Thursday, March 02, 2023

A Presidential Love Story

Ann Mayes Rutledge (1813-1835) was a distant cousin of mine related to me through my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). Born in Kentucky in 1813, Ann's family migrated to Illinois and were among the founders of the little town of New Salem, Illinois, 20 miles northwest of Springfield. Shortly after the town's founding Ann's father built a tavern and an Inn with lodging for travelers. 

An Artist's Rendering of
Abe Lincoln and Ann Rutledge
A new resident to the town came and stayed for a while at the Rutledge Inn, a young man by the name of Abraham Lincoln. He and Ann took a liking to one another. Unfortunately, Ann was already engaged to a fellow from New York named John MacNamar. In 1832 John made a trip home to New York and promised to marry Ann when he returned. Time passed and John did not return. After a full year John never returned, nor was he heard from. As time passed Abraham began to develop a close friendship with Ann, a friendship that blossomed into romance. Abraham told her that he wanted to marry her, after he obtained his law degree, for which he was studying.

Called to Her Bedside. In 1835 Ann became very ill with Typhoid Fever. As her condition worsened and death drew near, Ann called for Lincoln who came to her bedside to console his dying friend. On Aug 25, 1835 Ann died at the age of just 22. It was a devastating experience for Abraham to have to deal with the death of his first love. He became depressed. Historians say this was the first of several severe bouts of depression. Some friends said he might have been suicidal.

Ann's sister Nancy Rutledge was heard to have said, "I can never forget how sad and broken-hearted Lincoln looked when he came out of the room from that last interview with Annie. No one knows what was said at that meeting, for they were alone together." 

“I ran off the track,” said Lincoln years later. “It was my first. I loved the woman dearly and sacredly. She was a handsome girl. She would have made a good loving wife. I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now.”

Present Day Grave of Ann Rutledge
in Oakland Cemetery, Petersburg, Illinois
Buried and Re-Buried. Ann was buried in the Concord Graveyard, a few miles northwest of New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln was said to have visited her grave many times. More than 50 years later, after Lincoln's Presidency, after the Civil War, even after his death, the townspeople of nearby Petersburg sought to take advantage of Lincoln's popularity. By this time he had become a legend and his fame had grown immensely. The Petersburg folks dug up Ann's coffin and re-buried "Lincoln's Sweetheart" in Oakland Cemetery in the town of Petersburg. They made her grave an attraction that drew people to their young town, in hopes of "putting it on the map." Her grave remains there to this day. Were you to visit the grave of our ancestor Ann Mayes Rutledge today, you would read on her headstone the following words:

I am Ann Rutledge
who sleeps beneath these weeds,
Beloved of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!

- - -
Steve Shepard

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