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Murder and Madness

The Myth of the Kentucky Tragedy

The "Kentucky Tragedy" was early America's best known true crime story. In 1825, Jereboam O. Beauchamp assassinated Kentucky attorney general Solomon P. Sharp. The murder, trial, conviction, and execution of the killer, as well as the suicide of his wife, Anna Cooke Beauchamp—fascinated Americans. The episode became the basis of dozens of novels and plays composed by some of the country's most esteemed literary talents, among them Edgar Allan Poe and William Gilmore Simms. In Murder and Madness, Matthew G. Schoenbachler peels away two centuries of myth to provide a more accurate account of the murder. Schoenbachler also reveals how Jereboam and Anna Beauchamp shaped the meaning and memory of the event by manipulating romantic ideals at the heart of early American society. Concocting a story in which Solomon Sharp had seduced and abandoned Anna, the couple transformed a sordid murder—committed because the Beauchamps believed Sharp to be spreading a rumor that Anna had had an affair with a family slave—into a maudlin tale of feminine virtue assailed, honor asserted, and a young rebel's revenge. Murder and Madness reveals the true story behind the murder and demonstrates enduring influence of Romanticism in early America.

About the Author

Matthew G. Schoenbachler, associate professor of history at the University of North Alabama, has writings in numerous publications.


"Schonebachler does a masterful job deconstructing all three texts and tracing their literary sources. I've never seem anyone else do it better and he has uncovered new information about these three narratives from a wide variety of sources that challenges existing interpretations and corrects confusions."—Christopher Waldrep, author of Roots of Disorder: Race and Criminal Justice in the American South, 1817–80"

"Schoenbachler presents the story in an entirely new light, revealing how the murderer and his wife played on the public's emotions and beliefs by consciously manipulating their story to conform to images of the righteous hero and the compromised virtuous woman who were at that time the subjects of popular Romantic fiction."—Book News"

"While unraveling a real-life murder mystery, the author introduces us to social, political, legal, and cultural life in early Kentucky. This story of sex, race, and violence has been the basis of poetry, drama, and fiction in past years; today it could make a movie."—Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University; professor of history emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles; and author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848"

"Murder and Madness is a vivid image of a western state's population searching for its identity within the new nation."—Ohio Valley History"

"A thoroughly researched account of a still captivating intrigue."—Kentucky Libraries"

"Schoenbachler's work is comprehensive; it is especially rich in its understanding of Romanticism in American culture and Kentucky history, particularly the importance of the Regulator Movement and the struggles over legislative representation. In short, this is a finely researched and often elegantly written work."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society"

""Schoenbachler . . . provides all kinds of insights about life in the first quarter of 19th-century America: politics, law, religion, business, farming, banking and finance, the Western migration, pioneer hardships, morality, culture and literature. It was not a life of quiet, reverential contemplation."—Louisville Courier-Journal"

""Anyone interested in 'The Kentucky Tragedy' will find this book an interdisciplinary jewel, for the author weaves the historic warp with the literary line to create a beautifully crafted work."—Bowling Green Daily News"

""An in-depth examination of this intriguing century-old crime. The result is not only a new interpretation of the crime itself, but also a broad look at the origins of Kentucky politics."—Kentucky Monthly"

"Murder and Madness remains a shrewd and balanced study of American mythmaking that stands both as a reminder of the need to broasch supposedly simple facts with due skepticism and as a compelling brief for an alternative reading of this episode and its implications." — The Journal of Southern History"

"Matthew Schoenbachler has written a fascinating account of an episode from history of the early American republic. A story of seduction, murder, suicide, the 'Kentucky Tragedy' has all the ingredients for a first-rate microhistory, and this is what Schoenbachler has produced, significantly enriching our understanding of a complex period in the history of a state, Kentucky, where complexity seems to have been the order of the day." — Indiana Magazine of History"—

9780813125664 : murder-and-madness-schoenbachler
384 Pages
$70.00 USD
9780813133874 : murder-and-madness-schoenbachler
Paperback / softback
392 Pages
$25.00 USD

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