Murder in the Shenandoah: Making Law Sovereign in Revolutionary Virginia

Jessica K. Lowe. Forthcoming from Cambridge University Press (December 2018). Available to pre-order now via Cambridge University Press and Amazon.

On July 4, 1791, the fifteenth anniversary of American Independence, John Crane, a descendant of prominent Virginian families, killed his neighbor’s harvest worker. Murder in the Shenandoah traces the story of this early murder case as it entangled powerful Virginians and addressed the question that everyone in the state was heatedly debating: what would it mean to have equality before the law – and a world where ‘law is king’? By retelling the story of the case, called Commonwealth v. Crane, through the eyes of its witnesses, families, fighters, victims, judges, and juries, Jessica K. Lowe reveals how revolutionary debates about justice gripped the new nation, transforming ideas about law, punishment, and popular government.

Endorsements:

Advance praise: “In Murder in the Shenandoah, Jessica K. Lowe deftly investigates a deadly brawl to illuminate the legal culture of the new nation’s most influential state, shortly after the American Revolution. Filled with plot twists, surprising revelations, colorful characters, and rich insights, this book will reward anyone interested in the roots of American criminal law.” –Alan Taylor, author of American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804

Advance praise: “Elegantly written and copiously sourced, Jessica K. Lowe’s book is a must-read for specialists and students alike. Lowe upends the accepted notion that southerners went outside the law to resolve conflicts because of the culture of honor that was inextricably embedded in slavery. She uses criminal law to open a window into social change in postrevolutionary Virginia and to set the stage for antebellum-era conflicts in imaginative and unexpected ways.” –Victoria Saker Woeste, American Bar Foundation

Advance praise: “Jessica K. Lowe’s beautifully crafted account of murder and justice powerfully illuminates the reconstruction of criminal law in the early American republic. Lowe skillfully turns the story of a single Virginia killing into a compelling meditation on how people, high and low, struggled over the meaning of equality and the rule of law in the aftermath of revolution. A formidable piece of scholarship, Murder in the Shenandoah is also a gem of historical narration and analysis, at once tough-minded and humane.” –Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

Advance praise: “Professor Lowe has produced a volume that is both a murder mystery and a mini-treatise on the history of criminal law in colonial Virginia. Hard-nosed legal history has seldom been presented in such fascinating, readable form. Behind the legal story is an equally important story of social change in early Virginia. Lowe knows her Virginia law, and applies to it the questions of a modern historical sensibility. Readers will be surprised and intrigued by this admirable volume.” –Stanley Katz, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies

Advance praise: “In Jessica K. Lowe’s poetic telling of a murder trial in the Shenandoah Valley on Independence Day in 1791, we see how issues of class, violence, and the rule of law came together to lead to the execution of a Virginia patrician. Lowe’s beautifully written book shows the law in motion. Wage workers, slaves, jurors, and the legal and planter elite all cross her stage as the values of democracy made a new American law.” –Alfred L. Brophy, author of University, Court, and Slave: Proslavery Thought in Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War

About the Author: Jessica Lowe specializes in 18th- and 19th-century American legal history. She received her J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School in 2002; after law school, she clerked in the District of Connecticut and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Lowe also practiced appellate law at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., where she worked on a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. She is admitted to practice in Virginia and the District of Columbia. Lowe received her B.A. (high honors) from the University of Virginia (1998). She then studied at Yale Divinity School (1999-2000), where she was a Marquand Scholar. Lowe received her Ph.D. in American history from Princeton University in 2014.  Her dissertation was awarded the St. George Tucker Society’s Bradford Dissertation Prize for best Southern History dissertation. Murder in the Shenandoah is her first book.

Lowe has held fellowships from, among others, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Princeton University Center for Human Values and the Center of Theological Inquiry (a Templeton Foundation grant), and participated in the 2013 Hurst Institute for Legal History at the University of Wisconsin. In 2011, she received the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Lowe teaches legal history, constitutional history, and classes in crime and punishment at the University of Virginia School of Law. She is the founder of the interdisciplinary Legal History Writing Group, which brings together scholars from the Law, History, Politics and Religious Studies departments once monthly for informal discussions of works in progress, and co-coordinates the Law School’s Legal History Workshop series. In 2013, she co-organized a conference commemorating the 100th anniversary of Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913). Lowe has also served as a fellow at Brown College, the undergraduate residential college, and is a member of the Early American Studies colloquium at the International Center for Jefferson Studies.

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