Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

14
ISSUES IN WEST KENTUCKY,
1808

WHEN THE Lewis family arrived in west Kentucky in 1808 the three interwoven issues that most affected the local citizens were the economic depression, impending war with England, and national politics.1 Of immediate concern was the severe nationwide trade crisis.

The preceding few years had been marked by business instability. There were a few brief periods of optimism, but these merely set off an otherwise dismal time for all American commerce. America was not the master of her economy, for her prosperity depended upon foreign trade. Events in Europe, primarily the continuing war between France and England, and their efforts to blockade and cripple each other economically, made tatters of American business.2 During this period the British seized over five hundred American ships, and the French took nearly four hundred.3 America was outraged, and Jefferson, overestimating the British and French need for American goods, declared an embargo that forbade almost all American commerce with these foreign nations.4 The results were disastrous, not to Europe, but to America, whose markets were seriously disrupted. The seaports and maritime industries suffered most, but inland the prices of wheat, tobacco, cotton, and hemp, fell so far that, in some cases, the farmers refused to sell. In general, the embargo reduced legitimate trade to onefourth of the amount transacted in 1807.5

Along the cities of the seaboard, and particularly in the northeast, the reaction to Jefferson's policy was intensely critical. The Embargo, a satirical poem written by William Cullen Bryant when he was just thirteen, epitomizes this reaction:

Th' Embargo rages, like a sweeping wind,

Fear lowers before, and famine stalks behind.

What words, oh Muse! can paint the mournful scene,

The saddening street, the desolated green;

How hungry labourers leave their toil and sigh,

And sorrow droops in each desponding eye!

-143-

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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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