Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

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Overview


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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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

"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."—New York Times Book Review
Times Literary Supplement (London)

"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)
American Historical Review

"Celebrated in abolitionist literature. . . . This grisly story has finally been researched with sensitivity and in scholarly detail."—American Historical Review
New York Times Book Review

"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."—New York Times Book Review

Times Literary Supplement (London)

"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)

American Historical Review

"Celebrated in abolitionist literature. . . . This grisly story has finally been researched with sensitivity and in scholarly detail."—American Historical Review

Library Journal
The New York Times compared Merrill's 1976 volume to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. It recounts in fine detail the December 1811 axe murder of a slave in western Kentucky by Liliburne and Isham Lewis, the sons of Thomas Jefferson's late sister, Lucy. Merrill re-creates the events of the crime and the social atmosphere of the time. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803282971
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 462
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet 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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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2007

    superb history

    This author has written a book that should be a must read for every student and lover of American history. As a reader of this genre, I have read many author's whose work is excellent, never have I read one that disserves to be a textbook for the hardships and misfortune of early patriots. Though the Lewis created their own misfortune it teaches so much more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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