The murder of Colonel Sharp by Jereboam Beauchamp in 1825, in Kentucky, occupies a unique place in American literary history. Eight authors have based plays or novels on the murder. The literature based on the Kentucky tragedy grew out of four primary documents. The most influential of the documents, Beauchamp's Confession, written by the murderer, was published in 1826. The theme of the Kentucky tragedy was first used by Thomas Holley Chivers in his play, Conrad and Eudora, published in 1834. Among other writings based on this theme are Charles Fenno Hoffman's Greyslaer and two novels by William Gilmore Simms, Charlemont and Beauchampe. It was also used by Edgar Allan Poe in his verse play Politician. Our time has seen produced what is perhaps the finest of all works based on the Kentucky tragedy: Robert Penn Warren's World Enough and Time, published in 1950. The tragedy apparently had such great appeal because it happened at a time when American writers were seeking native incidents as background material for fiction. The use of the Beauchamp-Sharp affair as a literary theme ranges a timespan of over one hundred years. This timespan makes the affair an ideal vehicle for examining the workings of the literary imagination and for studying how the shift in literary tastes in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries has affected that literary imagination. The chief shortcoming in the adaptations by the writers who preceded Warren appears to have been their inability to overcome the melodramatic nature of the source material. The earliest novel based on the tragedy, Simms' Beauchampe, shows promise, but it is hampered by the literary conventions of the age. Simms made no attempt to create life-like characters or to probe motivations. Beyond the surface facts, the Kentucky tragedy had very little meaning to the writers of the sentimental, romantic school of the nineteenth century. It would remain for a twentieth-century writer to fully exploit the human drama of the Kentucky tragedy. While Warren based his novel on Beauchamp's Confession, he altered minor details to conform to his own reading of the source, yet remained true to the spirit of historical fact. Unlike other writers, Warren made effective use of the political machinations that pervaded the Kentucky tragedy. The nineteenth-century writers were interested only in telling a story which portrayed characters more in external conflict than in inner distress. But Warren deals with the effect of the event on his characters, not with the event itself. This study of the workings of the literary imagination shows how several authors took the raw materials of an incident in American history and reshaped them into works of fiction. It also shows how this fiction is influenced not only by the past but also by the present in which it is written. An examination of the source material and other writers' use of the source as compared with Warren's leads to the conclusion that World Enough and Time is the finest work based oh the Kentucky tragedy.