[LINCOLN, Abraham]. MATHENY, Charles Reynolds (1818-1890), Clerk of Sangamon County Court. Manuscript transcripts of court filings, writs and summonses in the case of Peter Van Bergen vs. W.F. Berry, A. Lincoln and Wm. Green, part in Matheny's hand, part in two unidentified clerical hands, signed ("C.R. Matheny") on p.4. Springfield, Ill., 10 June 1834. 3¼ pages, small folio, p.4 docketed with case title, costs of serving summons (on Berry, 15 August 1834, on Lincoln, 20 August 1834) and the firm name of "Stuart & Dummer" (attorneys for plaintiff).
THE YOUNG "ABRAM" LINCOLN AS DEFENDANT IN A TANGLED LAWSUIT OVER THE NEW SALEM STORE THAT "WINKED OUT"
A remarkably detailed, apparently unpublished record that illumines a famous frontier Illinois lawsuit involving the 24-year-old Lincoln, a complex incident about which considerable ambiguity remains. Lincoln's brief mercantile career began with his purchase, in the fall of 1832, of a part interest in the Herndon-Berry store in New Salem, Illinois. Then, in a burst of youthful entrepreneurship, Lincoln and William F. Berry purchased on credit the store and stock of a rival storeowner, Reuben Radford, from interim owner William Greene. As Lincoln later wrote, "of course they did nothing but get deeper and deeper into debt" (Basler 4:65). In one facet of the transaction, the two partners and seller Green became jointly indebted for $295.18 to Springfield money-lender Peter Van Bergen. In the next six months the Berry-Lincoln shop simply "winked out" (in Lincoln's words), payments on the note ceased, and on 7 April 1834, Van Bergen's attorneys Stuart & Dummer filed suit in Sangamon County Court against "W.F. Berry, A. Lincoln & Wm. Green" for $500 plus $50 damages. Judge Samuel D. Lockwood, as recorded here, orders Berry, Lincoln and Green "to be and appear before the current court of Sangamon...at Springfield." But when Matheny certified that "Berry & Lincoln" were "not found in my bailiwick," the court, on April 9, ordered "Abram Lincoln" and partners brought to court. On 8 May, the defendants failed to appear. A judgement was granted against Green, and on 8 June the court ordered that "a scire facias" to issue to "the said Abram Lincoln and William Green" directing them to appear at the September session of court to show cause "why they should not be made party to the foregoing Judgement" (pp.2-3). (For additional details, see W.H. Townshend, Lincoln the Litigant and Z.C. Spears and R.S. Barton, Berry & Lincoln: The Store that "Winked Out.")
In the meantime Lincoln--who had taken up surveying as a more viable career than shop-keeping--had purchased a horse, saddle and bridle on credit from William Watkins. When he defaulted, Watkins too sued Lincon and obtained yet another judgement against Lincoln. In May 1834, Sheriff Gerrit Elkin seized some of Lincoln's modest personal possessions including a horse, saddle, bridle and surveying instruments. By some accounts, these were sold at auction to satisy the judgement. (Matheny's partly printed writ for the seizure, 7 May 1834, was sold at Christie's, 9 December 1993, $60,000).