Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed, 19 June 18411Springfield, June 19th 1841Dear Speed:2
We have had the highest state of excitement here for a week past that our community has ever witnessed, and, although the public feeling is now somewhat allayed, the curious affair which aroused it, is verry far from being, even yet, cleared of mystery— It would take a quire of paper to give you any thing like a full account of it; and I therefore only propose a brief outline. The chief personages in the drama, are Archibald Fisher, supposed to be murdered; and Archibald Trailor, Henry Trailor, and William Trailor, supposed to have murdered him. The three Trailors are brothers; the first, Arch: as you know, lives in town; the second, Henry, lives in Clary's Grove, and the third, Wm, in Warren county; and Fisher, the supposed murderee, being without a family, had made his home with William. Trailor in Warren. On saturday evening, being the 29th May, Fisher and William came to Henry's, ^in a one horse dearborn,3^ and there staid[stayed] over sunday, and on monday all three came to Springfield, ^Henry on horseback^ and joined Archibald at Myers’ the dutch carpenter—4 That evening at supper Fisher was missing, and so next morning. Some ineffectual search was made for him; and on tuesday at 1 o. clock PM. Wm & Henry started home without him. In a day or so Henry and one or two of his Clary Grove neighbours[neighbors] came back and searched for him again, and advertised his disappearance in the paper. The knowledge of the matter thus far, had not been general; and here it dropped entirely till about the 10th Inst when Keys received a letter from the Post Master in War
<Page 2>ren, stating that Wm had arrived at home, and was telling a verry mysterious and improbable story about the disappearance of Fisher, which induced the community there to suppose that he had been disposed of unfairly— Key’s made this letter public, which immediately set the whole town and adjoining country agog; and so it has continued until yesterday. The mass of the People commenced a systematic search for the dead body, while Wickersham was dispatched to arrest Henry Trailor at the Grove; and Jim: Maxey, to Warren to arrest William. On monday last Henry was brought in, and showed an evident inclination to insinuate that he knew Fisher to be dead and that Arch: & Wm had killed him. He said he guessed the body could be found in Spring Creek between the Beardstown road bridge & Hickoxes mill.5 Away the People swept like a herd of buffaloes, and cut down Hickoxes mill dam nolens volens6, to draw the water out of the pond; and then went up and down, and down and up the creek, fishing and raking, and ducking and diving for two days, and after all no dead body found. In the mean time a sort of scuffling ground had been found in the brush in the angle or point where the road leading into the woods past the brewery, and the one leading in past the brickyard join. From this scuffle ground, was the sign of something about the size of a man having been dragged to the edge of the thicke[t ]where it joined the track of some small wheeled carriage which was drawn by one horse, as shown by the horse tracks. ^The carriage track led off towards Spring Creek.^ Near this drag trail, Dr Merryman found two hairs, which after a long scientific examination, he pronounced to be triangular human
<Page 3>hairs, which term, he says includes within it, the whiskers, the hairs growing under the arms and on other parts of the body; and he judged that these two were of the whiskers, because the ends were cut, showing that they had flourished in the neighbourhood[neighborhood] of the razor's opperations. On thursday last, Jim Jim: Maxey brought in William Trailor from Warren. On the same day Arch: was arrested and put in jail. Yesterday (friday) William was put upon his examining trial before May and Lavely. Archibald and Henry were ^both^ present. Lamborn prossecuted, and Logan, Baker, and your humble servant, defended— A great many witnesses were introduced and examined; but I shall only mention those whose testimony seemed to be the most important. The first of these was Capt. Ransdell. He swore, that when William and Henry left Springfield for home on the tuesday before mentioned, they did not take ^the^ direct route, which, you know, leads by the butcher shop, but that they followed the street North untill they got opposite, or nearly opposite May's new house, after which he could not see them from where he stood; and it was afterwards proven, that in about an hour after they started, they came into the street by the butcher’s shop from towards the brick yard. Dr Merryman & others swore to what is before stated about the scuffle-ground, drag-trail, whiskers, and carriage tracks. Henry was then introduced by the prossecution. He swore, that when they started for home, they went out North as Ransdell stated, and turned down West by the brick yard into the woods, and there met Archibald; that they proceeded a small distance further,
<Page 4>where he was placed as a sentinel, to watch for, and announce the approach of any one that might happen that way; that William and Arch: took the dearborn out of the road a small distance to the edge of the thicket, where they stopped, and he saw them lift the body of a man into it; the carriage; that they then moved off with the carriage in the direction of Hickoxes mill, and he loitered about for something like an hour, when William returned with the carriage, but without Arch: and said that they had put him in a safe place; that they then went some how, he did not know exactly how, into the road close to the brewery, and proceeded on to Clary's Grove. He also stated that sometime during the day, William told him, that he and Arch: had killed Fisher the evening before; that the way they did it was by his him (William) knocking him down with a club, and Arch: then choking him to death. An old man from Warren, called Dr Gilmore, was then introduced on the part of the defence[defense]. He swore that he had known Fisher for several years; that Fisher had resided at his house a long time at each of two different spells; once while he built a barn for him, and once while he was doctored for some chronic disease; that two or three years ago, Fisher had a serious hurt in his head by the bursting of a gun, since which he has been subject to continual bad health, and occasional abberations of mind. He also stated that on last tuesday, being the same day that Maxey arrested William Trailor, he (the Dr) was from home in the early part of
