The Who2 Blog

Which Came First: The Darwin or the Abe?

“As Aquarians, they should both be stubborn, visionary, tolerant, free-spirited, rebellious, genial but remote and detached — hmmm, so far, so good.”

It’s true: Scientist Charles Darwin and President Abraham Lincoln were born on the exact same day: 12 February 1809.

If you’re wondering which one was actually born first: we don’t know. We came up empty after a rather extensive search for the exact birth times of both men.

On the Lincoln side, we have Carl Sandburg‘s word for it that Lincoln was born in the morning:

One morning in February 1809, Tom Lincoln came out of his cabin to the road, stopped a neighbor and asked him to tell “the granny woman,” Aunt Peggy Walters, that Nancy would need help soon. On the morning of February 12, a Sunday, the granny woman was at the cabin. And she and Tom Lincoln and the moaning Nancy Hanks welcomed into a world of battle and blood, of whispering dreams and wistful dust, a new child, a boy.

A little later that morning Tom Lincoln threw extra wood on the fire, an extra bearskin over the mother, and walked two miles up the road to where the Sparrows, Tom and Betsy, lived.

This from a condensed version of Sandburg’s famous six-volume biography of Lincoln. Sandburg admits that the scene was reported years later by a local boy, Dennis Hanks, “whose nimble mind sometimes invented more than he saw or heard.” So: don’t bank on it.

On the Darwin side, it’s a pretty sure bet that nobody was throwing an extra bearskin over the mother. Darwin’s father was Dr. Robert Darwin, a successful physician in Shrewsbury, Shropshire; his mother Susannah was the son of Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter. A few days after his birth, Darwin was baptized by the parish clergyman in the local Unitarian chapel.

But we find no mention of the exact time of his birth, even in Darwin’s own autobiography. (We did find a wonderful family-edited version of that book from the Stanford Library, courtesy of Google Books.)

One source does offer exact birth times for both men: the astrology site Astrologers obsess over exact birth times in preparing their charts, and Astrotheme makes the unlikely claim that Lincoln was born at exactly 6:54 am, with Darwin coming in at 3:00 am. (Speaking of the inventions of nimble minds…) Among other things, it’s doubtful that Tom Lincoln’s “granny woman” checked her Timex at the moment of birth and noted that the minute hand was just passing 6:54.

Those speculations aside, one thing is in Darwin’s favor: England is five time zones ahead of Kentucky. (Though formal world time zones weren’t formally installed until years later.)

So Darwin, at least, had a five-hour head start.

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