American Chestnut Cameos

February 12, 2009 at 8:00 am 4 comments

This fall, Ryan Somma and I have been making cameos on the homepage of the Virginia Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. We are just followers. The tree itself has been making cameos long before either of us were born.

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday. Like many young men, Lincoln spent his youth chopping trees for split rail fences. When Illinois politician Richard J. Oglesby looked for a way to brand Lincoln’s campaigns, he wanted to find “one thing in Mr. Lincoln’s unsuccessful career as a worker that could be made an emblem.” That one thing was rail-splitting and it was effective! During the 1860 Republican Convention in Illinois, rails split by Lincoln and his cousin were brought in and held a banner that read, “Abraham Lincoln the Rail Candidate for President in 1860.”

With that aspect of his background getting so much attention, it is not surprising illustrations and paintings often depict a young Lincoln splitting rails.
Lincoln Splitting Rails
Three depictions of Lincoln Splitting Rails

And what is he splitting? Nowadays, split rail fences are made out of cedar. But back in Lincoln’s time, the American Chestnut, with its tall and straight trunks and its strong and rot resistant wood, was the tree of choice.

So, whenever we look at illustrations in history books or oil paintings on museum walls and we spy Lincoln splitting rails….

The American Chestnut is making a cameo.

Entry filed under: Abraham Lincoln, American Chestnut, American Chestnut Foundation, trees.

iNaturalists of 1805 The Romantic Parasite

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary  |  February 13, 2009 at 10:06 am

    This is really neat. The first and third illustrations are familiar to me from my childhood history lessons, but I’d never seen the middle one before. And I certainly never knew he was splitting chestnut trees!


  • 2. geekhiker  |  February 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Heh, I’ll bet you’re the only person in the whole world who tied Lincoln’s Birthday to Chestnut trees. And I love ya for it!

  • 3. tgaw  |  February 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    @Mary – Thanks and yeah some of these Lincoln images were familiar to me as well.

    @geekhiker – I learned about Lincoln and the Chestnut connection in January when I attended a speech by Chestnut Restoration Biologist Robert Strasser. Pretty neat!

  • 4. Hunter Street Headgear « TGAW  |  February 22, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    […] 22, 2009 Years after Abraham Lincoln was railsplitting American Chestnut trees, he popularized the stovepipe hat in the U.S. In Hollywood, Justin Timberlake claims that it was […]


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