Was Abraham Lincoln born in western North Carolina? - Carolina Country
February 2003

Was Abraham Lincoln born in western North Carolina?

By Charles Joyner

Was Abraham Lincoln born in western North Carolina?

In 1899, less than 35 years after Lincoln's assassination, James H. Cathey of Sylva wrote and published the third edition of a book, entitled "The Genesis of Lincoln," in which he endeavors to prove "an interesting fact in the story of America's most remarkable man."

Quoting interviews and letters from widely scattered sources, Cathey makes a case that Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks, became pregnant as a servant girl in the home of Abraham Enloe, located on Ocona Lufta, about 14 miles from Bryson City in what is now Swain County.

Was Abraham Lincoln from NC?

James Cathey’s book includes these photographs on facing pages. Lincoln’s alleged half-brother, Wesley Enloe, was 81 in the photo on the left. His figure bears a striking resemblance to Lincoln, shown when he was President. The photos are from the fourth edition of James Cathey’s book, “The Genesis of Lincoln,” published in 1939 by B.H. Cathey, Canton, N.C. They are reproduced here courtesy of William Enloe, of Edneyville.

Abraham Enloe fathered nine sons and seven daughters by his wife (a former Miss Egerton). The ninth and only surviving son in 1899 was Wesley M. Enloe. Wesley was 88 years old when he was interviewed by Cathey at the Enloe home — the same house on the same farm where his father and mother lived when Nancy Hanks was banished from the household and sent to Kentucky.

Wesley Enloe said in 1899: "I was born after the incident between father and Nancy Hanks. I have, however, a vivid recollection of hearing the name Nancy Hanks frequently mentioned when I was a boy. No, I never heard my father mention it; he was always silent on the subject so far as I know.. . . I have no doubt that the cause of my father's sending her to Kentucky is the one generally alleged."

Cathey interviewed Joseph A. Collins, then 56 and living in Clyde in Haywood County. Collins said he met a Judge Gilmore in 1867, who said he knew Nancy Hanks before she was married, and that she then had a child she called Abraham. "While the child was yet small," Collins quoted Judge Gilmore, "she married a man by the name of Lincoln, after which the boy was known as Abraham Lincoln."

"Years ago," Collins quoted Judge Gilmore, "on Turkey Creek in Buncombe County, N.C., I met an old gentleman whose name was Phillis Wells. Wells said he was then 90 years old. When he was a young man he traveled over the country selling tinware and buying furs, feathers and ginseng. On one occasion he called on Abraham Enloe to stay overnight, as was his custom."

Enloe went with Wells to the barn to put up the peddler's horse, Judge Gilmore said. While there, Enloe told Wells: "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."

Wells asked, "What is the matter?" And Abraham Enloe replied, "The trouble is about Nancy Hanks, a hired girl we have living with us."

"Later a child was born to Nancy Hanks and she named him Abraham."

As Cathey reports it, Wells said he returned to the Enloe place some time later and by that time Abraham Enloe had sent Nancy Hanks to Jonathan's Creek and hired a family there to take care of her, and that later a child was born to Nancy Hanks and she named him Abraham.

An Asheville lawyer named Col. Davidson, who married into the Enloe family, and who settled Abraham Enloe's estate, related that shortly after the Civil War a man came to his office and introduced himself as a son of Nancy Enloe Thompson. The Thompson man stated that he was a Democrat and had been an Indian agent during Lincoln's administration.

"I asked," Col. Davidson said, "why Lincoln, who was a Republican, appointed a Democrat an Indian agent. Thompson replied that the President was under some great obligation to his [Thompson's] mother, and had expressed a desire to aid her in some substantial way. 'This is the way I got my appointment,' he told me."

Capt. James W. Terrell (born in Rutherford County in December 1829) recalled a conversation with a Dr. Egerton of Hendersonville, a relative of Mrs. Abraham Enloe. Dr. Egerton told him, Terrell said, that in the fall of 1860, just before the Presidential election, he had a guest in his home, a Mr. Davis, also a Rutherford County native, who had moved to Illinois in the early 1850s and had become "intimately acquainted with Abraham Lincoln."

"In a private and confidential talk," Davis is quoted as saying, Lincoln told him he was of Southern extraction, that his right name was, or ought to have been, Enloe, but that he had always gone by the name of his stepfather.

