Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

23
TREMORS IN THE
DYNASTY

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

-240-

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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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