Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

7
CRAVEN PEYTON,
THOMAS JEFFERSON, AND
THE HENDERSONS

DURING THE same period that Col. Charles L. Lewis's financial fortunes began their final plummet, three of his in-laws became embroiled in a triangle of business intrigue that lasted for more than ten years and ended in animosity and the loss of thousands of dollars to one of them. Colonel Lewis was not directly involved in the episode, but the three people concerned had all played vital roles in his own business affairs. It was as though Colonel Lewis, for once in his life, stood in the calm eye of a hurricane that raged around him.

One of the people was Colonel Lewis's son-in-law and benefactor, Craven Peyton; the second was Lewis's sister, Elizabeth, the widow of his close associate, Bennett Henderson; and the third was Lewis's brother-in-law, Thomas Jefferson. At the heart of this controversy was an attempt to gain control of the businesses that handled and transported a large part of the agricultural products of Albemarle County. At stake, also, was the milling industry at Milton.

In Albemarle, agriculture was the basis of nearly all business. As is still the case today, there was more money to be made in the processing, handling, and resale of farm products than in the actual growing of them. The key to this situation was transportation, that and the simple fact that in rural areas, where crops were grown, there was not enough population to provide a significant consuming market. Because certain manufactured items and luxuries could not be bought with whiskey, pelts, or personal notes of credit, some crops had to be sold for cash, and it was over sixty miles from Albemarle to Richmond, the nearest sizable market. Moving crops in bulk was a formidable project because the roads were unmarked and unimaginably poor.

During this time Jefferson wrote to a friend who intended to visit Monticello and warned him to change his route. He said that the Three Chopt Road was so badly cut by wagons that it

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