Lincolnís first love was Anna Rutledge, of New Salem, whose father was keeper of the Rutledge tavern where "Abe" boarded. The girl had been engaged to a young man named John McNeill, whom, we are informed, the village community pronounced an adventurer and a man unworthy the girlís love. He left for the east, promising, however, to return within a year to claim her as his wife, so the story reads. According to Mrs. William Prewitt, a sister of Anna Rutledge, who is at present (1898) living, the engagement was broken off before McNeill went away, so that she was free to receive the attentions of "Abe" Lincoln. She finally promised to become his wife in the spring of 1835, soon after his return from Vandalia. But, unfortunately, circumstances did not permit of a marriage then, Lincoln being barely able to support himself, not yet having been admitted to the bar, and the girl, being but seventeen years old. It was agreed that she should attend an academy at Jacksonville, Ill., and Lincoln would devote himself to his law studies till the next spring, when he would be admitted to the bar, and then they would be married.
New Salem was deeply interested in the young lovers and prophesied a happy life for them; but fate willed it otherwise. Anna Rutledge became seriously ill, with an attack of brain fever, and when it was seen that her recovery was impossible Lincoln, her lover, was sent for. They "passed an hour alone in an anguished parting," and soon after (August 25, 1835,) Anna died.
The death of his sweetheart was a terrible blow to Lincoln. His melancholy increased and darkened his mind and his imagination, and tortured him with its black picture. One stormy night he was sitting beside a friend of his, with his head bowed on his hand, while tears trickled through his fingers. His friend begged him to try to control his sorrow; to try to forget it. Lincoln replied: "I cannot; the thought of the snow and rain on Annís grave fills me with indescribable grief." For many days Lincoln journeyed on foot to the cemetery where Anna Rutledge lay buried, and there alone, in the "city of the dead," wept for the girl whom he had loved so well. Many years afterward, when he had married and become great, he said to a friend who questioned him: "I really truly loved the girl and think often of her now." After a pause he
added: "And I have loved the name of Rutledge to this day."