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George Keats of Kentucky

A Life

Lawrence M. Crutcher. foreword by John E. Kleber

Publication Year: 2012

John Keats's biographers have rarely been fair to George Keats (1797--1841) -- pushing him to the background as the younger brother, painting him as a prodigal son, or labeling him as the "business brother." Some have even condemned him as a heartless villain who took more than his fair share of an inheritance and abandoned the ailing poet to pursue his own interests. In this authoritative biography, author Lawrence M. Crutcher demonstrates that George Keats deserves better. Crutcher traces his subject from Regency London to the American frontier, correcting the misconceptions surrounding the Keats brothers' relationship and revealing the details of George's remarkable life in Louisville, Kentucky.

Brilliantly illustrated with more than ninety color photographs, this engaging book reveals how George Keats embraced new business opportunities to become an important member of the developing urban community. In addition, George Keats of Kentucky offers a rare and fascinating glimpse into nineteenth-century life, commerce, and entrepreneurship in Louisville and the Bluegrass.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Topics in Kentucky History

Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Less than four months after the death of George Keats from a gastrointestinal ailment on Christmas Eve 1841, his fellow countryman, Charles Dickens, paid a brief visit to Louisville. The city was, he wrote, “regular and cheerful; the streets laid out at right angles, and planted with young trees. ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

George Keats deserves better. John Keats’s multiple biographers, themselves poets and scholars, have seconded George to younger brother status or, worse, the “business” brother. George’s sudden death at age forty-four, as he approached his prime as a civic and cultural leader, caused Louisville to forget him. ...

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The Pivotal Year 1827-1828

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pp. 1-4

Perched on a gentle bluff overlooking the falls of the Ohio River, the George Keats and Company’s Steam Planeing, Grooving, and Tongueing Mill was turning out 4,000 board feet of lumber daily at a nice profit.1 Its proprietor, who lived with his young family adjacent to the mill on Brook Street, had good reason to be pleased. ...

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Abandoned 1804-1814

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pp. 5-8

George might never have come to Louisville, or even considered immigration at all, but for the death of his father, followed by the children’s abandonment by their mother. The breakup of the family triggered a continuum of bad events, destroying dreams of upwardly mobile lives in London and leading to George’s eventual exit. ...

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Family Origins 1773-1804

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pp. 9-16

The Keats brothers’ feelings of disenfranchisement were not simply related to their abandonment. The clouded and undistinguished origins of their family also contributed to their outsider status. The ancestral history of the Keats family was typically sparse in a thinly documented Georgian England. ...

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Clarke's Schoolboys 1803-1810

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pp. 17-26

Family life above the Swan and Hoop and then in Craven Street seemed mostly happy and normal until the death of Thomas Keats in 1804, when the themes of abandonment and financial concern rose to the fore. George wrote: ...

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Youths about London 1811-1818

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pp. 27-46

For the next eight years, John and George embarked on separate but overlapping lives. After being withdrawn from Clarke’s School, George returned to the world of business in London, where he met his future wife, Georgiana. John trained in Edmonton as an apothecary, simultaneously discovering Spenser and poetry. ...

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Separation and Emigraion 1818

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pp. 47-68

The political and social cultures in England were difficult, but it was the economic opportunity that drove George Keats’s decision to move to America. The Regency era commenced in 1811, just as the boys left school. It was a period of warfare, with the English twice defeating Napoleon, who had subverted the French Revolution. ...

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Henderson and Audubon 1818-1819

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pp. 69-78

When George and Georgiana passed through Philadelphia in October 1818, they may have been introduced to John James Audubon’s father-in-law, William Bakewell, by Michael Drury, their initial Philadelphia contact. In turn, as they passed through Louisville, they most likely met Bakewell’s son Tom, ...

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Louisville 1819

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pp. 79-92

Louisville was a settled town when George and Georgiana arrived in the first half of 1819. It was in the final decade of its frontier period, starting with the first pioneer settlement in 1778 and ending around the time the town became a city in 1828 and the Louisville and Portland Canal opened in 1830. ...

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A Dismal Return 1820

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pp. 93-102

Within a momentous twelve months spanning 1818 and 1819, George had turned twenty-one, received his initial inheritance from his grandmother, married, immigrated to America, and lost much of his inheritance. He left no record of his activities during 1819, ...

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Getting Established 1820-1826

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pp. 103-112

While George was in London, a signal event occurred that would define Louisville’s development and, indirectly, his opportunities over the next two decades. On Christmas Day 1819 a special canal commission established by five states bordering the Ohio River (Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky ) ...

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Who Failed the Poet? 1820-1821

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pp. 113-122

John Keats’s death triggered three ugly sequences of events. First was an immediate and epic spasm of finger-pointing and guilt transference around the question of who failed the poet. Second was a ten-year slog to unravel and finally settle the poet’s affairs in the broader context of his grandfather’s and mother’s estates at Chancery. ...

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Settling Affairs 1821-1828

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pp. 123-142

Central to the relationship between George and John was their codependency, at the core of which were money issues. John was somewhere between oblivious and irresponsible when it came to financial matters, whereas George was solvent but a rather sketchy bookkeeper during his London years. ...

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The Legacy Deferred 1821-1848

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pp. 143-154

The most vexing and lasting issue was how best to define John Keats’s legacy. George fretted over it until his death. Everyone in the poet’s circle shared the belief that they had been touched by his greatness. But not one of them succeeded in capturing and memorializing it, especially not George. ...

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Prosperity 1828-1841

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pp. 155-172

Georgiana and the two children returned from England in November 1828 aboard the Britannia, arriving in New York’s South Street Seaport evidently much refreshed by their stay. George wrote to his sister Fanny, “I was on the beach ready to receive her, and was happy to see her and the children look so well, they are certainly improved by the journey.” ...

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Ruin and Death 1841

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pp. 173-182

The last year of George’s life was not carefully chronicled. He entered 1841 at the apex of his career in Louisville, having been elected to the City Council and continuing on several business and civic boards. He had become a member of the establishment, a term coined by Emerson just two weeks before George’s death.1 ...

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Aftermath 1842-

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pp. 183-190

The next two years were eventful. Georgiana, aged forty-five, married twenty-five-year-old John Jeffrey. Their motivations, aside from the possibility of real love, are lost to history. Some have speculated that his initial interest was in seventeen-year-old Isabel, before her mother stepped between them. ...

Appendix A: The George Keats Circle of Friends and Acquaintances

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pp. 191-242

Appendix B: Pertinent Documents

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pp. 243-252

Chronology: Events in the Life of George Keats

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pp. 253-264


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pp. 265-304


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pp. 305-316

Illustration Credits

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pp. 317-320


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pp. 321-342

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136899
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136882

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Topics in Kentucky History

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Subject Headings

  • Keats, George, 1797-1841.
  • Louisville (Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Bluegrass Region (Ky.) -- Biography.
  • Pioneers -- Kentucky -- Louisville -- Biography.
  • Businessmen -- Kentucky -- Louisville -- Biography.
  • English -- Kentucky -- Louisville -- Biography.
  • Keats, John, 1795-1821 -- Family.
  • Brothers -- Biography.
  • London (England) -- Biography.
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