To help suppress the American drive for independence in 1775, Lord Dunmore of Virginia incited a race war by encouraging African slaves the British had imported to massacre their plantation owners –men, women and children. The British repeated this strategy in 1814; wealthy New Englanders attempted it in 1859 through John Brown; Lincoln utilized it in 1863 to suppress another American drive for independence.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Inciting Race War and Murder:
“With the majority of her young men away at war, Beaufort County’s greatest fear was for a British instigated slave uprising. At the beginning of the war, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia . . . had threatened: “By the living God, if any insult is offered to me, or to those who have obeyed my orders, I will declare freedom to the slaves and pay the town (of Williamsburg) in ashes.”
He issued such an order for the defense of Norfolk, freeing all indentured servants and slaves “of the rebels, that are able and willing to bear arms.” He added the proviso that they join the British troops. Some two or three hundred Negroes were freed, and joined in the defense of Norfolk as “Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopians.”
In Beaufort County and other eastern counties where there was a large Negro population, this threat of slave uprising was an ever-present cause for concern. In July of 1775, shortly after Dunmore had made his threat, a “Horrid, Tragic Plan” for such an uprising was discovered. A loyal Negro slave who belonged to Captain Thomas Respess revealed the plot [of a] Tory named Johnson, apparently of another county, [who] engineered the plan. A Bath Town slave named Merrick was the Negro leader through whom he worked.
On the night of 8 July 1775, the slaves on each plantation were to turn on their masters, and slay them and their families. They would then join with the slaves from other plantations. Armed with the weapons of their murdered masters, they were to go farm to farm of the neighboring non-slave holding farmers and surprise and murder them. Moving westward through the counties, they were to be met by an agent of the British government, who would supply them with more ammunition. As a reward, they would later be settled in a free government of their own.
Over one hundred mounted patrollers were promptly dispatched to warn all plantation owners and farmers, and were directed to apprehend all Negroes found off their plantations. Over forty Negroes suspected of being leaders in the plot were apprehended. One group of about two hundred and fifty Negroes was located. When surrounded by two companies of Light Horse, they fled into the swamps.
Many of the captured Negroes confessed to their part in the plot. Records do not specify the punishment . . . [although] the law prescribed death for such an offense. Johnson, the instigator of the plot, escaped. Though the threat hung over the eastern counties for the remained of the war, no other attempt at an uprising was recorded.”
(History of Beaufort County, C. Wingate Reed, Edwards & Broughton, 1962, pp. 120-121)