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Making Sense of Murder in the Shenandoah with Jessica Lowe

On July 4, 1791, fifteen years after Americans declared independence, two men walked into a Virginia field. Only one walked out alive. John Crane, the son of an elite Virginia family, killed a man named Abraham Vanhorn after the two exchanged some heated words.

Crane was arrested in the name of the law, but two decades earlier he would have been detained in the name of the king.

Why does this change matter? And what does it have to tell us about how Virginians and other Americans remade their British identity into an American one in the years after independence?

Today's episode features Dr. Jessica Lowe of the University of Virginia School of Law. In her new book, Murder in the Shenandoah: Making Law Sovereign in Revolutionary Virginia, Professor Lowe unpacks the case of Commonwealth v. Crane and what it meant to create a republic of laws and not kings.

This episode concludes our four-part mini-series on the history of early American law. Check out previous episodes at You can support this podcast as well as new research into George Washington and his world by becoming a Mount Vernon member. 


About Our Guest:

Jessica Lowe, Ph.D. specializes in 18th- and 19th-century American legal history. She received her J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School, and clerked in the District of Connecticut and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Lowe also practiced litigation and 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. She received her Ph.D. in American history from Princeton University. 

About Our Host

Jim Ambuske leads the digital history initiatives at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.