U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is one of the most notable figures in American history. Unfortunately for astrologers, we do not know his exact birth time, although from historical sources we may be able to narrow it to within a couple of hours before sunrise on Sunday 12 February 1809. Let’s look at the evidence.
The site astro.com gives Lincoln’s birth data at 12 February 1809 near Hodgenville, Kentucky (37n34, 85w44) around 6:54 AM LMT (Rodden Rating B, from biographical sources). This estimated time of birth is based on the fact that sunrise occurred around 6:58 AM LMT on that day, and biographical sources mention that Lincoln was born before sunup. A careful reading of the biographical material, however, suggests that the 6:54 AM LMT birth time may be significantly off from the actual time of birth.
The two most important sources are:
1) Carl Sandburg’s biography, “Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years,” which on page 22 cites the “granny woman” midwife Peggy Walters as saying, “The baby was born just about sunup, on Sunday morning” (italics mine). Unfortunately, Sandburg does not footnote his source so that we do not know whether he is simply paraphrasing or directly quoting his source.
2) Citing an interview with Peggy Walters, the Abraham Lincoln Research Website states: “Lincoln was born about dawn on Sunday, February 12, 1809, in Hardin County (now LaRue County) near Hodgenville, Kentucky” (italics mine), but later on the same page the website has Peggy using the word “sunup.”.
Here we have two versions of the same quote, attributed to midwife Peggy Walters, in which she says that Lincoln was born either “just about sunup” (Sandberg’s version and perhaps paraphrase of the quote) or “about dawn” (from the summary on the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, which also attributes “about sunup” to Peggy Walters) on 12 February 1809. We can safely assume that Peggy Walters was not speaking with astronomical precision, and we are left wondering what she meant by “about sunup” (Sandberg’s version) or “about dawn” — and whether she had in mind actual astronomical sunrise or instead the first appearance of morning light (dawn). From the quote at the Lincoln Research Website, it does appear that Peggy used the word “sunup,” but even that site understood her to mean “dawn” rather than astronomical sunrise.
Sandberg reported Peggy Walters as saying “sunup,” which is generally taken to mean sunrise, although when, used loosely, “sunup” can also refer to dawn or daybreak, that is, the time in the morning when daylight first appears. The sky becomes quite bright before the sun actually rises.
The Abraham Lincoln Research Site understands Peggy Walters to mean “dawn,” which refers to the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise. If we take this interpretation to be the correct one, then it was dark when Lincoln’s mother went into labor, and shortly after the birth, the darkness of night was replaced with the first light of day (dawn). Thus, to estimate Lincoln’s time of birth, we would need to determine at what moment dawn occurred on 12 February 1809 in or near Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Using the calculator at the site https://www.sunrisesunset.com/, I generated the following times for sunrise and the various forms of twilight on 12 February at Lincoln’s birthplace.
Of the three types of dawn (astronomical, nautical, civil) the first appearance of light, which Peggy Walters was likely referring to in her quote, belongs to nautical dawn when there is enough sunlight present (prior to sunrise) to enable sailors to clearly distinguish the sky from land and water. If Lincoln was born just before the first light of day was brightening the night sky, then he would have been born about an hour before sunrise.
In other words, sunrise occurred at 7:37 AM EST, and nautical dawn (the first light of day in which sky and land or water could clearly be distinguished from one another) began at 6:39 AM EST — some 58 minutes earlier.
Using Solar Fire, I calculated sunrise in Hodgenville, Kentucky on 12 February 1809 to have occurred at about 6:58 AM LMT, which means that nautical dawn occurred at about 6:00 AM LMT (58 minutes earlier). If Peggy looked out the window and saw the first light of day just after Lincoln was born, then his birthtime would have been about 6:00 AM LMT. The chart cast for this time has 4 Aquarius on the Ascendant and 24 Scorpio on the MC.
This chart for nautical dawn near Lincoln’s birthplace may be a better fit for the description Peggy Walters gave in her interview about his birth. Astrologically, it also fits quite well with Lincoln’s life history. Mars rules the MC and conjoins the 9th Placidus cusp — he was a brilliant lawyer and orator. Mars rules his 3rd house and trines his natal Sun. Saturn is the exalted ruler of the 9th house, occupies the 10th of career, and closely sextiles the Ascendant.
Quickly checking his primary directions, Saturn in the 10th is about 9 degrees from the MC. Lincoln’s mother died on 5 October 1818 when he was 9 years old. Measuring more precisely, the Right Ascension of the MC is 232:06 and that of the ecliptic position of Saturn is 241:30, a difference of 9 degrees 24 minutes of Right Ascension, which by primary direction would indicate the death of his mother at about age 9 1/2.
My impression, based on the midwife’s own words (“born about dawn”) and astrological symbolism, is that a chart cast for nautical dawn on Lincoln’s birth date is significantly closer to his actual time of birth than one cast for a moment or two before astronomical sunrise.