Stories have been told for years about the relationship of the Robbins family to Abraham Lincoln. I grew up hearing these stories. As an adult, researching the connections between our family and our most-famous President, I came to realize that while I wasn’t related to Lincoln, others in the family were. In other words, some Robbins descendants are cousins of Lincoln, while others, like myself, share cousins in common with Lincoln.
Most of the stories, and all the documented connections between Lincoln and the Robbins family are through his mother’s family, the Hanks. I’ve seen no mention of a direct Robbins-Lincoln connection.
This post will look at some of the connections that are documented and mention some that aren’t, and point out some of the family lines that descend from these connections.
The clearest and easiest connection to document is that of two of Lincoln’s first cousins, James Hanks and Jemima Hanks, siblings, who married Robbins family members. James Hanks was married to Charity Robbins, and Jemima Hanks was married to Absalom Robbins, both of whom were children of Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins. Both of the Hanks were the children of William Hanks and his second wife Elizabeth Loyd, and William was the brother of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s mother.
James Hanks was married to Charity Robbins on 12 June 1830 in Decatur County, Indiana. They had five children: William, Absalom, Elizabeth, Mahala, and Jemima. Tragedy struck this family early on when James Hanks and his eight-year-old son Absalom were killed while out coon hunting when a tree fell on them. This happened just west of Gaynorsville, Indiana, on April 13, 1841. With the death of James Hanks, Dr. Nathaniel Robbins (whose wife Nancy was the elder sister of Charity) was the court appointed guardian of the remaining children. He retained this duty until he left for Missouri in the fall of 1851. Nathaniel was involved in disputes with the estate of James Hanks over land, and this was one of the reasons he returned to Indiana in the spring of 1852. He had unfinished business relating to the Hanks estate to conclude.
The families of James and Charity tended to stay in Decatur County. Among the surnames of their descendants are Skinner, Purvis, Van Treese, Morgan, Wasson, Patrick, Fultz, Ricketts, Jessup, Stout, and Whipple, among others.
Meanwhile, Jemima Hanks was married to Absalom Robbins on December 26, 1831, in Decatur County. Absalom and Jemima Robbins remained in Decatur Co., Indiana, a few years before moving to Breckinridge County, Kentucky. They had possibly twelve children, and their descendants surnames include Stillwell, Armes, Ryan, Basham, and Macey. Absalom and Jemima are thought to have been buried in the Old Robbins Schoolhouse Cemetery in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, a cemetery that exists only as bare rural lot out in the countryside. Reportedly William Hanks and his wife Elizabeth are also buried there.
Another well-known connection with the Hanks family, but with less documentation, was that of a Nancy Hanks who married Jacob Robbins about 1801, and whose son was the Jacob Robbins who moved to Oregon in 1852. No marriage record or bond has been found for the marriage of Jacob and Nancy and if you’ve ever seen the scraps of paper which are the early Kentucky marriage bonds that wouldn’t surprise you, but Nancy’s name has been consistently passed down in the reminiscences of her family, starting with those of her grandson Harvey Robbins.
It is not known who the parents of this Nancy Hanks were. Harvey Robbins’ stories name her parents as being William and Elizabeth (Hall) Hanks. But William and Elizabeth were married on September 12, 1793, and if Nancy married Jacob in 1801, she couldn’t have been more than eight years old. At this point in the Hanks-Robbins research, we can’t say with certainty whom the parents of Nancy Hanks were.
Another problem with that timeline is that Jacob Robbins was married to a cousin Rachel Robbins in 1790 and they reportedly had one child, John Henry or “Hance”, Robbins. Rachel is said to have died by or around 1800, then Jacob married Nancy Hanks, and had William (“Rock Creek Billy”) Robbins, Jacob Robbins Jr., and Aaron Robbins, the latter a name only found in family notes. What if the date of marriage to Nancy is incorrect? What if William was also a son of Rachel? Ah, the joys of research on the Kentucky and Indiana frontiers!
Among the family surnames descending from this Hanks connection, from William, are Hartley, Bird, Murry, Barnes, Spencer, and Taylor, among others. One of William’s daughters, Catherine, married her cousin Job Robbins, which adds another large line of, supposed, Hanks descendants. Meanwhile the descendants of Jacob Robbins included the additional surnames of Gilliam, Loveridge, and Benson.
There are some other Robbins-Hanks connections suggested but not proven. Micajah Robbins Sr. (another child of Absalom and Mary Robbins) was said to have been married to an Elizabeth Hanks. However, the one marriage record found for Micajah clearly shows he married an Elizabeth Vickery. Perhaps he was married again, this time to an Elizabeth Hanks? His son, Micajah Robbins Jr., was married to an Elizabeth Swink. Perhaps this name has been confused through the years with Hanks.
A daughter of Absalom and Jemima (Hanks) Robbins, Mary, has been suggested as marrying a Jacob Hanks, son of William and Elizabeth (Knatzear) Hanks, grandson of William and Margaret (Wilson) Hanks. Jacob Hanks would have been a first cousin once removed to Abraham Lincoln. This connection has also not been proven.
One silly suggestion that Nathaniel Robbins was married to Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, as I’ve seen in some people’s Ancestry’s trees does not warrant discussion.
The interest, and excitement, in a possible relationship to a famous person can sometime lead us astray and away from the serious research needed to prove or disprove such a family story. Perhaps today, with a combination of paper research and genetic research with DNA we can finally sort out all these possible and fascinating relationships.