Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview
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FOR THE Lewis family the year of 1811 began disastrously. They had come to Kentucky three years before, full of hope, expecting to establish a prosperous life for themselves in the fabled land of milk and honey. Since then Lucy and Elizabeth had died, Randolph and Lilburne were both in debt, and their father and sisters were nearly destitute. They had the basic necessities of life, and a few of the luxuries, but they had suffered ill health and the public mortification of continuing law suits over money matters. Their dreams, which were falling apart, must have been shattered when Randolph died early in the year.

There are some indications that he had been in declining health, and when he wrote his will in mid-January it was probably in anticipation of death in the near future, which did come sometime before the end of the next month. The cause of his death is unknown. One of the legends tells the questionable story that he died from the effects of a snake bite, a possible but unlikely accident in mid-January, when snakes are usually in hibernation.1

Randolph's will was dictated to his friend and neighbor, Amos Persons, and then signed by Randolph. The witnesses were Persons, Colonel Lewis, and Randolph's sister, Martha. In the will Randolph left all of his estate to Mary, his wife, for as long as she lived, after which it was to be divided among his eight children. Lilburne, Colonel Lewis, Mary, and Henry Williams, a magistrate who lived in Salem, were named as executors.2 Lilburne and his father presented the will to the county court and a certificate of probate was granted to them at the end of February. A few days earlier they had posted an eight-thousanddollar executors' bond, which was signed as securities by Amos Persons and Lilburne's brother-in-law, Mark Phillips.3

An appraisal of Randolph's estate was made for the court:

In obedience to an order of the Worshipful court of Livingston
County to us directed (being first sworn) we the undersigned have


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Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy


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