ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The few, who have rushed headlong into the arena, will be shot down like crows

or captured and made examples of.  The militia are collecting in

all the neighboring counties, and the utmost vigilance prevails.



Insurrection Of The Blacks


from the Niles’ Register 


August 27, 1831

We are indebted to the kindness of our friend Lyford for the following extract of a letter from the editors of the Norfolk Herald containing the particulars of a most murderous insurrection among the blacks of Southampton* county Virginia.    [Gazette]  Norfolk, 24th Aug. 1831

I have a horrible, a heart-rending tale to relate, and lest even its worst features might be distorted by rumor and exaggeration, I have thought it proper to give you all and the worst information, that has as yet reached us through the best sources of intelligence which the nature of the case will admit.

A gentleman arrive here yesterday express from Suffolk, with intelligence from the upper part of Southampton county, stating a band of insurgent slaves (some of them believed to be runaways from the neighboring swamps), had turned out on Sunday night last and murdered several whole families, amounting to 40 or 50 individuals. Some of the families were named, and among them was that of Mrs. Catherine Whitehead, who, with her son and five daughters, fell a sacrifice to the savage ferocity of these demons in human shape.

The insurrection was represented as one of the most alarming character, though it is believed to have originated only in a design to plunder, and not with a view to a more important object – as Mrs. Whitehead, being a wealthy lady, was supposed to have a large sum of money in the house. Unfortunately, a large number of the effective male population was absent at camp meeting in Gates county some miles off, a circumstance, which gave a temporary security to the brigands in the perpetration of their butcheries; and the panic which they struck at the moment prevented the assembling of a force sufficient to check their career.

As soon as this intelligence was received, our authorities met. And decided on making an immediate application to col. House, commanding at Fortress Monroe, who at 6 o’clock this morning embarked on board the steam boat Hampton, with three companies and a piece of artillery for Suffolk.  These troops were re-inforced in the roads by detachments

From the U.S. ships Warren and Natchez, the whole amounting to nearly 300 men.

To-day another express arrived from Suffolk; confirming the disastrous news of the preceding one and adding still more to the number of the slain.  The insurgents are believed to have from 100 to 150 mounted men, and about the same number on foot.  They are armed with fowling pieces, clubs, &c. and have had a rencontre with a small number of the militia, who killed six and took eight of them prisoners.  They are said to be on their way to South Quay, probably making their way for the Dismal Swamp, in which they will be able to remain for a short time in security.  For my part, I have no fears of their doing much further mischief.  There is very little disaffection in the slaves generally, and they cannot muster a force sufficient to effect any object of importance.   The few, who have rushed headlong into the arena, will be shot down like crows or captured and made examples of.  The militia are collecting in all the neighboring counties, and the utmost vigilance prevails.

*Southampton is bounded by the counties of Isle-of-Wight on the north, and Northampton, in North Carolina, on the south.

I subjoin a list of the victims of their savage vengeance.

     Mrs. Waters and family,…………………..


     Mrs. Whitehead,.………………………….


     Mrs. Vaughan,……………………….……


      Jacob Williams,…………………………..


     Mr. Travis,………………………….……..


     Wm. Reese,………………………….…….


     Mr. Williams,……………………….…….


     Mr. Baines,………………………….…….


     Mrs. Turner,……………………………….




Besides these, a private letter adds to the families of Mr. Barrow and Mr. Henry Bryant – numbers not mentioned.

Muskets, pistols, swords and ammunition have been forwarded to Suffolk to-day, by com. Warrington, at the request of our civil authorities and a number of our citizens have accoutred and formed themselves as a troop of cavalry and set off to assist their fellow-citizens in Southampton. I trust the next news you hear will be that all is quiet again,    In haste, yours.

Extract of another letter of the same man, dated at Norfolk 5 o’clock, P.M.

“It is now 5 o’clock – Thompson’s stage has just arrived-the above statement is confirmed; and in addition states, that 300 negroes well mounted and armed, and headed by one or two white men, is the amount of the insurgent force.”


Office of the Richmond Whig

Tuesday, August 23,  -10 A.M.

Disagreeable rumors having reached this city of an insurrection of the slaves in Southampton, county with loss of life; in order to correct exaggeration, and at the same time to induce all salutary caution, we state the following particulars:

An express from the hon. James Trezvant to the executive, states that an insurrection had broken out, that several families had been murdered, and that the Negroes were embodied, requiring a considerable military force to reduce them.  The names and precise numbers of the families are not mentioned.  A letter to the postmaster corroborates the intelligence.  Prompt and efficient measures are being taken by the governor, to call out a sufficient force to put down the insurrection, and place lower Virginia on its guard.

Serious danger, of course, there is none. The deluded wretched have rushed on, assured destruction.


Extract of a letter from a gentleman to his friend in Baltimore, dated Richmond, August 23rd.  An express reached the governor this morning, informing him that an insurrection had broken out in Southampton and that by the last accounts, there were seventy whites massacred and the militia retreating.  Another express to Petersburg says that the blacks were continuing their destruction; that three hundred militia were retreating in a body, before six or eight hundred blacks. A shower of rain coming up as the militia were making an attack, wet the powder so much that they were compelled to retreat, being armed with only shot-guns. The Negroes were armed with muskets.  Our volunteers are marching to the scene of the action. A troop of cavalry left at 4 o’clock, P. M. The artillery, with four field pieces, start in the steamboat Norfolk, at six o’clock to land at Smithfield. – Southampton county lies 80 miles south of us below Petersburg.

Insurrection of the Blacks   Insurrection of Blacks2   Insurrection of Black3   Insurrection of the Blacks4


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Nathaniel Turner TimeLine  / 1831 Confessions     /  Sonnets in Memory of Nathaniel Turner (Rudolph Lewis)

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Nathaniel Turner: Christian Martyrdom in Southampton: A Theology of Black Liberation (Rudolph Lewis)

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Nat Turner in History’s Multiple Mirrors  (Felecia R. Lee, NYTimes)  /  Hatcher Plans to Exhibit Turner Skull


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Insurrection Of The Blacks Niles’ Register  Sept. 3 1831 Sept. 10, 1831 / Sept 17, 1831

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 3 May 2009



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Related files: Insurrection of the Blacks   Insurrection of Blacks2   Insurrection of Black3   Insurrection of the Blacks4