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Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America Hardcover – November 18, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (November 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403961158
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403961150
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,500,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Hufford on February 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
.....in Virginia history. In Colonial times, the name Randolph meant something in Virginia. In fact, the Randolph family, in its various branches, were pretty much a law unto themselves, able to do anything, including murder, with impunity. Fortunately, most of them, like Speaker Peyton Randolph, were decent people, who provided sound leadership. The family has produced some of THE names in American history; Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Robert E. Lee.....Alas, much of the glory slowly departed after Independence....tobacco depleted the soil...wealth disappeared...power waned....the name was all some of them had left....

On the morning of October 1, 1792, Richard Randolph travelled from his estate, "Bizarre" to "Glentivar", the estate of his cousins the Harrisons. He was accompanied by his wife Judith, and his wife's sister, Ann Cary "Nancy" Randolph. The girls were the sisters of Jefferson's son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, jr. [Jefferson's only connection...I'll return to that]. That night, something [or, I should say, SOMETHING] happened, and Virginia was never the same. Sometime during the night, Nancy screamed with abdominal pain, footsteps were heard on the stairs, and, the next morning, the Harrison slaves started telling of finding a dead white baby in the woodpile, though no body was ever produced. Rumors had already circulated that Richard was overly affectionate towards Nancy, though Nancy was also said to be attached to Richard's brother, by then deceased.....

In the aftermath, Richard was accused of impregnating Nancy, helping her abort, and killing the baby. Worse, in the culture of the time, he was accused of not providing proper family leadership and protection. Nancy was accused of bring a "loose woman" [...], and forfeiting her right to protection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard S. Dixon Jr. on January 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a great history of a small event, which has reverberations into the greater world of American history. It reminds me much of the Peggy O'Neill scandal of the 1830s, which destroyed John C. Calhoun's chances for the presidency and elevated the Old Magician, Martin van Buren. Much like that scandal almost forty years later, the scandal at Bizarre is a delight of human failure, success and perseverance. Anyone interested in Virginia history of the Federal period will delight in the details of this book.

Kierner has put together a fascinating tale; the pacing is right and the focus is also right on the money. The misadventures of Nancy Randolph read like some Bronte novel; all the more interesting is this tale because it is true! The families involved are some of the most prominent in Virginia (even still!); the events easily imaginable. One ends up sympathizing with almost everyone connected with this story (except perhaps Patrick Henry, who takes his five hundred Pound fee and creeps back to Red Hill in pretty miserable fashion). I even felt sorry for poor Richard: dead at 26 of mysterious causes. And poor Judith, eeking out a miserable existence in rented rooms in Farmville and Richmond: truly, the paths of Glory lead but to the Grave! Read it and weep.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By JIM SHIVE on July 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This short (about 170pp, not including notes and index) book chronicles the life and times of Anne Cary Randolph (1774-1837), known as Nancy. In 1792, while visiting neighbors, Nancy either miscarried or gave birth to a live, dying, or dead child fathered by one of her two brothers-in-law Richard or Theodorick. The resulting rumors, trial, and scandal are the central topic of the book along with Nancy's relationships with her family and society at large including major figures in early American history such as Patrick Henry, John Marshall, and Thomas Jefferson.

This microhistory covers many diverse topics along the way. I particularly enjoyed the early family history and the economic history aspects as the author discussed the decline of Virginia's tobacco plantation economy and gentry lifestyle. Much of the book is social history, but with plenty of politics, law, and cultural topics covered as well. I like my history straight with plenty of dates, facts, and information. This book provided that but with a little too much emphasis on sociology for my taste. It was disconcerting to be reading so much about cultural paradigms, gender role conventions, cultural stereotypes, and social class stratification alongside quotes from newspapers and correspondence of the 18th century.

The author writes well and has obviously researched her topics thoroughly but some data, such as that covering contemporary court statistics, I thought could have been better covered in footnotes or in an appendix. She makes good use of illustrations and has several excellent maps in the book. Although an agrarian society at the time of the events portrayed, I would have preferred that the county outline maps included some urban reference points such as Richmond, Petersburg, Williamsburg, etc.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By george spain on July 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well written. A story that holds your attention.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Barbara G. Talcott on July 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
a small account of what happened , than a very thoughtful, historically researched book about the times the family lived in and teh destruction of the plantation classes.
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