The great fear of slave insurrection prompted severe restrictions on slave freedoms in the early 19th century South with the horrid example of Santo Domingo’s massacre of whites a stern lesson of what to expect. The extreme concern by Virginians and North Carolinians over the continued slave importations to the Southern colonies on British and New England ships fell on deaf ears in the mid-1700’s; Royal Governors were instructed to ignore colonial legislative efforts to restrict slave imports and forced to accept the British colonial labor system.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Colonial Fears of Slave Insurrection
“Although in 1808 North Carolina felt considerable alarm over the plot which was discovered in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, this State did not have another threat of conspiracy until 1821. Previous to this, however, runaway Negroes on various occasions had organized camps and defied the police. In 1811 a party of men searched Cabarrus Pocosin and found a camp occupied by three men and two women. It contained a “vast deal of plunder” and a great number of keys. In 1818 a group of whites went in search of runaways and killed one of them.
It was a group of runaways, at one time reported to be eighty in number, who caused the so-called insurrection of 1821. The Negroes had taken refuge in a swamp in Onslow County near a place called White Oaks on Trent River, and the whites feared an insurrection among the Negroes from Wilmington to Washington [North Carolina]. On August 7, two justices of the peace in Onslow County unlawfully called out two detachments of militia, 200 men who remained under arms twenty-six days.
In September Bladen and Carteret Counties also called out the militia. The panic among the whites in that section of the State was widespread. Many white families fled from their homes. William L. Hill, colonel of the Onslow militia, on several occasions stated that the ranks of the Negroes “were filled with the most daring runaways, who well armed and equipped had long defied civil authority, and in open day had ravaged farms, burnt houses, and had ravaged a number of females.” By the middle of September the band had been dispersed and the whites had returned to their everyday life.
In December, 1825, Tarboro was greatly excited “by the partial discovery of an insurrectionary plot among the “blacks” of Edgecombe [county] and, “if it is believed, some of the adjacent counties.” The plot was hatched, according to a petition which reached the Legislature, by “those preachers who under the semblance of religious worship instill into the minds of the blacks, the most diabolical opinions & prepare them for the perpetration of the most horrible crimes.”
The Negroes had been told that the National government had set them free in October and that they were being unjustly held in servitude. Christmas Eve was to have been the time for rebellion, but the plot was discovered, the militia called out, and the patrol strengthened.”
(Antebellum North Carolina, Guion Griffis Johnson, UNC Press, 1937, pp. 514-515)