Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

5
THE VIRGINIA PLANTER

THERE IS little reliable information about the personalities of Col. Charles L. Lewis and Lucy, or about the way they lived. The few existing scraps of information about Colonel Lewis indicate that, like most gentrymen, he took an interest in the pedigree and breeding of horses.1 The records indicate that all of the men and women in his family were literate, and the estate inventories of several generations of Lewises show that they had some concern for books. Their collections were modest, but on several occasions they borrowed books from Jefferson's fine library at Monticello.2 In spite of this interest, it is doubtful that any of Colonel Lewis's sons went to college. As they reached the age of sixteen, Colonel Lewis took them into partnership with him, and probably assigned them some responsibility for his business and plantation affairs. This, and the fact that the sons married early, ruled out advanced education for them.3

It is certain that the Lewises were not intellectually deficient. For the most part, they took their place in community affairs. They served eagerly in the military and local government organizations, and were active in the fight for religious freedom.

These few facts reveal very little about the personalities and customs of this family. Their social affairs, recreation, daily routines, and attitudes cannot be described with assured accuracy. Few of their letters survive, and no diaries or pictures of them are known to exist. The Lewises were, however, members of the wealthy slave-owning class of Virginia plantation owners, and that particular group has been described many times, and in some detail, by interested and literate observers who visited in Virginia, both before and after the Revolution. Whether or not their comments and generalizations could be applied to the Lewises must remain conjecture.

Prior to 1800 most of the books supplying information about Virginia and her citizens were written by Europeans.4 Some of these writers were military men, while others were ministers, doctors, or philosophers. In general, these travelers looked down on Americans, and believed that the Western Hemisphere was inferior in most ways to western Europe. Their reports were somewhat biased and were widely resented by Americans.

-38-

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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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