Denton Offutt

(ca. 1803-ca. 186?)


Denton Offutt has become known as the man who brought Abraham Lincoln to New Salem, Illinois.  He has also been remembered by a New Salem schoolteacher named William Graham as unsteady, noisy, fussy, wild, and rather brutal.


In early 1831, Offutt wanted to send a flatboat of produce from Beardstown, Illinois, to New Orleans.  Unable to procure a boat for the trip, he eventually hired Abraham Lincoln, whose family had moved near Decatur in 1830, to build a boat and sail it to the Crescent City.  When the boat was completed and loaded, Lincoln helped to sail it south.   Denton Offutt liked what he observed of Lincoln’s abilities and he also liked New Salem, believing that the town had possibilities as a trading center if the Sangamon River were improved.


When Lincoln returned from New Orleans, Offutt entered into a contract with him to act as a clerk in charge of a store and mill in New Salem.  At first the store was successful, and Lincoln became known in the locale for his strength and integrity.  But by the spring of 1832, Offutt’s store was failing and Lincoln announced his candidacy for the state legislature.   Denton Offutt closed the store and gave up the mill, disappearing from history until 1861, when he sought an appointment from Lincoln for a federal position in Louisiana.  There is no evidence that he received the appointment or that he appeared in Lincoln’s life again.  


Bernhardt Wall print of Denton Offut’s store in New Salem, Illinois, where Lincoln worked 1831-132

Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Museum of Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN