ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
they approached the dwelling of Dr. Blount . . . when they were met by the doctors
own servants, who resolutely opposed their entrance, declaring that they would
lose every drop of blood in defence of their master and family.
Insurrection Of The Blacks
from the Niles Register
SEPT. 3, 1831
We shall proceed to lay before the readers of the Register, all the additional particulars which have reached us since our last, on the subject of the insurrection of Southampton county, Virginia; and we are happy to inform them that, through the energetic measures adopted by the executive, and the prompt and efficient steps taken by the authorities of the neighboring counties in that state, those in North Carolina, and by the officers and men of the army and navy of the United States on the Norfolk station-the insurrection has been completely put down; and all of the Negroes engaged in it, with the exception of two or three, being either killed or captured. Those who had, up to the latest advices, eluded vigilance of their pursuers could not much longer escape, and have ere this doubtless been taken.
There seems to be some discrepancies in the several accounts as to the origin or object of this bloody movement among the blacks. A letter from Winton, N.C. in the vicinity of the disaffected district, states that from the bet information then I possession of the writer, three white men and four slaves, the latter the property of a gentleman by the name of Travers, rose upon him about an hour before day on Monday morning, the 22d ult., and thence proceeded to the residence of Mrs. Catherine Whitehead, a lady of wealth, and murdered her and all the white members of her family, in all seven persons. The cries of Mrs. Whitehead and her family brought to their assistance a near neighbor, Mr. Williams, who found Mrs. W. butchered with an axe, her son (a minister of the gospel), with his head severed from his body, and a young lad lying dead in the fire place of her chamber. Mr. Williams immediately returned to his own dwelling; but before her reached it he met one of his own Negro boys coming with horrible tidings, that the fiends had been there, and murdered his wife and children in his absence!
The Norfolk Herald states that it originated the party of whites and blacks alluded to above-that they were marauders bent on plunder; but having steeped their hands in human sacrifice, became infuriated, like blood hounds, pursued the game of murder, in mere wanton sport. As they followed their desolating career from family to family, they pressed all the Negro men whom they found into their ranks, and thus accumulated a force of between and two hundred.
A more recent account from Winton, N.C. states that the insurrection commenced with, and was arranged by, four Negro preachers, who had been permitted to hold their meetings by day and by night, and who sought these opportunities to poison the minds of the slaves. A slave of Mrs. Whitehead, who was one of these preachers, commanded the blacks at Parkers old fields, where one of the skirmishes occurred; and after being repulsed he returned home and pleaded that he had been pressed into the ranks of the Negroes; but being recognized by some gentleman from Southampton, as the leader of the gang mentioned above, a party of ten mounted militiamen from North Carolina, who repaired to Mrs. Whiteheads to view the havoc which the wretched had made, on being assured of the fact, fired on him, and he fell dead near the remains of his mistress.
The writer of the Winston letter states that the number of victims had been reduced to 55, many heretofore supposed to have been murdered, being secreted in the woods and subsequently found.
The troops from Norfolk, Richmond, fortress Monroe and other remote places, had returned to their respective residences. The marines and seamen, under commodore Elliot, from the U.S. ships Natchez and Warren, had also returned to their vessels. The leaders of the insurrectionary band were nearly all taken prisoners or killed. The general feeling and conduct of the slaves in the neighboring states seem to indicate that there was no concert. A full disclosure had been made by a Negro by the name of Tom, who was badly wounded and expected to die; he however, is on the recovery.
The editor of the Norfolk Herald, who is a very discreet and sound judging gentleman, inclines to the opinion that the insurrection did not rest, on any [previous combination, and maintains that this is evident from the small number of adherence which the ringleaders, with all their threats and persuasions, were enabled to enlist their cause. The slaves, he affirms, throughout the country are generally well affected and even faithful to their masters. He relates the following instance of fidelity in the slaves of one gentleman whose house was attacked; remarks that he gives the story as it was related to him, and its true, great indeed will be the desert of these noble hearted Africans.
