Primary Resource

Letter from Editor, Richmond Whig and Commercial Journal (August 29, 1831)

In this excerpt from a letter published in the Richmond Whig and Commercial Journal on August 29, 1831, the paper's senior editor reports on the slave revolt launched by Nat Turner in Southampton County, along with the actions taken in response by the government and citizens in the week following.

Transcription from Original

Monday Evening. Aug. 29.

Extract of a letter from the Senior Editor, dated

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 1 fatiguing march from Richmond. On the road we met a thousand different reports, no two agreeing, and leaving it impossible to make 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. Elliott 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 boon 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 and 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 known 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 a 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 arc 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 scones 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 committad 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 the 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 triflng compared with what is necessary in other parts of the State.

A list of persons killed in the insurrection which commenced the 21st Aug. 1831, in Southampton County.

Joseph Travis, his wife and 3 children—5.

Mrs. Turner, Hartwell Peeples, the overseer, and Mrs. Newman—3.

Mrs. Reese, and son William, and———Barham—3.

Tragan Doyall, wife and child—3.

Henry Bryant, wife, child, and wife's mother—4.

Mrs. Catharine Whitehead, son Richard, four Daughters, and grand child—7.

Salathial Francis—1.

Overseer of Nathaniel Francis and two children—3.

Tho. Barrow and Geo. Vaughan—2.

Mrs. Levi Waller and ten children—(probably not all her's) husband and one child escaped—the child by getting up the chimney—11.

William Williams, his wife and two boys 4.

Jacob Williams, 3 children, and Edwin Drury—5.

Mrs. Caswell Warrell and child—2.

Mrs. Rebecca Vaughan, daughter Ann Eliza, and son Arthur—3.

Mrs. John Williams and child—2.

Mrs. Jno. Vaughan and 3 children—4—total 62.

OFFICIAL.

Sunday night, 28th—-

"Gen. Eppes reports to the Governor by express from Head Quarters, at Jerusalem, Southampton, that there is no longer any danger in that county or its vicinity, and there is not the least danger of the renewal of the disturbances.

"The insurgents all taken or killed, except Nat. Turner the leader, after whom there is a warn pursuit.

"The troops will be discharged shortly.

"The Gen. reports 48 prisoners,

"The Richmond Troop is at Head Quarters, officers, and members, all well and in good spirits."

Monday morning, 29th—further report from Gen. Eppes.

Every thing perfectly quiet—a few more prisoners had been taken. The General, whose duties must have been most arduous, has personally examined the country for several miles around—established communications with the militia force of the neighboring counties, and adopted the most effectual measures to give quiet and security to the country.

Monday, 29th, Gen. Brodnax, who had repaired to Greensville, and assumed the command of that portion of his Brigade which he had at Hick's Ford, reports to the Governor that he has discharged the 66th and 96th Regients. Brunswick who with the Greenville militia, had instantly turned out upon information of the disturbances in Southampton. The officers detached by Gen. B. to Southampton, report to him that the scene of the late murders is perfectly quiet, and free from any visible marauders. No murder or other injury, committed or attempted, since Monday last. All the party have been killed or taken, with the exception, as is believed from the statement of prisoners and other information, of from four to five who had retreated to a swamp, and will probably be taken. Nat, the ringgleader, who calls himself General, pretends to be a Baptist Preacher—a great enthusiast 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, &c. &c.—is arming the number not yet taken. The story of his having been killed at the Bridge near Jerusalem, and of the two engagements there, unfounded. It is believed he cannot escape.

The General is convinced, from various sources of information, 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—that it is most to be regretted, that on the general alarm, the extent of the insurgent force, should have so long continued unknown, and been so much exaggerated. He believes, that at any time, a force of 20 resolute men, confronted with, could easily have put them down.

The highest approbation is expressed of the admirable conduct and spirit of the militia, who have every where turned out with the utmost promptitude, and given the most unquestionable evidence of their ability, instantly and effectually to put down every such attempt. The 66 and 96th Regiments assembled and marched from Brunswick upon Southampton, by different routes, in 20 hours from the time the intelligence reached them—part of them from a distance of 30 miles.

A fine troop of cavalry from Mecklenburg, reported to General B. for service, on the 25th.

The families who had fled from supposed danger, and taken refuge at Hicksford, Greensville, have generally returned to their homes.