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Scandal at Bizarre

Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America
Cynthia A. Kierner

BUY Paper · 256 pp. · 6.13 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813926162 · $38.50 · Sep 2006

In the early 1790s Richard Randolph was accused of fathering a child by his sister-in-law, Nancy, and murdering the baby shortly after its birth. Rumors about the incident, which occurred during a visit to the plantation of close family friends, spread like wildfire. Randolph found himself on trial for the crime largely because of the public outrage fueled by these rumors. The rest of the household suffered too, and only Nancy, who later married the esteemed New York statesman Gouverneur Morris, would find any degree of happiness. A tale of family passion, betrayal, and deception, Scandal at Bizarre is a fascinating historical portrait of the social and political realities of a world long vanished.


"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.... [Kierner] reports with a colorist's deft touch and a fiction writer's delight while remaining faithful to scholarly conventions and trends.... 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."—Publishers Weekly

"Screams in the dark... cries in the night... and footsteps on the stair. The story of the scandal at Bizarre is a cold case more compelling than any fiction. In the hands of a serious historian and talented writer, the tale of an American family caught in a maelstrom of gossip becomes a window on the lost world of the Virginia founders. Scandal at Bizarre is that rare historical book—a page-turner!"—Catherine Allgor, Associate Professor of History, University of California at Riverside, author of A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

"Beginning with the events of one distraught night in 1792, Cynthia Kierner uncovers a disturbing part of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia. Weaving subtle analysis throughout a taut narrative, this book reveals a complex world of sex, honor, slavery, law, public opinion, and power we have only glimpsed before."—Edward L. Ayers, author of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863, winner of the Bancroft Prize

"Using overall analysis and case study, Kierner... [makes a] striking contribution not only to the historiography of the period of the early Republic in which [her] narrative occur[s] but also to scholars’ understanding of the Revolution that [she] set[s] powerfully in perspective."—Rhys Isaac, William and Mary Quarterly

Rhys Isaac · William and Mary Quarterly

About the Author(s): 

Cynthia A. Kierner, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, is author of Beyond the Household: Womenís Place in the Early South, 1700-1835 and Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675-1790.

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