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The “Kentucky Tragedy” was early America's best known true crime story. In 1825, Jereboam O. Beauchamp assassinated Kentucky attorney general Solomon P. Sharp. The murder, trial, conviction, and execution of the killer—as well as the suicide of his wife, Anna Cooke Beauchamp—fascinated Americans. The episode became the basis of dozens of novels and plays composed by some of the country's most esteemed literary talents, among them Edgar Allan Poe and William Gilmore Simms. This book peels away two centuries of myth to provide a more accurate account of the murder. It also reveals how Jereboam and Anna Beauchamp shaped the meaning and memory of the event by manipulating romantic ideals at the heart of early American society. Concocting a story in which Solomon Sharp had seduced and abandoned Anna, the couple transformed a sordid murder—committed because the Beauchamps believed Sharp to be spreading a rumor that Anna had had an affair with a family slave—into a maudlin tale of feminine virtue assailed, honor asserted, and a young rebel's revenge. This book reveals the true story behind the murder and demonstrates enduring influence of Romanticism in early America.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-7359-7 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-3942-5 (epub version)



Kentucky Tragedy, Jereboam O. Beauchamp, Solomon P. Sharp, Anna Cooke Beauchamp, Edgar Allan Poe, William Gilmore Simms, Murder


Cultural History | United States History

Murder and Madness: The Myth of the Kentucky Tragedy
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