Hanks and “she was a good-looking girl, and seemed to be smart for business.”
The next time Wells stayed at the Enloe home, he learned Nancy Hanks had been sent away and Enloe had hired a family in Jonathan Creek, NC to care for her. Later a child was born and was named Abraham.
But trouble at the Enloe home didn’t end there. As soon as Nancy Hanks could travel, Enloe hired a man to take her and her child to live with his relatives in Kentucky.
N.C. Walker, who knew the Enloes “almost as well as I knew my own,” said Nancy Hanks married someone named Lincoln in Kentucky and that Enloe had correspondence with him. He added that Enloe sent something to Nancy but “had to be very cautious to keep his wife from finding it out.”
It’s worth mentioning that according to a biographical description, “Abraham Lincoln did no more resemble Thomas Lincoln, his reputed father, than did the rankest stranger, either physically or intellectually.”
Then Judge Gilmore, who went to the same school in Kentucky as Abraham Lincoln and knew him well, said Thomas Lincoln was “a whisky distiller” and “a very poor man.” Even though Thomas was illiterate, the judge said young Lincoln “was a bright boy and learned very rapidly” and “was the best boy to work he had ever known.”
Enloe’s tombstone in Murphy (L) and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There also is a soap opera episode regarding the death of Abraham Enloe. According to Don Norris, author of “The Natural Father of Abraham Lincoln,” Enloe died in Murphy, NC while visiting his children and grandchildren. His wife apparently didn’t want the hassle of sending his remains across the mountains to their home and had him buried in the old Methodist cemetery (now Harshaw Chapel Cemetery) in the center of Murphy.
As a result, there are two tombstones for Abraham Lincoln’s biological father. One is on a ridge across from the Oconoluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The other marker is in Murphy where Enloe’s body most likely was buried. Note that the dates on the two tombstones do not match. The later date of death on the Smoky Mountain tombstone leaves open the possibility Enloe’s body was relocated a year later.
Finally, since pictures may be worth more than all these words, compare two more photos of Abraham Lincoln and his half-brother Wesley M. Enloe. Note the similarity in their body structures and stances.