North of Slavery: The Matson Slave Trial

In 1845 Kentucky slaveowner Robert Matson brought several of his slaves to Illinois, where he put them to work on his farm in Coles County. Two years later an enslaved woman named Jane Bryant fled the farm with her four children. Matson turned to the judicial system in Illinois, hiring attorney Abraham Lincoln to help him reclaim his human property. The ensuing freedom suit reveals the complexity of the institution of slavery, its implications for the “free state” of Illinois, and the role the institution played in the Civil War. The talk will examine the critical role the Illinois Supreme Court played in ensuring Illinois developed as a free state and explore why the future Great Emancipator was on the wrong side of history in this case.

Samuel Wheeler is a historian specializing in the history of Illinois, the Civil War Era, and the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. For more than two decades, Dr. Wheeler has worked in the field of public history, most recently serving as the State Historian of Illinois and Director of Research and Collections at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. He currently serves as the Director of History Programs at the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.

This program is the first in the summer lunchtime lecture series, Stories of Freedom in Central Series hosted by Looking for Lincoln and the Springfield State Historic Sites.  This weekly lecture series will be hosted on Wednesday's at 12:30 PM in Theater 1 at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site Visitor Center.  The series will start on June 5, 2024 and conclude on July 31, 2024.

Event Information

When: Wednesday, July 24, 2024 12:30 PM until 1:15 PM

Location: Lincoln Home National Historic Site Visitor Center, 426 S. 7th Street Springfield, Illinois 62701