Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


A fact is that Abraham Lincoln met and knew Ann Rutledge. Whether or not their relationship went beyond that of acquaintanceship has been a subject of debate for more than 160 years. Many New Salem residents believe in the validity of the affair.

James Rutledge built a dam, sawmill and gristmill, and helped found New Salem, Illinois.

As New Salem grew into a typical frontier town, he converted his home into a tavern and built an addition for guests. His daughter Ann helped with the cooking and chores and eventually ran the tavern herself.

Ann was pretty, friendly, stood about five-foot-three, weighed 120 pounds, and was poised with a sweet, charming character. Boarding for awhile at the Rutledge Inn was a young law student named Abraham Lincoln.

In the summer of 1835, Ann became ill with typhoid fever. As her condition worsened and death approached, she called for Mr. Lincoln. Abe made a visit to see her and had a closed-door, private interview. Eye-witness reports say that he was very sad and broken-hearted when he came out of her room.

On August 25, 1835 Ann died at the age of 22. Reports are that Lincoln became extremely depressed. Three months later, Annís father James joined her in death. Mrs. Rutledge gathered together the remains of her family and moved to Fulton County, then west to Birmingham on the frontier of Van Buren County, in the Iowa portion of Wisconsin Territory.

Mary Rutledge raised the rest of her children near Birmingham and is buried in a pioneer family cemetery near the border of Jefferson County. She always claimed a serious connection of her daughter to Mr. Lincoln, but did not pursue it with much passion.

Abrahamís wife and the mother of his children, Mary Todd Lincoln never believed one word of the rumors and said that they were spread by Lincolnís press secretary to spite her, as he disliked her intensely.

The New Salem schoolmaster knew both Ann and Mr. Lincoln and said that they both studied at his home. Ann took sick while at school. He claims that the couple was secretly engaged and made plans. Mr. Lincoln confided that they would marry after he finished law school.

The Ann Rutledge legend grew momentum after Abraham Lincolnís assassination. Some of his closest friends revealed that his deepest feelings were for Ann. Abraham visited her often while she was alive, and thought of her often after her death. According to her epitaph (written by Edgar Lee Masters), as Ann slept beneath the weeds she was wedded to himÖ.not through unionÖ.but through separation.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick