Lincoln as Postmaster and Surveyor

There are many documented Lincoln activities in the city of Athens, more than any other community that he visited.

During the time Lincoln lived in New Salem now known as Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site, he traveled between New Salem Village and Springfield. It was the shortest, most direct route by going through Athens.

The postal regulations required that Lincoln, the New Salem postmaster (1833-1836) pick up the New Salem mail in Athens when the Sangamon River was flooding. The mail carrier would leave the New Salem mail in Athens and would travel north out of town. Henry Rogers, the son of Colonel Matthew Rogers, stated that Lincoln picked up mail in Athens several times. During that period, the Sangamon River had major flooding on two occasions. Lincoln also stayed at Banks Hall's tavern in Athens various times.

Lincoln would also stop by the home of Colonel Rogers to borrow books. The Rogers' family home fireplace is on display in the basement area of the Museum. Historians have written about this interchange and how Rogers' daughter Arminda taught the future president as well as Ann Rutledge. The copy of Kirkham's Grammar, the primary text that Lincoln used, now resides in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

In 1834, Lincoln, the postmaster had also become a skilled surveyor, and he surveyed the Post Road which passed by the front of Rogers' general store and post office. The survey point Lincoln used, still remains today, just forty feet from the building.

Lincoln the Legislator

In 1836, while a candidate running for the state legislature for the third time, Lincoln borrowed a horse from Mrs. Robert L. Wilson of Athens. He gave his first speech of that campaign while visiting Athens to borrow the horse. Lincoln often stayed at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, and they would go up to the old building to talk. This was according to Wilson himself, in a later letter to William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner.

The Long Nine Banquet

On August 3, 1837, the citizens of Athens held a banquet for Abraham Lincoln and the eight other legislators (called the Long Nine) in the upper room of the Colonel Matthew Rogers Building who had successfully worked for passage of legislation that led to the relocation of the state capitol from Vandalia to Springfield.

At this ocassion, Lincoln led the the other six Long Nine legislators who were present in a toast to the citizens of Athens, saying, "Sangamon County will ever be true to her best interests and never more so than in reciprocating the good feelings of the citizens of Athens and neighborhood!"

Lincoln's Response to the County Boundary Move

Not connected with the move of the state capitol to Springfield, two years later the boundary of Sangamon County was redrawn. Athens became a part of the new Menard Country.

On January 26, 1839, Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to William Butler who shared former postmaster James D. Allen's disapproval of Lincoln supporting the county boundary change. Lincoln wrote, "The grounds of your complaint I will answer seriously. First, then, as to Athens, we have Allen's letter of which you speak, and although he did not in that letter, pretend that he was especially authorized to speak for the people of Athens, he did pretend, that he knew their feelings, and that he fairly expressed them- and further, Hall and Francis of Athens are now here, and I assure you, that they say nothing about 'giving us hell.' They are as good humored as I ever saw them."

The people of Athens were unhappy about being removed from Sangamon County and placed in the newly formed Menard County. Allen had served as Athens Postmaster from 1834-1837. He was certainly in a position to know the feelings of his fellow citizens. Many citizens of Athens considered Springfield as a sister city.

It seems that Lincoln either did not believe that the people of Athens were unhappy about the boundary change, or he chose to ignore Allen's letter.

Lincoln the Lawyer

Lincoln's ties to Athens, forged in the early 1830s continued into the next decade. In 1841, Colonel Matthew Rogers engaged the law firm of Logan and Lincoln to sue for collection when new building owner Josiah Francis failed to pay on time. Lincoln personally handled the case in Judge Samuel H. Treat's Sangamon County Circuit Court and filed the brief in his own hand on June 29, 1841. Lincoln won the suit by default on December 3, 1841. Original brief is in the Library of Congress. However, a machine copy of the brief is currently on display in the Lincoln history room of the museum.