Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

22
SLAVERY IN LIVINGSTON

SLAVERY IN the South and in Kentucky has been the subject of so many excellent studies that lengthy discussion is not needed here.1 A summary of general statements may, however, help to set the background of the institution as it existed in Livingston County at the time the Lewises lived there.

The almost unanimous attitude among the southern whites, carried over from colonial days, was that slavery was a matter of fact. It was not regarded as a crime nor even a matter for apology, but rather a natural and moral necessity.2 Of those few people in the South who opposed slavery and the slave trade, almost none harbored any suspicion that the negro race was not inherently inferior to the white.3

In spite of this, and underlying the whole history of American slavery, there were two repressed but constant fears that gnawed at southern whites. One was the dread of a slave and free negro uprising.4 The other, having its roots deep in the conviction of white superiority, was the fear that the two races, given the chance, would blend and supposedly corrupt the genetic reservoir of the white race. The only noticeable initiative taken in this direction was by white males themselves—men of all social classes. The carnal use of negro women by white men was not at all rare or isolated.5 Inconsistently enough, at the same time southern white men had a nearly obsessive concern that a white woman would be forced to have, or might even desire, sexual contact with a negro man. For the negro man in rape cases, death was almost always inflicted without delay.

Another inconsistency was that while the ownership of a sizable number of slaves invariably afforded social prestige to the owner, in many cases chattel slavery in Kentucky was not profitable, because the care of the slaves, including the children and the aged, cost more than their earnings.6 Slavery, however, was not universally unprofitable. On a few especially well-managed plantations slave labor was found to be more efficient than hired free negro or white southern laborers.7

During the frontier and settlement days in Kentucky, before

-234-

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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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