Why are primary sources so important to Civil War History? Why should historians like James McPherson who rely almost exclusively on secondary sources be taken with a very large grain of salt?
Abraham Lincoln owned property during his time in New Salem.
A rediscovered document - a writ of execution of judgment from the March 1835 sheriff's auction of Lincoln's personal property - describes "the undivided half of Lots 16 & 17 north of Main Street New Salem" as having been owned by Lincoln.
Although his horse and surveyor's equipment were sold at that auction to settle a debt, the writ also contains the notation that "the above property levied on was sold this day for $81. The sale of the house and lots was stayed by order of the Plaintiff."
What originally was interpreted as two mentions of a horse actually was one listing of a "horse" and one of a "house." Digital technology enhanced the document for clarification. The new information was compared to additional documents and stories concerning the auction to add further clarification by Thomas Schwartz and Robert Mazrim.
The conventional wisdom is that Lincoln owned no property at New Salem, near Petersburg, and that his home in Springfield was the first improved property he ever purchased. Based on a theme that was part of the Victorian culture of the late 1800s, it was always thought and taught that, while at New Salem, Lincoln was somewhere between being a backwoods drifter and a responsible, important person.