Chapter

Memory and the Invention of a Tragedy

Matthew G. Schoenbachler

in Murder and Madness

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780813125664
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135373 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5810/kentucky/9780813125664.003.0010
Memory and the Invention of a Tragedy

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Jereboam Beauchamp's revenge killing—revenge not for seduction but because Solomon Sharp's political enemies told Beauchamp that he was spreading the rumor that Anna Cooke's child was interracial—was replaced by a saccharin tale of innocence defiled and manhood asserted. If the Confession was not just the work of Jereboam but of him and Anna, the broader Kentucky Tragedy myth was not just the creation of the Beauchamps but of America. Sharp's murder, the political firestorm in the wake of Jereboam's arrest and trial, Anna's suicide, and Beauchamp's execution became a subject of peculiar and intense interest throughout the United States. The chapter addresses why the American public so eager to disregard the protests of those who knew well the Beauchamps' story to be false. In a fascinating and determined attempt to make life imitate art, Americans instantly appropriated the Kentucky Tragedy and crammed recalcitrant reality into comfortable literary frameworks that inculcated values of chastity and piety and moral rectitude.

Keywords: Jereboam Beauchamp; Solomon Sharp; Anna Cooke; Kentucky Tragedy; murder; suicide; execution; American public

Chapter.  10293 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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