Illinois History Minutes

December 27 Illinois History Minute


It’s December 27th, the day that abolitionist Hiram Rutherford was born in 1815. His home and doctor’s office in the Coles County town of Oakland are open to the public as a historic site. He built the house in 1847, the year he was involved in the Matson trial.

An enslaved family held at a nearby farm by Kentucky native William Matson sought refuge with Rutherford and another local abolitionist, Gideon Ashmore. Matson sued to recover the family, arguing that he was allowed to hold them as slaves in free-state Illinois temporarily, because they were in transit. Matson’s attorney was Abraham Lincoln, marking the only time that he argued in court for the rights of a slaveholder. Lincoln was not successful. A judge ruled that Matson had held the family in Illinois too long for the transit exception to apply.