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Tom Chaney: Money, Sex, and Murder

Of Writers And Their Books: Money, Sex, and Murder. Tom tells of the early days of Kentucky when land speculation, inflation, bank failures, and packing the supreme court brought ruin and then a murder associated with a supporter of the court brought a husband-wife suicide pact inside a jail cell. This column first appeared 24 July 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: World Enough and Time

By Tom Chaney

Money, Sex, and Murder

When Kentucky entered the union as the fifteenth state in 1792, an era of growth and prosperity was under way. In 1820 the Commonwealth ranked sixth in population of the nation.

Land speculation and the expectation of continual rising prices put many of its citizens deeply into debt.

In the closing years of the eighteenth century, regular currency was simply unavailable. Banks were informal affairs. In 1780 one John Sanders set up in business in Louisville. An interesting document survives.
Know all men be these presents that Daniel Boone hath deposited 6 beaver skins in my Keep in good order and of the worth of six shillings each skin, and I have took from them 6 shillings for the keep of them, and when they be sold I will pay the balance of 30 shillings for the whole lot to any person who presents this certificate and delivers it up to me at my Keep. Louisville, Falls of Ohio, May 20, 1784.
-- "John Sanders"
Barter instead of money was used for trade. Since Kentucky traded with the south down the river some currency from every nation was used.

In 1802 the legislature charted the Kentucky Insurance Company and gave it banking privileges. Four years later the Bank of Kentucky was chartered and capitalized for $1,000,000.

Kentucky entered the War of 1812 with a firmly established industry and commerce, especially since the British blockade kept foreign goods off the American market. An example of this industry is found in the powder manufacturing by the Philadelphian Gratz in the Mammoth Cave.

Inflation was rampant. Bluegrass land sold for from $100 to $200 per acre. In Louisville a single acre brought $30,000.

In response, the newly established United States Bank established branches in Louisville and Lexington. This bank was thought to stifle the Kentucky banks. Soon wildcat banks sprang up all over the state. Thomas D. Clark notes that all that was needed to start a bank was a charter and a printing press.

Kentucky had fifty-nine banking institutions in 1818. The next year the bubble burst. Land dropped to one sixth of its previous value. Property holders in the state owed $10,000,000 to local banks. Merchants owed $4,000,000 to their eastern suppliers.

In 1816 Governor George Madison became the first governor to die in office -- serving only two months. Lieutenant Governor Gabriel Slaughter became acting governor. When the bubble burst during his administration thousands of Kentuckians faced default. In the face of financial disaster, citizens demanded relief from the state legislature.

In 1820 advocates of relief gained control of the legislature. "Stay Laws" postponed payments due to creditors. Another bank was chartered that offered cheap money. If a creditor refused to accept the money of the Bank of the Commonwealth, he could not collect in court for two years.

The Court of Appeals did not approve.

On Christmas Eve in 1824, the legislature replaced three judges with four in favor of "relief." The "Old Court" refused to turn over its records to the "New Court," and the battle was joined.

In the midst of this controversy Solomon P. Sharpe from Bowling Green was murdered at the door of his Frankfort home. Sharpe had at first supported the New Court and was reputed to have switched sides. Old Court supporters accused their rivals of the murder.

But Jeroboam O. Beauchamp of Glasgow proved to be the assassin. Beauchamp's wife, the former Ann Cook had accused Sharpe of being the father of her stillborn child. Sharpe's friends countered with the accusation that the child was fathered by one of her slaves.

Beauchamp was convicted and sentenced to hang. Ann Cook Beauchamp persuaded the sheriff to let her stay in her husband's cell for the final days before the hanging. She smuggled in a knife and some laudanum. In a suicide pact they drank the laudanum. It did not work. They resorted to the knife. Ann killed herself. Beauchamp was not successful. But he was so wounded that, unable to stand, he had to be placed in a chair on the gallows to be hung.

Beauchamp's uncle of Bloomfield claimed the bodies. Ann and Jerry now lie arm in arm in a grave in the Bloomfield cemetery, under a tombstone containing a long poem written by Ann.

Both Edgar Allen Poe and William Gilmore Sims wrote stories about the murder and suicide. But it fell to Robert Penn Warren to adapt the tale in a stunning novel -- World Enough and Time. Thus the historical stage was set for the column about the Warren novel

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney -

This story was posted on 2016-02-07 07:19:39
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