Lincoln Acquitted

Historical Marker #667 in Hancock County designates the location of Abraham Lincoln's first law case in which he successfully defended himself against charges of operating a ferry without a license.

In the fall and winter of 1826-27, Lincoln worked on a ferryboat near Posey's Landing on the Ohio River in Spencer County, Indiana. The following spring, Lincoln built a small flatboat for his own use at Bates' Landing about a mile and a half downriver. He intended to earn money by carrying produce down the river. This venture being unsuccessful, Lincoln turned to carrying passengers to steamboats in the middle of the river. Two ferry operators objected and accused Lincoln of interfering with their legally established business. Lincoln admitted to conveying passengers to the middle of the river, but he argued that he had carried no one who was a potential customer of the operators.

Judge Samuel Pate decided the case for Lincoln by narrowly interpreting Kentucky law, which prohibited unauthorized persons from carrying passengers "over" the river but made no mention of taking passengers to the middle of the river.

This case, the first in which Lincoln appeared as a defendant, led to a friendship between him and Samuel Pate which, some have speculated, may have stimulated his initial interest in the law.