Nathaniel Coffin to Abraham Lincoln, 21 June 18531Richland June 21, 1853Dear Sir
If the case of Gilman & als[and others] vs Hamilton & als– is contd[continued] to Nov–[November] Term or otherwise disposed of, please send me word by Mr Blood, the bearer.& much oblige yr[your] friend &c[etc.]Nathl CoffinHon A Lincolnif it is to be tried at the present time please send me reasonable notice that I may attend–
You remember, I told you I had written to Weer & Dubois– I have received no answer from them– This afternoon when the cause was called, it was, on my motion, continued to the November term–2Yours &cA. Lincoln3
if Mr Lincoln is not in court will the clerk please answer this–
A Lincoln June 21 1853
1Nathaniel Coffin wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the second sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
2Neither Abraham Lincoln’s letter to William Weer, Jr. and Alexander M. Dubois nor their return letter has been located.
3Lincoln wrote and signed this endorsement.
Lincoln and Coffin reference the legal case, Gilman et al. v. Hamilton et al. In 1835, Gideon Blackburn purchased more than 16,000 acres of land throughout Illinois as a fund with which to build a seminary in Carlinville, Illinois. Blackburn conveyed the land to six trustees to carry out his wishes, then died in 1838. By 1844, the Blackburn trustees had sold some of the land to pay the taxes but had not yet begun to build the seminary. Fearing that the land was not valuable and that they could not raise enough money, in 1844 Winthrop S. Gilman and the other Blackburn trustees sued Elizabeth Hamilton and Blackburn's other heirs in an action to convey the land to the trustees of Illinois College and establish the "Blackburn Theological Professorship" at Illinois College. The case began in the Macoupin County Circuit Court, but, in September 1844, the court granted a change of venue to the Sangamon County Circuit Court. Blackburn's heirs agreed with the trustees, and the court ordered the conveyance of the land to Illinois College in March 1845. Illinois College subsequently sold most of the land to Coffin. Blackburn's heirs apparently reconsidered and appealed the judgment to the Illinois Supreme Court. In December 1850, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the case on a technicality, ruling that Gilman and the other Blackburn trustees had not proven their case, especially against Blackburn's minor heir. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Sangamon County Circuit Court.
The Sangamon County Circuit Court reheard the case in March 1851, and Gilman retained Lincoln, Coffin, John M. Palmer, and David A. Smith. Blackburn's heirs filed a cross-bill against Gilman and the Blackburn trustees, Coffin, and the Illinois College trustees. In November 1854, the Sangamon County Circuit Court ruled that neither Coffin nor Illinois College had any title in the lands, which remained with the Blackburn trustees. The court ordered the Blackburn trustees to sell the land, build the buildings, establish the seminary as Gideon Blackburn had wished, and pay Illinois College and Coffin the money that they had expended in taxes. In December 1854, Gilman, Coffin, and Illinois College appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court. That same month, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. Justice Walter B. Scates invoked the cy-pres rule, which called for the fulfillment of Gideon Blackburn's original intentions as nearly as possible. Scates asserted that the Blackburn trustees incorrectly attempted to change Gideon Blackburn's idea of a seminary to a professorship at a different college. As a result of the decree, Coffin applied to the Sangamon County Circuit Court for a refund of $7,677.18, but, after some reductions, the master in chancery awarded him $2,921.14 in October 1858. In September 1859, the court set aside that award and awarded him $2,697.61 on his claim. Lincoln received at least $100 for his legal services.
In March 1856, Lincoln wrote Coffin another letter describing the disposition of the lawsuit.
Decree, Document ID: 134855, Gilman et al. v. Hamilton et al., 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/Details.aspx?case=139109; Hamilton et al. v. Gilman et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139111; Master in Chancery’s Report, Document ID: 74521; Decree, Document ID: 74529, Gilman et al. v. Hamilton et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139110; Gilman et al. v. Hamilton et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139112.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Box 4, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).