Based on a true story from the author’s family history, Jarrettsville begins in 1869, amid chaos and confusion in the moments following Martha Jane Cairnes’s murder of her fiancé in front of fifty witnesses and former Union militia members.
To find out why she killed him, the story steps back to 1865, six days after the Confederate surrender, when President Lincoln has just been killed by John Wilkes Booth. Booth belongs to the same Rebel militia as Martha’s hotheaded brother Richard, who has gone missing. Martha is loyal to her brother but in love with Nicholas McComas, a local hero of the Union cause. Their affair is fraught with echoes of the bloody conflict just ended and destined to be divided by it.
Set in northern Maryland, six miles below the Mason-Dixon line—where brothers literally fought on opposing sides, and former slave-owners live next door to abolitionists and freedmen—Jarrettsville uses as a backdrop the most precarious and contentious era in American history. Such tension proves key to Martha’s motives in killing the man she loves, and why—astonishingly—she is soon acquitted by a jury of her peers.
Told from several perspectives, Jarrettsville is an unforgettable experience, and Nixon’s best book yet.