Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

16
THE YEAR OF TROUBLE,
1809

THE THREE Lewis families spent the year of 1808 establishing themselves in Livingston County. They had to “open” their farms and build their homes, which would not have left them much time for involvement in community affairs. There is almost no mention of the Lewises in any of the 1808 county or state records, but some of the events of their lives during the next year can be reconstructed. The year 1809 was one of trouble and sadness for them all, especially for Lilburne.

That spring, in April, in the most beautiful time of the year, Lilburne's beloved wife, Elizabeth, died. Elizabeth was just twenty-seven years old and had borne five children during the twelve years she and Lilburne had been married. The children had been born approximately two years apart, and from this pattern it appears that Elizabeth may have died as a result of childbirth. Her youngest baby, Robert, was just past two years of age. Her oldest child, Jane, was eleven, and Lilburne, her husband, was about thirty-two. A spot for a graveyard was chosen about three hundred yards back from the south crest of Rocky Hill, and Elizabeth was buried there with a simple fieldstone marker at her head and a smaller one at her feet. She was the first of three who would lie in that spot. Lilburne recorded her death, not in his Bible, but in an 1803 copy of The Revised Code of the Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia. Lilburne had owned the book since 1805, when he wrote on the first flyleaf, “L. L. Richmond, May 7, 1805.” On the next blank page he inscribed the date of his marriage to Elizabeth, the birthdays of their five children, and then her death, “Betsey Lewis wife of Lilburne Lewis died April 25, 1809, Livingston County, Kentucky.”1

Lilburne gave no information there about the cause of her death. One would guess childbirth complications, but it is equally possible that she was a victim of illness or disease. The medical record of Lilburne's family for the year shows an extended siege of sickness that lasted all that year and was particularly severe in August and September. Unfortunately,

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