Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Abraham Lincoln's character-building years

As it is Abe Lincoln's birthday today, I thought I'd mention a book about his character-building years in the 1830s.

The book, Abe Lincoln and the Frontier Folk of New Salem (ISBN: 978-0-913337-36-6, 2002) by Thomas P. Reep and Constance Reep Unsworth, details Abraham Lincoln’s life, loves, friendships, fist fights, and work on the Illinois frontier. It is the only book currently in print that shows photographs of the actual individuals who influenced Lincoln’s character in the 1830s.

The village of New Salem, Illinois, rose up out of the wilderness, tarried for a while, then disappeared. It was a small village, never housing very many people, and of little account socially and economically. It was like hundreds of frontier towns save for one thing: it may have been the most important influence on the character development of one of the greatest men the United States of America ever produced—Abraham Lincoln.

Constance Reep Unsworth’s grandfather, Thomas P. Reep, 1870-1960, was a noted Lincoln scholar. At age 20 he began researching Abraham Lincoln’s life by interviewing people who had actually known Lincoln in the 1830s. Among those he interviewed was Lincoln’s close friend, William G. Greene, who had clerked at a country store with the future president.

Unsworth, an editor of the children’s newspaper Weekly Reader for over 30 years, found copies of her grandfather’s books about Abraham Lincoln’s life in Illinois, including Lincoln and New Salem from 1918. Realizing the importance of her grandfather’s research, Unsworth had rewritten that book for today’s audiences and added an introduction about her grandfather. Abe Lincoln and the Frontier Folk of New Salem is available online at www.war-books.com/abe.htm for $14.95 and amazon.com for $24.00. The book is not only a valuable original source for Lincoln research it is also good reading.

Other Lincoln historians, including Carl Sandburg, used Reep’s research as a basis for their writings about Lincoln’s life in the 1830s.

Believe it or not, both authors have a personal connection with Lincoln. Both the Reep family and Unsworth’s grandmother’s family, the Shipps, had ties to that period of Lincoln’s life. Parthena Jane Shipp, whose name was given to her by Lincoln, was Reep’s mother-in-law and Unsworth’s great-grandmother. --Copyright 2008 by Walter Haan, www.war-books.com


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