Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

24
ANNUS MIRABILIS

IN WEST Kentucky, 1811 was a year of portents so strange and unnatural that it was thought the very earth and sky were trying to give forewarning of impending doom. Early in the spring there was a severe flood, and the Ohio bottom lands were covered over vast areas. Crop planting was delayed and unprecedented sickness followed.1 The great comet of 1811 first appeared in the northern sky in April, and began its long climb across the heavens toward the south. It was clearly visible throughout most of the rest of the year, reaching its brightest intensity in October. As has been the case throughout history with other comets, this one was thought by the uneducated to forewarn of some disaster.2

A Lexington paper reported in 1811 that “during the summer months the heat was, in many places, the most intense that was ever known,” and in many areas the crops were destroyed by drought.3 In the eastern section of the country, tornadoes and hurricanes ravaged the land from Maine to Georgia, and a reporter wrote, “The ocean has been the subject of Volcanic terror; and new islands have arisen therefrom.”4

In August the mighty Indian chief, Tecumseh, accompanied by twenty of his warriors, passed by Rocky Hill and Smithland in their canoes. They had come from a tempestuous conference with Governor William H. Harrison in Vincennes, and were on their way down the Ohio and Mississippi to attempt a confederation of southern tribes to fight the intruding white settlers. The Indians were reluctant to join him, and Tecumseh warned them that when he returned to Detroit he would stamp his foot, and the earth would tremble and their houses would fall to the ground.5

The bizarre nature of that year was evident even in the behavior of the wild animals:

A spirit of change and a restlessness seemed to pervade the very
inhabitants of the forest. A countless multitude of squirrels, obey-
ing some great and universal impulse, which none can know but
the Spirit that gives them being, left their reckless and gambolling

-248-

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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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