Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

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9780380018376: Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

The brutal axe murder and dismemberment of a Negro slave, committed in 1811 by two brothers, Lilburne and Isham Lewis, whose mother was Thomas Jefferson’s sister and whose father was his first cousin, form the core of this historical detective story and account of frontier life in western Kentucky in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

On the night of December 15, 1811, drunk and enraged over the breaking of a pitcher, Lilburne bound his seventeen-year-old slave, George, and, in front of the assembled household’s other slaves, cut off his head. The brothers were indicted for murder, released on bail, and attempted suicide.

Boynton Merrill Jr. explores the tragic combination of circumstances and social forces that culminated in this ghastly event: the lawlessness of the frontier settlements, the dehumanizing effects of chattel slavery, and the Lewis family’s history of mental instability and their ever-declining fortunes.

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From the Inside Flap:

"Jefferson’s Nephews is superb. Mr. Merrill’s book is horridly fascinating, as absorbing, as gruesome, and as intelligent as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood."—The New York Times Book Review. "One must be grateful to Boynton Merrill for having rescued this grim footnote to history from oblivion and for having guided us so well through all the twists of a very tangled tale. . . . Cecil B. de Mille! thou shouldst be living at this hour."—Times Literary Supplement (London). "Celebrated in abolitionist literature . . . this grisly story has finally been researched with sensitivity and in scholarly detail."—American Historical Review.

The brutal axe murder and dismemberment of a Negro slave, committed in 1811 by two brothers, Lilburne and Isham Lewis, whose mother was Thomas Jefferson’s sister and whose father was his first cousin, form the core of this historical detective story and account of frontier life in western Kentucky in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

On the night of December 15, 1811, drunk and enraged over the breaking of a pitcher, Lilburne bound his seventeen-year-old slave, George, and, in front of the assembled household’s other slaves, cut off his head. The brothers were indicted for murder, released on bail, and attempted suicide.

Boynton Merrill Jr. explores the tragic combination of circumstances and social forces that culminated in this ghastly event: the lawlessness of the frontier settlements, the dehumanizing effects of chattel slavery, and the Lewis family’s history of mental instability and their ever-declining fortunes.

Boynton Merrill Jr. lives in Henderson, Kentucky. He acquired part of the original Lewis plantation in 1965 and spent more than ten years researching and assembling the pieces of this classic case study.

About the Author:

Boynton Merrill Jr. lives in Henderson, Kentucky. He acquired part of the original Lewis plantation in 1965 and spent more than ten years researching and assembling the pieces of this classic case study.

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Merrill, Boynton
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