A pleasing instance of this is said to have occurred while the black demons of slaughter were executing their horrid work. Before they had received any considerable increase, and in the early stage of their butcheries, they approached the dwelling of Dr. Blount, with the full purpose of murdering him and his family, when they were met by the doctors own servants, who resolutely opposed their entrance, declaring that they would lose every drop of blood in defence of their master and family. The brigands, still persisting, a battle ensued in which they were finally routed, leaving one of their party and two horses behind them.
On the night of the 23d ult. the Southampton militia had three skirmishes with a gang of from 40 to 50 negroes, the latter retreating each time. In one account it is stated that one of the militia, of the name of Pope, was killed, in another that the whites sustained no loss whatever. The Negroes made three attempts to cross the bridge at Belfield, but were repulsed each time by a party of militia who were stationed on the opposite side with a piece of artillery. A party of four militiamen, who had been sent to reconnoiter the blacks, came up with a party of about 20 of them, and after a sharp engagement, succeeded in killing three or four, and taking several prisoners, when the remainder fled.
The great object of the Negroes, after rallying with the militia, appeared to be to reach the Dismal Swamp, but such was the vigilance of the former that nearly every one was either shot down or captured. Many of the blacks were well mounted, and armed with bird and other guns, and axes. The roads were strewed with the carcasses of the Negroes killed, and up to the 25th ult. Neither these nor the corpses of the unfortunate whites had been buried; arrangements were, however, made for their internment.
The different accounts are conflicting as to the number of Negroes killed, and indeed, under the circumstances in which they have been written, it is not to be wondered that they should be so.
We gather from letters published in the Richmond Whig of the 29th ultimo, the following statements. A letter from the senior editor of that paper, who is on the spot; states that the number of the insurrectionary Negroes had been greatly exaggerated, but that it was hardly within the power of rumor itself to exaggerate their atrocities: whole families, father, mother, daughters, sons, sucking babes and school children, were butchered by them, thrown in to heaps, and left to be devoured by hogs and dogs, or to putrefy on the spot. A Mr. Levi Wallers and his wife and ten school children were murdered-he himself was absent while the dreadful scene was acting, was pursued and escaped with a difficulty into the marsh. How or with whom the resurrection originated, is not certainly known.
The prevalent belief is that on Sunday the 14th ult. At Barnes church near the Cross Keys, the Negroes who were observed to be disorderly, took offence at something, and that the plan was conceived and matured in the course of the week. At Mr. Wallers one child escaped from the ruthless fangs of these monsters by concealing her in the fire place, and another was found alive who was badly wounded and left for dead by them. He has accompanied this letter with a list of the killed, amounting to 62, but it is not yet ascertained to be correct. He thinks that the insurgents never exceeded 60, and that twelve were well armed and resolute men competent to have quelled them at any time.
Gen. Eppes, who is in command of the troops, reports under date of the 28th ult. that all insurgents except Nat Turner, the leader, had been taken or killed. On the 29th Gen. Broadnax reports to the governor that all was quiet and free from viable marauders; he thinks all have been killed or taken except four or five. He states that Nat, the ringleader, who calls himself general, and pretends to be a Baptist preacher, declares to his comrades that he is commissioned by Jesus Christ, and proceeds under his inspired directions — that the late singular appearance of the sun was the sign for him — he is not taken, and the account of his being killed at the affair of the bridge is not correct.
The general thinks that there has existed no general concert among the slaves — circumstances impossible to have been feigned, demonstrate the entire ignorance on the subject of all the slaves in the counties around Southampton, among whom he has never known more perfect order and quiet to prevail. He believes that at any time 20 resolute men could have put them down.
He compliments, in terms of strong approbation, the admirable conduct and spirit of the militia, who have every where turned out with utmost promptitude, and given the most unquestionable evidence of their ability instantly and effectually to put down every such attempt. The families who had sought safety by flight had generally returned to their homes.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 3 May 2009