Abraham Lincoln loved three other women before he married Mary Todd.    As a child, he loved Nancy Hanks, who gave him life and nine years of mothering. As a youth, he loved Sarah Bush Lincoln, who raised him and encouraged his intellect.    And as a young adult, he loved Ann Rutledge, who sickened and died before the two could wed.

• Ann Rutledge was a Kentucky lass, born January 7, 1813.    In her teens, she moved to Illinois with her father, who transported the family to a place north of Springfield; there he co-founded a village called New Salem.    The main Rutledge enterprise was a tavern, a hewn-log building with four rooms below for food and drink, and sleeping space above.

• Over the years, Ann bloomed into a pretty young thing with blue eyes and reddish-blond hair.    She was cheerful and studious, hard-working and kind.

• Ann Rutledge was admired by all.    In particular, she was courted by John McNamar. The two agreed to marry, though no date was set.

Hocking County Veterans Service Commission

• At the time, McNamar was going by the name of John McNeil.    He claimed he did not want his family to know his whereabouts.    He said he had moved from rural New York to New Salem, where he was hoping to make a fortune.    But until his wealth was won, he explained, he would live under a false name.

• Early in August of 1832 McNamar, without saying a word, left New Salem to return to New York state.    For a long while he stayed out of touch with Ann; during three years he did not write her even one time. The question of why he abandoned her was never answered.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln, boarding in the Rutledge Tavern the winter of 1832-33, was smitten by Ann, and she was enamored of him. This budding romance troubled Ann.    She felt honor-bound to wait to hear from McNamar, for she needed to tell him she could not now be his bride.    In fact, she and Abe were making their own wedding plans.   

• Tragically, the summer of 1835 in central Illinois was one of the hottest and wettest known.    For weeks, it rained; water stood everywhere.    In early August, people in and near New Salem began getting sick.    The local doctors ran ragged, calling on the ill.    Ann herself came down with what everyone called “brain fever” – most likely typhoid.

• In spite of the physician’s treatments, and quite aware of Abraham sitting at her bedside, Ann died.    She was buried in the Concord Cemetery north of town.

• Lincoln was beside himself with grief.    He rambled aimlessly through the woods and spent afternoons mourning beside Ann’s fresh-dug grave. And when September rains fell, he could hardly abide the thought of storms dousing that raw mound.

• Lincoln continued to brood.    Already moody by nature, the sorrowing Lincoln went almost insane.    Close friends kept close watch, making sure he would not come to self-inflicted harm.

• Eventually, Lincoln struggled through his despair.    Two years later, he moved into Springfield and opened a law office.    In 1842, he married Mary Todd.    They shared a long relationship and produced four sons.

• Still, Abraham Lincoln had deeply loved Ann Rutledge.    It was a first love, a love that Lincoln in that very same way would never know again.