Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

1
COLONIAL DAYS

THE FOUNDER of the Lewis family in Virginia, Robert Lewis, settled near the coast during the earliest years of the colony's history. Lewis had been a Welsh lawyer. Attracted by the challenge of the new world, he arrived in Virginia twenty-six years after the first representative government was established at Jamestown in 1619. In the same year that this government was formed at Jamestown, the first indentured blacks came in bondage to the English colonies in North America.1

Robert Lewis lived in Gloucester County, and it was there that his son built the imposing plantation house called Warner Hall. As land along the coast and rivers was taken up, successive generations of Virginians moved inland to the west, a trend that eventually only the Pacific coast could stop. So it was with the Lewises, who were to become one of the more influential and prolific families of Virginia. The great-grandson of Robert, named Charles, settled in Goochland County near the James River about forty miles upstream from Richmond. His plantation home was called the Byrd and, because Charles Lewis was a common name at that time in Virginia, he identified himself as Charles Lewis of the Byrd.2

There were ten children in the family of Charles Lewis of the Byrd and his wife, Mary. For those fortunate people, like Charles of the Byrd, who owned sizable tracts of land and numerous slaves, raising a large family was not an economic problem. As the sons reached maturity, however, their prosperity and prestige depended upon acquiring enough additional land so that each of them could establish himself as a planter in his own right. Traditionally the father provided his sons with land and slaves. This was routinely done by the wealthy gentrymen in colonial Virginia.

England's primary interest in her American colonies was profit, which, in the case of Virginia, was mainly derived from tobacco. England controlled both the market and the price. As the Virginia tobacco industry developed and the stream of wealth began to flow into British hands, steps were taken to increase the production of this valuable weed. Britishers were

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Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vi
  • Constructing Jefferson's Nephews ix
  • Preface xxv
  • Preface to First Edition xxix
  • Acknowledgments xxx
  • 1: Colonial Days 3
  • 2: The Fight for Freedom 12
  • 3: A Colonel in the Militia 20
  • 4: Prosperity 29
  • 5: The Virginia Planter 38
  • 6: The Shipwreck of the Fortunes 44
  • 7: Craven Peyton, Thomas Jefferson, and the Hendersons 55
  • 8: Jefferson and the Lewises 71
  • 9: The Plan to Emigrate 84
  • 10: The Trip to Kentucky 97
  • 11: The Land and Towns 111
  • 12: Houses and Crops 123
  • 13: The Smithland Neighbors 134
  • 14: Issues in West Kentucky, 1808 143
  • 15: The County Court 151
  • 16: The Year of Trouble, 1809 163
  • 17: Lilburne Enters Public Life 175
  • 18: The Church in West Kentucky 189
  • 19: The Presbyterian Lewises 203
  • 20: Insecurity 215
  • 21: Community Affairs, 1810 226
  • 22: Slavery in Livingston 234
  • 23: Tremors in the Dynasty 240
  • 24: Annus Mirabilis 248
  • 25: The Murder 256
  • 26: After the Murder 266
  • 27: The First Grand Jury 274
  • 28: The True Bill 285
  • 29: The Graveyard 293
  • 30: The Orphans 303
  • 31: During the War 312
  • 32: The Aftereffects 322
  • 33: The Epilogue 329
  • Appendix 1 - Notes on Lewis Genealogy 339
  • Appendix 2 - The Colle Sale 348
  • Appendix 3 - The Interview with Matilda 351
  • Appendix 4 - Medical Notes 353
  • Appendix 5 - Lilburne Lewis's Estate 359
  • Index 441
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