Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman---and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America

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Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman---and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America

Author: Alan Pell Crawford
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2000
Pages: 336
Cover Price: $ 20.99

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Unwise Passions traces the trajectory of aristocrat Nancy Randolph's tempestuous life, beginning with her privileged birth in 1774, continuing through a series of scandals that eventually sent her North, and concluding with her death in 1837. But this engaging, accessible biography also serves as group portrait of the Virginia aristocracy--and of its declining fortunes, as the colonial oligarchy was supplanted by an unrulier democracy.

When she was only 18, Nancy was accused of having borne a child to her own sister's husband, Richard Randolph, who then allegedly murdered the newborn. Defended by Revolutionary legend Patrick Henry, Richard and Nancy were acquitted, and she returned to live with him and her sister. But the rumors persisted, and Richard's sudden death in 1796 only made them uglier. Many of the ugliest rumors were voiced by Richard's younger brother, Jack; Nancy's former suitor. Jack improved the debt-riddled family estates while he pursued a political career as a fiery states-rights congressman (a career that gets nearly as much of the author's attention as Nancy's life). Virginia-based journalist Alan Pell Crawford doesn't conclude definitively whether or not Jack actually believed Nancy had murdered his brother and had sexual relations with a slave, but the congressman certainly hated her enough to throw her off the family farm and repeat those stories later to her husband.

At age 34, reduced to poverty and living in New York, the long-suffering Nancy married Gouverneur Morris, another wealthy veteran of the Revolutionary generation. Their happy union produced one child and endured until his death. Crawford, also the author of Thunder on the Right, pens a lively narrative that vividly evokes his characters: kindhearted, rather frivolous Nancy; urbane, unshockable Morris; irascible, overwrought Jack; and a host of cousins who are scattered throughout America's inbred, gossipy high society. Good fun and good history, to boot. --Wendy Smith

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Background Information

Patrick Henry of Virginia gave several speeches during the American Revolution which are remembered even today. Gouverneur Morris was a New York patriot during the American Revolution who served his country as a diplomat and public servant.