After reading Cathey's book, I picked up the Hendersonville phone book and called the first three Enloes listed. "The story is common knowledge in the family," Bryce Enloe of Edneyville told me. "I come from the same set of Enloes."

"I heard it from my grandparents," said Keith Enloe of Laurel Park. "It has been passed down from generation to generation."

"Abraham Enloe was my great-great grandfather," said Robert Enloe of Big Willow community. "I've heard the story all my life. I know it is true."

Was Abraham Lincoln the son of a western North Carolina farmer? You be the judge.

About the Author

Charles Joyner is a Carolina Country correspondent living in Hendersonville.

Comments (13)

  • I just recently read this article. Yes, the story is very true. My grandmother was born and raised in the park and she knew all about Lincoln's birth. She said that's why he fought to free the slaves so hard because his Mom had been a servent. There is one small difference in what you have written. When Nancy got pregnant they found her a husband and she went with him to Kentucky. At least that is how the story was told in the mountains here. My grandmothers Parents lived a couple of miles from the Enloes.

    I enjoyed your article.


    Kim Shuler |
    September 06, 2017 |

  • My grandpa, James Parris grew up on a mountain in the Smokies near Bryson City. He tells this story to be true as well, and he says that everyone spoke about it and knew that this story was true. He says his dad and all the old folk down there talked about it all the time.

    Laura VonKampen |
    December 27, 2017 |

  • Some of this material was the basis for my twice-produced play THE BALLAD OF NANCY HANKS.

    Ludy Wilkie |
    July 18, 2018 |

  • I wrote "My Name Is Nancy" that deals with this subject. www.MyNameIsNancy.com

    Deborah Keller |
    September 27, 2018 |

    • Deborah helped with the play and said it inspired her book. I was honored by that.

      Ludy Marvin Wilkie |
      July 01, 2019 |

  • My grandfather is a Enloe and the story is still the same. And still learning about the family

    Shana |
    July 01, 2019 |

  • My maiden name is Enlow (with "w" instead of "e"), and I've heard this story from some of my family members. Don't know if it's true, but I'll proudly claim it! I can't think of a better person to have in one's family tree!

    Cheryl Enlow Beckwith |
    August 22, 2019 |

    • Hi Cheryl, I believe we are cousins. My dad was Joe Enloe, great grandson of Enoch Enloe. As you can see, my last name ends with an e, not a w. I have been doing my ancestry, and I know that I come from the same Enloes referred to in this article. So, with that said I believe we are related. I live in California, and have for my entire life. I would love to connect with any of my family members. In fact I have recently been acquainted with a cousin I never knew existed, which was awesome. I’d love to hear from you if you find the time.

      Sandra Enloe-Burger |
      January 01, 2020 |

  • My 3rd great grandmother was Christiana Enloe Vernor. She was the sister of Abraham Enloe. Would like to connect with Enloe cousins. goodekenny@gmail.com

    Kenny Goode |
    August 25, 2019 |

    • Hi Kenny, I believe we are cousins and would love to connect with you. You have my email address so if you’re interested, feel free to send me an email. I’d love to hear from you. As you can see, I also reached out to Cheryl Enlow Beckwith. I believe she is a cousin also.

      Sandra Enloe-Burger |
      January 01, 2020 |

      • Hello! I am glad to know you. I live in Mississippi. Happy New Year!

        Kenny Goode |
        January 01, 2020 |

  • Very compelling. I recently visited the Bostic Lincoln Center in North Carolina and there learned of the Enloe connection.
    While there another visitor came in and explained that she is an Enloe and DNA connected her to Lincoln. She also shared photographs of a relative that had striking characteristics to the president.
    Miss Becky the museum hostess took information from this person.

    Pat |
    November 30, 2019 |

  • I grew up with my great grandmother telling me we were kin to Abraham Lincoln...well as most take "old folk" talk as just talk...

    In 11th grade connected to a half sister from my dad that I never lnew about. She and I became fairly close...considering she was 8 yrs older and we didn't grow up together.

    She came to me one day and said she did an ancestry genealogy and that we are kin to Abraham Lincoln through his half brother Wesley Enloe. So believe the "old folk" tales guys....if you're lucky enough to hear it!!

    Jessica Stoyle |
    January 28, 2020 |

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