Dr. Hiram Rutherford (1815-1900)

Dr. Hiram Rutherford arrived in Illinois in 1840, after completing his medical studies in his native Pennsylvania. He settled in the Coles County village of Independence, now known as Oakland, in east-central Illinois. Raised in an abolitionist household that participated in the Underground Railroad, the doctor soon found himself at the center of the familiar controversy in Illinois. In 1847 Rutherford and another man, Gideon Ashmore, assisted a family of African-American slaves who had escaped after their master, Robert Matson of Kentucky, had brought them to Illinois to work on one of his properties. Matson soon discovered that the runaways were being harbored in Ashmore's tavern, and secured a court order to have them imprisoned until he could retrieve them. In response, Ashmore and Rutherford obtained a writ of habeas corpus for their release. In the ensuing legal actions, Matson retained the circuit-riding attorney Abraham Lincoln to argue for the return of his slave property. But Lincoln lost the case. After a hearing, the circuit court freed the fugitive slaves.

A number of letters written by Dr. Rutherford and members of his family, as well as letters written to them are available on Lincoln/Net. Please click on the link to view them.


The Charleston and Mattoon Bicentennial Commissions. Coles County, Illinois. Dallas: 1997.

David H. Donald. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.