From Publishers Weekly
Here's a scholarly book that artfully relates a riveting tale with lasting historical repercussions and significance. Readers will be drawn by the story of a strong woman who may have been wronged; the great Randolph family of Virginia torn asunder; the implication of members of Thomas Jefferson's circle; slaves' whispers fanning the flames of scandal; and eventual reconciliation of sorts. Although "bizarre" characterizes the story itself, it was in fact the name of the Virginia plantation of Richard and Judith Randolph. Upon their visit to a neighboring plantation in 1792, something went seriously wrong, something that remains a mystery to this day—was it a miscarriage resulting from premarital or extramarital sex? Or was it infanticide? Kierner, who teaches early American and women's history at UNC-Charlotte, reports with a colorist's deft touch and a fiction writer's delight while remaining faithful to scholarly conventions and trends. In trying to draw the last drop of meaning from her tale, Kierner sometimes strains, but she never lets her wide learning and skilled professionalism intrude on her tale's momentum. This account analyzes part of the reality of Jefferson's Virginia in the nation's early years. Kierner makes us look at the world of the founders in all its messy complexity and humanity. B&w illus., maps. (Jan.)
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A scandal involving the Randolph clan of Virginia draws the interest of women's historian Kierner; it arose from a 1792 incident and a murder trial the following year. Since a popular biography of the scandal's central figure, Nancy Randolph, was written in 2000 (Unwise Passions,
by Alan Pell Crawford), Kierner widens her ambit to include the social milieu, describing her treatment as "microhistory." Bringing to bear the declining fortunes of the Randolph family, the function of gossip in a slaveholding society, and the limited options of women at the time, Kierner quickly dispenses with the murky facts of the 1792 incident. Was the unmarried Nancy pregnant? Did she commit infanticide? Did her brother-in-law Richard commit murder? Kierner thinks the evidence is inconclusive, as did a court that acquitted Richard of murder. But the stigma of the fallen woman followed Nancy throughout her life, disrupting even her eventual marriage to founding father Gouverneur Morris. Perceptively observing the social history of the early republic, Kierner astutely interprets its influences on one woman's life. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved