HOUSES AND CROPS
THE NEW LIFE Randolph and Lilburne were beginning in Kentucky would be similar in many ways to that of their grandfather, Charles Lewis, Jr. of Buck Island, when, as a young man nearly seventy years before, he had opened his plantation on the Rivanna. The land was new ground, more fertile than it would ever be again, but it had to be cleared before its riches could be exploited. When the needs of the family and slaves had been met, if there was a surplus from the farm it could go to market by river boat. Although there were small settlements in the county, they were not nearby, and a visit to town required a ride of several hours over trails that were usually impassable for wagons. The plantations and home places were at first isolated, no more than clearings miles apart in a sea of forest.
There were, however, some differences between the situation of Randolph and Lilburne and that of their grandfather. He had been a member of the colonial gentry and had received his land at small cost through his father's influence. He had more slaves and more capital available than his grandsons and, in the culture of tobacco, had a cash crop that was more or less in steady demand. He was a member of the upper class in a society that generally imitated the English social structure, which was based on family blood lines, inheritance, and rigid class stratification.
Randolph and Lilburne, on the other hand, had paid substantially for their land in Kentucky, and did not have a single dominant cash crop on which they could depend for income. The Embargo of 1807 had destroyed any temptation to grow large crops of tobacco in Livingston County. In colonial Albemarle, being a member of the gentry was a tremendous advantage in acquiring a fortune, whereas in west Kentucky two generations later, one's family connections were less important than one's political influence. Competence, industry, cleverness, and motivation: these things brought wealth on the frontier, where what a man could do was more admired than his surname, and self-styled aristocrats were mistrusted, when not resented. Certainly the Lewises' close kinship to Jefferson, who