Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

11
THE LAND AND TOWNS

IN Livingston County most of the countryside was unevenly rolling high ground, a plateau that in ages past had been eroded into myriad narrow valleys. In the upland areas, grass-covered barren lands could be found, spotted with groves of large cedar trees; but covering most of the land grew the dense, primal, hardwood forest. Along the rivers, where mist gathered in the mornings, lay the flat, highly fertile bottomlands. Where it had not been cleared, this ground supported dense canebreaks and magnificent stands of trees—pecan, sycamore, cypress, oak, maple, chestnut, cottonwood, poplar, walnut, and other varieties in abundance. In the creek bottoms and ravines the trees reached astonishing size. Favored by moisture and sheltered from the wind, they thrust their trunks straight up, often seventy or more feet to the first limb, as if striving to put their leaves in the sunlight. In the glens under the leaves of the trees it was dusky; noon sunlight did not enter these hollows until the leaves fell in autumn. The roads and trails, for the most part, were laid out along the high ground, generally following the ridges to secure natural drainage and avoid too many stream crossings.

West Kentucky was also a land of many rivers that were used extensively for transportation, even though the water level varied widely from season to season. The spring rains and the melting snows upstream brought a rise each year. Between the banks ran swirling muddy water that carried limbs and even whole trees along with it. Sometimes the rivers overflowed the banks and flooded the bottoms. During the summer the water fell, exposing sand bars, beds of rock, and hard-baked, wafflecracked mud flats. In dry periods the river was scattered with bars, rocks, and sawyers, and the water was confined to a more tortuous and constricted channel. Often there was little or no current, and in the sloughs and bayous the water lay still, disturbed only by the sinuous passage of a moccasin, the feeding of summer ducks, or the occasional splash of a fish.

A year or so after arriving in Livingston, Colonel Lewis wrote to Jefferson describing the abundance of fish to be found there.

-111-

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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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