The Death of Ann Rutledge


When Abe Lincoln was a young man, he fell in love with a woman named Ann Rutledge and planned to marry her. This, however, was not to be.

By 1835, Abe Lincoln had become one of the most popular residents of New Salem, a small village in central Illinois. Abe fell in love with Ann Mayes Rutledge, the daughter of one of New Salem’s co-founders, and intended to marry her. Sadly, this love story would not end happily.

The Promising Start of a Youthful Love Affair

New Salem, Illinois, was a very small town in which everyone knew everyone. In 1835, the entire village became aware that one of its most famous residents, Abe Lincoln, was deeply in love with Ann Rutledge, daughter of James Rutledge, who co-founded New Salem and owned a successful tavern and hostelry in town.

By most accounts, Ann was short, attractive, and lively. She first met Abe when she was a teenager. When Abe was 26 and Ann was 22, the two fell in love and reportedly planned to get married. It is also believed that Ms. Rutledge was simultaneously betrothed to a young man named John McNamar, who was not well thought of by other villagers. McNamar eventually left New Salem, and Ann decided to be with Abe. She was attracted to his awkwardness. The couple began courting and planning their future together.

The Unhappy Ending

Unfortunately, fate had other plans in store for the young lovers. Ann became ill with a fever, which is now believed to have been typhoid, in the summer of 1835. On August 25, 1835, Ann died. Abe was beyond distraught, for his girlfriend’s death was one in a string of tragedies he had endured. First, Lincoln’s mother, Nancy, died when he was nine years old. Secondly, his sister, Sarah, died in childbirth in 1828. Now, Abe had tragically lost his first love to disease.

Abe was so depressed, in fact, that he became suicidal. His friends and neighbors feared that Abe might take his own life after he was seen wandering through the woods with a gun. This claim is substantiated by a quote from local farmer Henry McHenry, who told Lincoln biographer William Herndon, “As to the condition of Lincoln’s Mind after the death of Miss R., … this gloom seemed to deepen for some time, so as to give anxiety to his friends in regard to his Mind.”

These concerned friends urged Abe to visit Bowling and Nancy Green, an older, married couple in the area. The Greens took care of Abe and nursed him back to health for several weeks. This was the first major mental breakdown Abe would suffer; he would have two during his lifetime. Throughout his life, Lincoln experienced bouts of acute psychological depression.


Following Rutledge’s passing, Lincoln embarked upon an on-again, off-again romance with Mary Owens, a well-to-do Kentucky woman. Abe moved to Springfield, Illinois, in 1837 and officially ended his relationship with Ms. Owens. He eventually married another well-bred, Kentucky-born woman, Mary Ann Todd, in 1842.


  1. Various Authors. “Lincoln’s First Love” and “Farcical Romance,” excerpted from Abraham Lincoln: An Illustrated History of His Life and Times, p. 32-3. New York: TIME Books, Time, Inc., 2009.