Office of University Communications & Marketing

The Kentucky Tragedy: UNA Professor Unearths the Lost Tale
Oct. 16, 2009



Murder and Madness: The Myth of the Kentucky TragedyFLORENCE, Ala. – Murder, love affairs and politics are just a few of the exciting themes that readers will find in “Murder and Madness: The Myth of the Kentucky Tragedy.” Dr. Matthew Schoenbachler, a University of North Alabama associate professor of history, has just finished the book that will hit shelves in early November. The book is published by The University Press of Kentucky.

Schoenbachler began writing the book nine years ago while working on a political history of Kentucky in the 1820s.

“I was revising my dissertation in 2000, and I was doing some research in the Kentucky state archives when I came across this box full of documents concerning this murder in 1825,” Schoenbachler said.

The box contained testimony and depositions from a trial that soon became popularly known as the Kentucky Tragedy.

“The state attorney general and former Congressman Solomon Sharp was stabbed to death in his home in the middle of the night by a man named Jereboam Beauchamp,” Schoenbachler said. “While in prison, Beauchamp and his wife wrote a confession that they hoped to get published before his execution. They didn’t, and he was hanged.”

Although the confession was filled with falsehoods, the American public ate it up, because the Beauchamps had made up a Romantic tale of seduction and bold revenge that excited readers. “It was easily the most famous ‘true crime’ story in antebellum America,” Schoenbachler said.

For the next 150 years, writers like Edgar Allen Poe, William Gilmore Simms and Robert Penn Warren have romanticized Beauchamp’s actions in fiction.

“There were seven or eight novels and at least as many plays written on it,” Schoenbachler said, “and all of the authors uncritically accepted the Beauchamps’ story as fact.”

Schoenbachler analyzes the event and the subsequent romanticizing with a critical and historical perspective. “They were a couple of deviant individuals,” Schoenbachler explained, “who posthumously got away with murder because they knew what the public wanted to hear. It is a warning for us that we should be more careful about blurring the line between what is true and what we want to be true.”

For more information on “Murder and Madness,” contact Schoenbachler at 256-765-4547 or mschoenbachler@una.edu, or Mack McCormick at The University Press of Kentucky at 859-257-5200 or permissions@uky.edu.

IMAGE AVAILABLE: For a .jpg cover image of “Murder and Madness,” contact the UNA Office of University Communications at 256-765-4225 or jlwoods1@una.edu.