Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

By Boynton Merrill Jr. | Go to book overview

25
THE MURDER

AMONG Lilburne's slaves was one seventeen-year-old boy by the name of George. Unfortunately, almost no traces remain of his life except a few sketchy comments written in the legend sources, and a comment or two about him handed down verbally as part of the Rutter family tradition. These sources relate that George was an “ill-grown, ill-thrived” boy who served Lilburne as a house servant, errand boy, and general handy man. It was George who made the many trips to Dr. Campbell's house for medicine in 1809. George was, reportedly, rather ugly to look at, had a large scar over one of his eyes, and was of an independent nature. Occasionally George was insolent to Lilburne, but when Lilburne was drinking, George feared him and kept his distance.1

At the end of October all the patrollers in Livingston County were discharged “from any longer serving as padrollers,”2 probably in preparation for the expected war. As a result of this step, there was no organized system to prevent slaves from sneaking away from their owners for short visits to other plantations, or, in fact, from running away entirely. Across the river from Rocky Hill in Illinois lay free territory, and in the Ohio River at that point was a shallow sand bar that stretched from shore to shore. In low water this bar was only three feet under the surface.3 Escape should have been simple, but the dismissal of the patrol indicates that, for the most part, the slaves in Livingston were orderly, if not contented.

At Rocky Hill, however, the family was apprehensive. Since Lilburne's marriage to Letitia, his business and community activities had all gone wrong, and his family had suffered tragedy and heartbreak. Lilburne was under fearful stress. Lilburne and Letitia, who was eight months pregnant with her first child, had not been especially happy together. Lilburne, whose pride and self-confidence were being undermined by his own flaws and by misfortune as well, began to show signs of character disintegration. It was said that earlier he had been a fair but firm master, but in 1811 he became oppressive and unreasonable with his slaves, and began to drink heavily.4

-256-

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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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