Home/Events /Unveiling of Invaluable Lincoln Document Donated to McLean County Museum of History
Unveiling of Invaluable Lincoln Document Donated to McLean County Museum of History
Date & Time
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

The McLean County Museum of History is pleased to announce the donation of a remarkable Abraham Lincoln document by retired Bloomington attorney and Lincoln scholar Guy Fraker. The legal pleading—running one and one-half pages in Lincoln’s own hand—dates to the fall of 1851 and offers a fascinating window into the sixteenth’s president’s law career and his deep connections to McLean County.

The Museum is timing the announcement of this once-in-a-lifetime gift to the week of Lincoln’s birthday (February 12). On Saturday, February 15, the Museum will unveil this document in a public program beginning at 11:00 a.m. Guy Fraker and Museum Librarian Bill Kemp will offer an overview of the document—the who, what, where, and why—before it’s made public for the very first time!

In this pleading, Lincoln summarizes the claims of his client, Robert H. Rutledge, regarding an aborted real estate deal involving 160 acres on the southern edge of Downs Township in McLean County. At issue was neighboring landowners Jesse Funk’s demand that Rutledge honor an alleged contract to sell the acreage.

The case would conclude two years later when the McLean County Circuit Court ordered Rutledge to sell 80 of the 160 acres in question. Prior to Fraker’s acquisition of this pleading and his subsequent research, historians were unaware of Funk v. Rutledge. That’s not surprising, though, given that many of McLean County Circuit Court records from Lincoln’s era were lost in the Great Bloomington Fire of 1900.

“The donated pleading is fascinating on many levels,” notes Fraker. “It not only speaks powerfully to Lincoln’s ties to McLean County; it says a lot about the importance of land in nineteenth century Illinois.” This case is also interesting because Rutledge was cousin to Ann Rutledge of New Salem, who, legend has it, was Lincoln’s first and truest love.

The document was acquired by Fraker in 2008 from Marilyn Townley, widow of Judge Wayne Townley, Jr. His father, Wayne, Sr., also a Bloomington attorney, had acquired the pleading well before World War II. Wayne Townley, Sr. was a Lincoln collector and scholar in his own right.

Fraker, a longtime supporter of the not-for-profit McLean County Museum of History, said he could think of no better caretaker of this historically invaluable document. The museum—an award-winning, American Alliance of Museums’ accredited institution—will store this pleading in one of its secure, climate-controlled archives. It is Fraker’s wish that the Museum publicly display the document at least once a year—on or around Lincoln’s birthday.

“I wanted to ensure that this document would be cared for and made available for many years to come,” said Fraker. “The McLean County Museum of History is a first-rate institution with a welldeserved reputation. I can think of no better place for this priceless document. In a sense, it’s back home in McLean County—back where it belongs.”

The unveiling program will be held Saturday, February 15, 11:00 a.m. to 12 noon in the Museum’s Governor Fifer Courtroom. The event is free and open to the public.

Photo L-R: Bill Kemp, Museum Librarian, Guy Fraker, author and historian and Greg Koos, Museum's interim executive director
McLean County Museum of History
200 N Main St
Bloomington, IL