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Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, by Boynton Merrill, Jr.

Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

They say every family has its black sheep.

Jefferson’s Nephews, by Boynton Merrill, Jr., tells of a vile murder mostly forgotten, which played out in the hinterlands of a new Kentucky settlement in the early 1800s. Two brothers had come away from their family’s land in Albemarle County, Virginia, to try to make a fresh start. But Isham and Lilburne Lewis brought with them bitter hearts and slave labor—a combination that was to prove lethal. The gruesomeness and cruelty of their crime rocked the nearby community of Livingston County. Perhaps more shocking to the white citizens was the brothers’ blue blood pedigree.
Thomas Jefferson’s sister, Lucy, had married her first cousin Charles L. Lewis in 1769 on the eve of the Revolution. For many years of their marriage, Colonel Lewis was a rich man. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson referred to his brother-in-law as “one of our wealthiest people.” But in the post-Revolutionary period, when the Old Dominion’s farm economy suffered major set-backs, Colonel Lewis’ sons—who had not attended college or learned a useful trade—had no livelihood to fall back on except for farming. With the land gone to pay off debts, what remained of Colonel Lewis’ family set off for what had already been termed a “Dark and Bloody Ground,” for the wars between the Indians and the white settlers. The two Lewis brothers would add their stain to the new state’s sometimes troubled history.
Boynton Merrill, Jr. has written a well-researched book which enlightens readers as to both economic and social realities of the late 18th century as it details the struggle for justice on the frontier.