Matson Slave Trial Marker- Looking for Lincoln Historical Marker Series
Erected in 2008, this historical marker commemorates the Matson Slave Trial wherein attorney and future President Abraham Lincoln represented a slave owner in his attempt to use the courts of Illinois to recapture an enslaved woman and her four children. Recalling a story that complicates the narrative of Lincoln as an anti-slavery leader, this marker can be found at the home of Dr. Hiram Rutherford, a key player in the trial. This marker is one of over two hundred of the "Looking for Lincoln" series of markers throughout Illinois that highlight various aspects of Abraham Lincoln's life.
Backstory and Context
After learning of the threat upon them, Anthony Bryant contacted Gideon Ashmore and Dr. Hiram Rutherford, a well known abolitionist, to help his family escape. Rutherford and Ashmore hid the family in Ashmore's hotel. The family was later put in the Coles County jail which was actually a benefit to them as it assured they would not be taken to Kentucky and sold away. Jane Bryant and her children remained in the jail for fifty eight days while awaiting for a circuit court trial to decide if they were free people or fugitive slaves that should be returned to Matson.
In response, Robert Matson, hired Abraham Lincoln, a young lawyer from Springfield, and Usher Linder of Charleston. At this time and place, a lawyer was required to take the cases he was offered. On October 16, 1847, two state Supreme Court justices ordered that the Bryants were free owing to the time they had lived in Illinois as the state did not allow slaves to be held within the state unless they were being transported. The Bryants were later provided with funds to travel to Liberia.
The Matson Slave Trial. The Historical Marker Database. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=30867.
The Story of the Matson-Bryant Trial. Matson Trial 1847. http://www.matsontrial1847.org/story.