Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, the second child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Lincoln (née Hanks), in a one-room log cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky (now LaRue County).
Little is known about Lincoln's ancestors. Historical investigations have traced his family back to Samuel Lincoln, an apprentice weaver who arrived in Hingham, Massachusetts, from Norfolk, England, in 1637. However, Lincoln himself was only able to trace his heritage back as far as his paternal grandfather and namesake, Abraham Lincoln, a local militia captain and substantial landholder with an inherited 200-acre estate in Rockingham County, Virginia. The elder Abraham later moved his family from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Jefferson County, Kentucky, where he was ambushed and killed in an Indian raid in 1786 with his children Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas looking on. Mordecai's marksmanship with a rifle saved Thomas from the same fate. As the eldest son, by law Mordecai inherited his father's entire estate.
Thomas became a respected citizen of rural Kentucky. He bought and sold several farms, including the Sinking Spring Farm. The family attended a Separate Baptists church, which had high moral standards and opposed alcohol, dancing, and slavery, though Thomas, as an adult, never formally joined a church. Thomas enjoyed considerable status in Kentucky – where he sat on juries, appraised estates, served on country patrols, and guarded prisoners. By the time his son Abraham was born, Thomas owned two 600-acre farms, several town lots, livestock, and horses. He was among the richest men in the county. In 1816, the Lincoln family lost their lands because of a faulty title and made a new start in Perry County, Indiana (now Spencer County). Lincoln later noted that this move was "partly on account of slavery" but mainly due to land title difficulties
When Lincoln was nine, his 34-year-old mother died of milk sickness. His older sister, Sarah (Grigsby), died while giving birth at a young age. Soon after, his father married Sarah Bush Johnston, with whom Lincoln became very close and whom he called "Mother." However, he became increasingly distant from his father. Lincoln regretted his father's lack of education and did not like the hard labor associated with frontier life. Still, he willingly took responsibility for all chores expected of him as a male in the household and became an adept axeman in his work building rail fences. Lincoln also agreed with the customary obligation of a son to give his father all earnings from work done outside the home until age 21. In later years, he occasionally loaned his father money.
In 1830, fearing a milk sickness outbreak, the family settled on public land in Macon County, Illinois. In 1831, when his father relocated the family to a new homestead in Coles County, Illinois, 22-year-old Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon River to the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. In the spring of 1831, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods by flatboat from New Salem to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers. After arriving in New Orleans—and witnessing slavery firsthand—he walked back home.
Lincoln's formal education consisted of approximately 18 months of classes from several itinerant teachers; he was mostly self-educated and was an avid reader. He attained a reputation for brawn and audacity after a very competitive wrestling match to which he was challenged by the renowned leader of a group of ruffians, "the Clary's Grove boys". Some in his family, and in the neighborhood, considered him to be lazy. Lincoln avoided hunting and fishing out of an aversion to killing animals.