Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman---and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America

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9780743264679: Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman---and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America

In the spring of 1793, eighteen-year-old Nancy Randolph, the fetching daughter of one of the greatest of the great Virginia tobacco planters, was accused, along with her brother-in-law, of killing her newborn infant. Once one of the loveliest and most sought-after young women in Virginia society, she was immediately denounced as a ruined Jezebel, and the great orator Patrick Henry and future Supreme Court justice John Marshall were retained to defend her in her sensational trial. In the tradition of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Alan Pell Crawford brings to life this gripping account of murder, infanticide, and prostitution charges, and of unimaginable treachery, moral decline, and great heroism played out in the intimate lives of this nation's Founding Fathers. It is the true story of the privileged and pampered children of the new country's aristocratic families as they struggle to find their place in an increasingly democratic America, where their values and position in society are under siege. Above all, it is the story of the indomitable Nancy Randolph, who is hounded out of Virginia by a scandal that will haunt her and everyone she loves for the rest of their lives. In the early 1790s, after Nancy goes to live with her sister Judith and handsome brother-in-law Richard at their remote plantation, called Bizarre, rumors fly throughout Virginia that Nancy has given birth and Richard, knowing the child to be his, has killed it. After an inquest, Nancy is ordered off the plantation by her cousin John Randolph and, reduced to poverty, she must find her way in a new and forbidding world. Eventually she flees to New York where she forms an unlikely alliance with the immensely rich Gouverneur Morris, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. Meanwhile John Randolph, a protégé of Thomas Jefferson who becomes a notorious wit and controversial member of Congress, a duelist and a drug addict, sp

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Unwise Passions traces the trajectory of aristocrat Nancy Randolph's tempestuous life, beginning with her privileged birth in 1774, continuing through a series of scandals that eventually sent her North, and concluding with her death in 1837. But this engaging, accessible biography also serves as group portrait of the Virginia aristocracy--and of its declining fortunes, as the colonial oligarchy was supplanted by an unrulier democracy. When she was only 18, Nancy was accused of having borne a child to her own sister's husband, Richard Randolph, who then allegedly murdered the newborn. Defended by Revolutionary legend Patrick Henry, Richard and Nancy were acquitted, and she returned to live with him and her sister. But the rumors persisted, and Richard's sudden death in 1796 only made them uglier. Many of the ugliest rumors were voiced by Richard's younger brother, Jack; Nancy's former suitor. Jack improved the debt-riddled family estates while he pursued a political career as a fiery states-rights congressman (a career that gets nearly as much of the author's attention as Nancy's life). Virginia-based journalist Alan Pell Crawford doesn't conclude definitively whether or not Jack actually believed Nancy had murdered his brother and had sexual relations with a slave, but the congressman certainly hated her enough to throw her off the family farm and repeat those stories later to her husband. At age 34, reduced to poverty and living in New York, the long-suffering Nancy married Gouverneur Morris, another wealthy veteran of the Revolutionary generation. Their happy union produced one child and endured until his death. Crawford, also the author of Thunder on the Right, pens a lively narrative that vividly evokes his characters: kindhearted, rather frivolous Nancy; urbane, unshockable Morris; irascible, overwrought Jack; and a host of cousins who are scattered throughout America's inbred, gossipy high society. Good fun and good history, to boot. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Alan Pell Crawford is the author of Thunder on the Right: The "New Right" and The Politics of Resentment, which The New Republic called "a significant work of political and intellectual history." A vice-president of Emergence Brand Labs, he lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife, Sally Curran, and their two sons, Ned and Tim.

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