Trials of a Scold

"God bless the intemperate muckraker! God bless the courageous truth teller who speaks for the the poor, the abused, and exploited rather than currying favor with the rich, the powerful and self-righteous! God bless the pointed wit of their sharpened tongues! How hard it is to be the often shot messenger! They save us from our habitual cruelty, denial and hypocrisy. Anne Royall was once such and suffered greatly for her passion for justice. Jeff Biggers should be honored for telling her tale and reminding us in this age of the corporate press what a truly free press can be when practiced by a person like Anne."

--Robert Shetterly, artist, Americans Who Tell the Truth

Anne Royall was an American original, a stranger to fear, who defied 19th century skeptics as a prolific literary force, satirist and social critic.

Publishing her first book at the age of 57 in 1826, Royall reinvented herself as a “women politico” a generation before the Women's Suffrage Movement, a pioneering travel writer and satirist who broke ground on the wagon trails a generation before Mark Twain, an investigative journalist who took on bankers and prison conditions a half century before muckrakers Ida Tarbell and Nellie Bly. She became the author of 10 original books, and publisher of a newspaper in Washington, DC for 25 years until the age of 85.

One of the most famous, sharp-witted and controversial women of her times, Royall was raised in the backwoods of the South with one of the great libraries in the region, openly cohabitated with her husband prior to their wedding, and then left widowed and destitute after her husband’s family declared their marriage invalid. Turning to writing as she traveled from Alabama to Washington DC and then across the country, Royall acquired fame and then enemies for her scathing and hilarious denouncements of corruption, incompetence and the blurry lines between church and state.

With unsparing satire, her pioneering role as a chronicler, publisher, muckraker, and social commentator brought to light the timeless issues that still define the great American experience: religion and politics, and freedom of the press.

Drawing from Royall's largely overlooked literary works, Trials of a Scold is a groundbreaking and passionate biography of Anne Royall, America's first female muckraker, who was convicted as a "common scold" in 1829 in one of the most bizarre trials in the nation's history.


"A contemporary of Alexander Hamilton, Anne Royall deserves her own musical. Short of that we have Jeff Biggers' wonderful exploration of what made her the most despised woman of her time, originator of the term “redneck" and an exemplary journalist who had to fight off charges that she was a “common scold” and an evil person. We forget that in her time that was actually an actionable charge and that she could have been sent to prison for speaking the truth and addressing the misbehavior and outrages of the powerful men of her age. That she managed to write with a wicked sense of humor made her all the more dangerous—as well as a role model for those of us living in the age of Trump. Jeff Biggers is a wonderful writer and almost as brave as his role model—the incomparable Anne Royall." --Dorothy Allison, author of the NY Times bestselling novels, Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller.

"Major environmentalist and activist Jeff Biggers turns to 18th century America to bring us a surprising story from the mountains of western Virginia―the most interesting woman that I, for one, had never heard of, despite my own Appalachian heritage. A true pioneer in every way, the muckraking and myth-making journalist, travel writer, and social critic Anne Royall was called both 'heroine' and 'common scold' in her time; her story holds reverberations and implications for us today."―Lee Smith, author of Dimestore: A Writer's Life

"Anne Royall is a marvelous subject, a bold eighteenth-century woman writer with a stinging wit and a contrarian approach. Challenging, intrepid, and unconventional, she played an important part in American cultural history."―Roxana Robinson, author of four New York Times Notable Books of the Year, including Georgia O'Keefe: A Life

"Trials of a Scold is a fascinating account of a woman who defied nineteenth-century societal constraints to attain national prominence and power as a muckraking journalist. But there is much more to her life and to her story, and in Jeff Biggers’ capable hands she is fully realized. Trials of a Scold does what only the best biographies do: blend meticulous research into a narrative that reads like a novel."--Ron Rash, author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall