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[Detail] Memoirs of mammoth...Thomas Ashe 1806.

Literature Inspired by Life

Real-life events often inspire writers to create works of fiction about similar events. One such event is recounted in “The Confession of Jereboam O. Beauchamp Who Was Hanged at Frankfort, Ky., on the 7th Day of July, 1826, for the Murder of Col. Solomon P. Sharp.” Beauchamp stabbed the prominent Colonel Sharp to avenge Sharp’s mistreatment of Beauchamp’s wife some years before. After being convicted of the crime, Beauchamp convinced his jailors to allow his wife Ann to stay in his cell with him. The two wrote poetry and plotted to commit suicide. The book ends with a note describing Beauchamp’s final visit with his wife before going to the gallows.

As he was being led to the gallows, he asked how his wife was. He was told by the physicians she was doing very well. He asked permission to see her, which was granted. As soon as he saw her, he said:

“Physicians, you have deceived me; she is dying!”
Then turning to his wife, he said to her:
“Farewell, child of sorrow! Farewell, child of persecution and misfortune! For you have I lived, and for you I die!”
He then said to guard: “Now, I am ready.”

From “The Confession of Jereboam O. Beauchamp,” image 143

Beauchamp’s Confession became the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s Scenes from “Politian” written for the stage in 1835 and William Gilmore Simms’ 1842 novel Beauchampe; or, The Kentucky Tragedy. Read the “Postscript” to the “Confession,” which provides a description of the couple’s suicide plot, as well as poems written to each other and their burial plans

  • Would you classify the Beauchamp story as a real-life melodrama? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the tragic tale of murder and attempted dual suicide became the inspiration for fictional literary works? What was the story’s appeal?
  • Find a current news story that includes some of the same elements as the Beauchamp story. Write a fictional short story based on this news event. What are the advantages to basing your story on a real event? Disadvantages?