Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Tragedy struck when a young maiden named Ann Rutledge died of typhoid fever on August 25, 1835 in New Salem, Illinois. Within a few months, her father died of the same disease. Mrs. Rutledge took her six surviving children far into Wisconsin Territory in the fall of 1837.

According to a newspaper article written on January 16, 1898 Nancy, Sarah, Robert and William Rutledge attended a small log cabin school in 1838 taught by J. N. Norris. Their farm was located in Lick Creek Township of Van Buren County, near the Jefferson County line. In 1839, the village of Birmingham was laid out 2.5 miles southeast of where the family settled.

Pioneering was not new to the Rutledge people. New Salem was only two years old when young Abe Lincoln arrived there in 1831. He boarded with Rutledges while working as a clerk in a nearby store. In 1832, the opportunity presented itself for him to run for the state legislature. Although he did not win the election, he pursued this quest and was successful when he ran two years later. By 1837 he had moved to Springfield and soon opened a law practice.

Folklore has it that while he lived in New Salem, his sweetheart was Ann Rutledge. Mr. Lincolnís law partner, William Herndon promoted this idea much to the discomfort of Mary Todd Lincoln who survived her husbandís assassination. Mr. Herndon said that Lincoln did not really love his wife but pined for Ann until his dying day. Mrs. Lincoln retaliated by stating that her husbandís heart was with his devoted wife and family, and was not in the grave of an unfortunate lady he once knew.

Nevertheless, she fled the country for awhile to get away from the publicity. When she returned, Robert Lincoln had her declared insane and institutionalized so that he could seize the family money. Once she was able to clear herself, she severed all ties with her only remaining offspring and later died alone.

Among her curious beliefs that prompted some to speculate that she was mentally unstable, Mary Todd Lincoln held that she made frequent contact with her dead husband and often sensed him laying his hands on her shoulders. Spirit photographer William Mumler (once indicted for fraud) captured an "authentic" spirit image of Lincoln standing beside her in his studio.

Mary Ann Rutledge, mother of the celebrated Ann Rutledge, is buried near Birmingham. Abraham Lincoln had lived in her home in New Salem, Illinois. Whether or not Abraham Lincoln would have ever married her daughter is pure speculation. It is a known fact that Abe adored young Ann, but whether their relationship blossomed beyond that of simple friendship is uncertain and questionable.

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