Slavery and the Making of America
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Responses to Enslavement
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight You be the Judge Personal Narratives Original Docs
Original Documents Responses to Enslavement

Letter from the Senior Editor from THE CONSTITUTIONAL WHIG
08/1831
Cited in Henry Irving Tragle, ed. THE SOUTHAMPTON SLAVE REVOLT OF 1831: A COMPILATION OF SOURCE MATERIAL. (Amherst: UMass Press, 1971.)
return to main documents page
Document Description
In 1831 Nat Turner led a violent slave revolt that sent shockwaves through much of the nation. In his letter to the paper, the senior editor of the CONSTITUTIONAL WHIG describes the events that took place. In an addendum written a few days later, he ponders the reasons for the insurrection, concluding that there was no ulterior motive.

Transcript
JERUSALEM, Southampton Ct. House
Thursday Evening, Aug. 25.

The Richmond Troop arrived here this morning a little after 9 o'clock, after a rapid, hot and most fatiguing march from Richmond. On the road, we met a thousand different reports, no two agreeing, and leaving it impossible to make a plausible guess at the truth. On the route from Petersburg, we found the whole country thoroughly alarmed, every man armed, the dwellings all deserted by the white inhabitants, and the farms most generally left in possession of the blacks. On our arrival at this village, we found Com. Elliot and Col. Worth, with 250 U. States troops, from the neighborhood of Old Point, and a considerable militia force. A Troop of Horse from Norfolk and one from Prince George, have since arrived. Jerusalem was never so crowded from its foundation; for besides the considerable military force assembled here, the ladies from the adjacent country, to the number of 3 or 400, have sought refuge from the appalling dangers by which they were surrounded.

Here for the first time, we learnt the extent of the insurrection, and the mischief perpetrated. Rumor had infinitely exaggerated the first, swelling the numbers of the negroes to a thousand or 1200 men, and representing its ramifications as embracing several of the adjacent counties, particularly Isle of Wight and Greensville; but it was hardly in the power of rumor itself, to exaggerate the atrocities which have been perpetrated by the insurgents: whole families, father, mother, daughters, sons, sucking babes, and school children, butchered, thrown into heaps, and left to be devoured by hogs or dogs, or to putrify on the spot. At Mr. Levi Waller's, his wife and ten children, were murdered and piled in one bleeding heap on his floor.-Waller himself was absent at the moment, but approaching while the dreadful scene was acting, was pursued, and escaped into a swamp, with much difficulty. One small child in the house at the time, escaped by concealing herself in the fire place, witnessing from the place of her concealment, the slaughter of the family, and her elder sisters among them. Another child was cruelly wounded and left for dead, and probably will not survive. All these children were not Mr. Waller's. A school was kept near his house, at which, and between which and his house, the ruthless villains murdered several of the helpless children. Many other horrors have been perpetrated. The killed, as far as ascertained, amount to sixty-two; I send a list believed to be correct, as far as it goes. There are probably others not yet hereafter to be added. A large proportion of these were women and children. It is not believed that any outrages were offered to the females.

How, or with whom, the insurrection originated, is not certainly known. The prevalent belief is, that on Sunday week last, at Barnes' Church in the neighborhood of the Cross Keys, the negroes who were observed to be disorderly, took offence at something; (it is not known what) that the plan of insurrection was then and there conceived, matured in the course of the week following, and carried into execution on Sunday night the 21st August. The atrocities commenced at Mr. Travis'. A negro, called captain Moore, and who it is added is a preacher, is the reputed leader. On Monday, most of the murders were perpetrated. It is said, that none have been committed since that day. The numbers engaged are not supposed to have exceeded 60-one account says a hundred-another not so many as 40. Twelve armed and resolute men, were certainly competent to have quelled them at any time. But, taken by surprise-with such horrors before their eyes, and trembling for their wives and children, the men, most naturally, only thought in the first place of providing refuge for those dependent upon them. Since this has been effected, the citizens have acted with vigor. Various parties have scoured the country, and a number of the insurgents, (differently reported,) have been killed or taken. There are thirteen prisoners now at this place, one or more of them severely wounded; the principal of them, a man aged about 21, called Marmaduke, who might have been a hero, judging from the magnanimity with which he bears his sufferings. He is said to be an atrocious offender, and the murderer of Miss Vaughan, celebrated for her beauty. The Preacher-Captain has not been taken. At the Cross Keys, summary justice in the form of decapitation has been executed on one or more prisoners. The people are naturally enough, wound up to a high pitch of rage, and precaution is even necessary to protect the lives of the captives-scouring parties are out, and the insurrection may be considered as already suppressed.

________________

JERUSALEM, Saturday 27.
Since writing the accompanying letter, which was expected to have been sent off immediately, other prisoners have been taken, and in one or two instances, put to death forthwith by the enraged inhabitants. Some of these scenes are hardly inferior in barbarity to the atrocities of the insurgents; and it is to be feared that a spirit of vindictive ferocity has been excited, which may be productive of farther outrage, and prove discreditable to the country. Since Monday, the insurgent negroes have committed no aggression, but have been dodging about in the swamps, in parties of three and four. They are hunted by the local militia with great implacability, and must all eventually, be slain or made captive. All the mischief was done between Sunday morning and Monday noon. In this time, the rebels traversed a country of near 20 miles extent, murdering every white indiscriminately, and wrecking the furniture. They set fire to no houses, and as far as is known, committed no outrage on any white female. What the ulterior object was, is unknown. The more intelligent opinion is that they had none; though some of them say it was to get to Norfolk, seize a ship and go to Africa. My own impression is, that they acted under the influence of their leader Nat, a preacher and a prophet among them; that even he had no ulterior purpose, but was stimulated exclusively by fanatical revenge, and perhaps misled by some hallucination of his imagined spirit of prophecy.-Committing the first murder, finding themselves already beyond reach of pardon, drunk and desperate, they proceeded in blind fury, to murder and destroy all before them. It will be long before the people of this country can get over the horrors of the late scenes, or feel safe in their homes.-Many will probably migrate. It is an aggravation of the crimes perpetrated, that the owners of slaves in this country are distinguished for lenity and humanity. Cotton and corn are the staples here, and the labor of attending to these is trifling compared with what is necessary in other parts of the State.

email this page to a friend
About the Series K-12 Learning Feedback Support PBS