<Page 5>the day, and on his return about 11 o, clock, found Fisher at his house, in bed, and apparantly verry unwell; that he asked how he had come from Springfield; that Fisher said he had come by Peoria, and also told several other other places he had been at not in the direction of Peoria, which showed that he, at the time of speaking, did not know where he had been, or that he had been wandering about in a state of derangement. He further stated that in about two hours re he received a note from one of William Trailor's friends, advising him of his arrest, and requesting him to go on to Springfield as a witness, to testify to the state of Fisher's health in former times; that he immediately set off, catching up two of his neighbours, as company, and riding all evening and all night overtook Maxey & William at Lewiston in Fulton county; that Maxey refusing to discharge Trailor upon his statement, his two neighbors returned, and he came on to Springfield. Some question being made whether the doctor's story was not a fabrication, several acquaintances of his, among whom was the same Post Master who wrote to Key's as before mentioned, were introduced as sort of compurgators, who all swore, that they knew the doctor be of good character for truth and veracity, and generally of good character in every way— Here the testimony ended, and the Trailors were discharged, Arch: and William expressing, both in word and manner, their entire confidence
<Page 6>that Fisher would be found alive at the doctor's, by Galaway7, Mallory, and Myers, who a day before had been dispached for that purpose; while Henry still protested that no power on earth could ever show Fisher alive— Thus stands this curious affair now. When the doctor's story was first made public, it was amusing to scan and contemplate the countenances, and hear the remarks of those who had been actively engaged in the search for the dead body. Some looked quizical, some melancholly, and some furiously angry. Porter, who had been very active, swore he always knew the man was not dead, and that he had not stirred an inch to hunt for him; Langford, who had taken the lead in cuting down Hickoxes mill dam, and wanted to hang Hickox for objecting, looked most awfully wo-begone; he seemed the "wictim of hunrequited haffection" as represented in the comic almanic we used to laugh over; and Hart, the little drayman that hauled Molly home once,8 said it was too damned bad, to have so much trouble, and no hanging after all.9
I commenced this letter on yesterday, since which I received yours of the 13th10 I stick to my promise to come to Louisville.11 Nothing new here except what I have written— I have not seen Sarah since my long trip, and I am going out there as soon as I mail this letter—12Yours forever.Lincoln.
<Page 7>SPRINGFIELD IL
JUN 21Mr J. F. SpeedLouisvilleKentucky
June 19. 41
1Abraham Lincoln wrote this entire document, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to make an envelope. Lincoln later wrote up the story again for publication in the Quincy Whig.
2In April 1840, the father of Lincoln’s close friend Joshua F. Speed died, and in early 1841, Speed returned back to his family’s plantation called Farmington near Louisville, Kentucky.
Robert L. Kincaid, Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend (Harrogate, TN: Lincoln Memorial University, 1943), 15; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 86-87; Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon, 17 September 1866, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 342.
3A dearborn is a light one-horse wagon fitted with bench seats. They often had a top and sometimes had side curtains.
Richard H. Thornton, An American Glossary (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1912), 1:243.
4In The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler identified Myers as William H. Myer. However, Frederick A. Myer was likely Archibald Trailor’s partner in his carpentry and construction business, and is likely who is referenced here.
Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:255; U.S. Census Office, Sixth Census of the United States (1840), Sangamon County, IL, 9.
5Addison Hickox and Horace Hickox owned and operated a mill on Spring Creek.
John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 375-76.
6Latin, meaning “whether consenting or not.”
Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, MN: West, 1979), 945.
7In The Collected Works, Basler identified Galaway as “Andrew J. Galloway,” but that individual could not be identified.
Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 1:257.
8Sometime between 1837 and 1841, Mary Todd, walking on foot through Springfield, escaped the deep mud by accepting a ride from Hart in his dray, a low, two-wheeled cart, often without a floor, used for hauling industrial and mercantile goods. This departure from the social norms of the day was noted at the time and was soon memorialized in a poem by a member of Mary’s social circle, Dr. Elias H. Merryman. Entitled “Riding on a Dray,” the poem was circulated among their mutual friends.
“A Story of the Early Days in Springfield—And a Poem,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 16 (April 1923): 144-46; Don H. Berkebile, ed., Horse-Drawn Commercial Vehicles (New York: Dover Publications, 1989), 3-4.
9Logan & Lincoln received $100 for their legal services in defending the Trailors, but they had to sue William Trailor’s estate in 1845 to receive the payment.
People v. Trailor & Trailor, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org; Logan & Lincoln v. Smith, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org.
11Lincoln visited Speed’s plantation, Farmington, in August and early September of 1841.
12The “long trip” to which Lincoln refers was likely in late August and September of 1840, when he spent nearly six weeks in southern Illinois meeting with other Whigs, making political speeches, and engaging in debates with prominent Democrats.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 17 August 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-08-17; 18 August 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-08-18; 23 August 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-08-23; 24 August 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-08-24; 25 August 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-08-25; 1 September 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-09-01; 16 September 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-09-16; 21 September 1840, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1840-09-21.
Autograph Letter Signed, 8 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL)