Browsing "Emancipation"

Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South

Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was Martha Bulloch (1835-1884), who grew up near today’s Roswell, Georgia on her father’s plantation worked by thirty-one slaves. Her two brothers James and Irvine had illustrious careers serving the Confederacy, and it is said that those patriotic uncles served as exemplary role models for him later in life. When he became president, TR labored in vain to entice Southern Democrats away from their party, as the damage done by the Republican party to the South seemed irreparable.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and the South

“When by accident Theodore Roosevelt came to the presidency in 1901, he entered that office with a desire to revise the political map of the country, for he was positive that a change in the traditional Republican attitude toward the Southern white voter would go far to break the Democratic political monopoly of the solid South.

Accordingly, in his early appointments and in his public speeches he attempted to pursue a course of conciliation calculated to entice the white citizen of the South away from the Democratic party.

After his departure from the Republican party in June 1912, however, Roosevelt realized at once that perhaps this was his chance to break the political monopoly of States below the Ohio River by organizing a rival party designed to appeal to Southern whites.

It was upon [growing] discontent [with Democratic leadership in the South] that Theodore Roosevelt proposed to found the new Progressive party in the South, which, freed of the incubus of the Republican label, would be “without one touch of sectional feeling,” and which therefore could offer the first serious opposition to Southern Democracy since the days of the old Whigs.

Yet the leader of the Progressive party was well aware that if a strong, permanent party were to be built in the South it would necessarily have to be organized upon a “lily white” basis.

[Roosevelt defined his position on race with], in the North there were numerous intelligent and honest Negroes who could be incorporated into the party machinery to the mutual good of both the individual and the party. The situation in the South, however, was a different matter. In this opinion, Roosevelt declared, he stood not on theory but upon actual observation.

For forty-five years the Republican party had been trying to build a successful organization there based upon black participation, and the result for a variety of reasons had been “lamentable from every standpoint.”

To repeat the experiment, he felt, would make a Progressive party victory impossible in the South, and would do nothing for the Negro except “to create another impotent little corrupt faction of would-be office holders, of delegates whose expenses had to be paid, and whose votes sometimes had to be bought.”

In conclusion, he maintained that the only man who could help the Negro in the South was his white neighbor; and therefore he hoped the Progressive party would put the leadership of the South into the hands of “intelligent and benevolent” white men who would see to it that the Negro got a measure of justice, something which the Northerner could not obtain for him, and something he could not obtain himself. Thus, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens were publicly disavowed by a former Republican president.”

(The South and the Progressive Lily White Party of 1912, George E. Mowry, Journal of Southern History, VI, May 1940, excerpts, pp. 237-242)

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued his North Carolina Proclamation which made no provision for the extension of the vote to freedmen, and only those who voted before May 20, 1861 and who had taken the amnesty oath to the US government could take part in the constitutional convention. This enraged Radical Republicans and their supporters who saw permanent political hegemony over the South through black voters herded to the polls with Republican ballots in hand. Political opportunists rather than statesmen reigned in the North – led by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner –all who had little if any understanding of the intent of the Framers and their Constitution, or the proper orbits of States and the federal agent of strictly limited powers they had created in 1789.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

“At the time when the North Carolina Proclamation was issued, only six States in the North and West had granted suffrage to Negroes. Even in New York colored voters were required to own $250 worth of property as a condition of being permitted to register [to vote]. Lincoln had recognized provisional governments in Arkansas and Louisiana from which Negroes had been excluded as voters.

Logically, therefore, Johnson’s position [of following Lincoln’s example] was sound, and in conformity with the principle of States’ Rights in which he so ardently believed. His great mistake was in omitting to take into consideration the temper of the people of the North, who feared with some reason that the Southern States would return to Congress the same type of men they had elected before the War.

Such men, and their allies, the Northern and Western Democrats, might form a coalition strong enough to undo what the War had accomplished [for the Republican Party]. The enfranchisement of the Negro, for which they showed little enthusiasm at first, might at least change the balance of power in the South, and enable good Union men to be returned to Congress.

The Constitution of the United States had made no provision for secession . . . Johnson . . . had come to the conclusion that the Union had never been dissolved [and that secession] had been unconstitutional and ineffective. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania had repeatedly urged that the South be treated as a conquered nation. Charles Sumner [thought] the seceded States had “committed suicide” and no longer existed as legally organized governments. He had declared that it would be contrary to the Constitution to readmit these States on their prewar basis.

The right of the Negro to suffrage had in his opinion been won in the War, and to exclude them as voters in the South would be a betrayal of their cause and of the principles for which the war had been fought.”

(The Uncivil War: Washington During the Reconstruction, 1865-1878, James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 45-47)

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

Robert E. Lee remarked that slavery in the South was an evil and would be better solved by time and benevolent Christian influence, and the story of Reverend Chavis related below was a manifestation of that view. Chavis’s experience taught him that emancipation of the African race in his land must be preceded by education; Lincoln’s violent revolution that set black against white was the very opposite of his understanding of racial harmony.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

“John Chavis [1763-1838], a free Negro of unmixed blood, preacher and educator, was born near Oxford in the County of Granville, North Carolina. As a free man he was sent to Princeton to study, privately under President Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey — “according to tradition, to demonstrate whether or not a Negro had the capacity to take a college education.”

That the test was successful appears from the record in the manuscript Order Book of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Court of 1802, which certifies to the freedom and character of Reverend John Chavis, a black man, who, as a student at Washington Academy passed successfully “through a regular course of Academical Studies.”

Through the influence of the Reverend Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian divine, Chavis became connected as a licentiate with the Presbyteries of Lexington and Hanover, Virginia. About 1805 he went to North Carolina, where he joined in 1809 the Orange Presbytery, and ministered to whites and blacks in various churches in at least three counties.

He was distinguished for his dignity of manner, purity of diction, and simplicity and orthodoxy in teaching. Familiar with Latin and Greek, he established a classical school, teaching sometimes at night, and prepared for college the sons of prominent whites in several counties, sometimes even boarding them in his family. Among them were Senator Willie P. Mangum, Governor Manly, the sons of Chief Justice Henderson. And others, who became lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers and politicians. He was respectfully received in the families of his former pupils, whom he visited often.

The letters of Chavis to Senator Mangum show that the Senator treated him as a friend. Curiously, one dated in 1836, was a vigorous protest against the Petition for Emancipation, sent to Congress by the abolitionists, as injurious to the colored race:

April 4, 1836

“I am radically and heartily opposed to the passing of such a Law, a Law which will be fraught with so many mischievous and dangerous consequences. I am already of the opinion that Congress has no more right to pass such a Law than I have to go to your house and take Orange [a slave] and bring him home and keep him as my servant . . . I am clearly of the opinion that immediate emancipation would be to entail the greatest earthly curse upon my brethren according to the flesh that could be conferred upon them especially in a country like ours . . . I believe that there are a part of the abolitionists that have, and do, acting from pure motives but I think they have zeal without knowledge, and are doing more mischief than they expect. There is I think another part that are seeking for loaves and fishes and are an exceedingly dangerous set.”

Chavis died in 1838, aged about seventy-five, a conspicuous example of merit rewarded by slave-holding whites.”

(Universal Education in the South, Volume I, Charles William Dabney, UNC Press, 1936, excerpt, pp. 453-454)

 

 

Lincoln’s Illinois Opposition

Though Republican organs like the Chicago Tribune defended Lincoln’s unconstitutional actions in prosecuting his war against the South, a majority of people of Lincoln’s own State opposed the war. In that newspaper’s view, anyone opposing its editorials or Lincoln’s actions was guilty of disloyalty and treason.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Illinois Opposition

“{Stephen A.] Douglas had originally secured the support of the Democrats in Illinois for the war; but Douglas had died, and the North had suffered a long series of humiliating defeats on the battlefields. The Lincoln administration had announced in September, 1862, that on January 1 he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Many had pressed Lincoln to take that step. He had resisted largely through fear of losing the support of the War Democrats.

Governor [Richard] Yates, a Republican, in his address to the [Illinois] legislature scraped the raw wounds. He congratulated the country on the prolongation of the war since it had resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation. The house at first refused to print this message except with “a solemn protest against its revolutionary and unconstitutional doctrines.”

The first task of the legislature was the election of a United States Senator. There were several candidates who, according to the Chicago Tribune, “vied with each other in their expression of disloyalty.” One of the candidates was [Melville Weston] Fuller’s sponsor [Democrat W.C.] Goudy. Goudy declared that “in the event of the President’s refusing to withdraw the [Emancipation] Proclamation he was in favor of marching an army to Washington and hurling the officers of the present administration from their positions.”

“A Union man,” the Tribune reported, “is in as much danger in some localities here as if he were in Richmond.” Both the Illinois and Indiana legislatures were Democratic in 1863, while the governors of both States were Republicans. In each State the House of Representatives as a strict party measure passed resolutions protesting against further prosecution of the war unless the Emancipation Proclamation were withdrawn.

In Illinois this resolution denounced “the flagrant and monstrous usurpations” of the administration, demanded an immediate armistice, and appointed several prominent Democrats . . . as commissioners to secure the cooperation of other States for a peace convention at Louisville, Kentucky.”

(Melville Weston Fuller, Chief Justice of the United States, 1888-1910, Willard L. King, MacMillan Company, 1950, excerpts, pp. 54-55)

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

The South laid down their arms with the understanding that political union with the North would be restored, albeit against their will, but their rights in that political union would be as they were before hostilities commenced. This was not to be — punishment and retribution for seeking independence followed the shooting war – the second phase of the war would continue to 1877 and beyond.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

“Gloom and depression gripped Richmond after the surrender. Thieves, murderers and pickpockets swarmed in the streets. The prevailing feeling of despair was intensified when suspicions were expressed in certain Northern quarters that Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were somehow responsible for Lincoln’s death. This was, of course, absurd, but Northern radicals were looking for an excuse to punish the South to the limit.

Orders were accordingly issued forbidding as many as three former Confederates to stand on any Richmond street corner, lest they engage in further “conspiracies.” No Confederate insignia could be worn, with the result that a former soldier who had only his battered Confederate coat had to cut off the buttons or cover them with cloth. Many citizens talked of emigrating to Canada, Europe or Latin America.

Negroes were flooding into Richmond and other cities from the country districts. An estimated fifteen thousand came to the former Confederate capital, doubling its black population. Many of these newcomers believed vaguely that they would be cared for indefinitely by “Marse Linkum” or his agents.

As one of Emma Mordecai’s former slaves put it: “All de land belongs to de Yankees now, and dey gwine to divide it out ‘mong the colored people . . .” Another ex-slave was heard to say: “Dis what you call freedom! Can’t get no wuck, and got ter feed and clothe yo’sef.”

It was often easier for blacks to get work than whites. Ex-slaves were known to bring their impoverished former masters or mistresses Federal greenbacks and food from the US Commissary. It was clear that there were strong ties of affection between onetime slaves and their erstwhile owners.

Schoolteachers came down from the North to instruct blacks. Those in charge of these activities were idealistic in the extreme, but too frequently were lacking in understanding. Among those in dire need of help were the returning Confederate soldiers who had been confined in Northern prisons. These haggard, weak and often ill men, clad in hardly more than rags, staggered into town after somehow making their slow and tortuous way back to the South.

Fighting between Federal soldiers and Negroes occurred frequently in Richmond. Two soldiers shot a black through the head, leaving him for dead near the old Fair Grounds after robbing him of two watches and five dollars, according to the Dispatch.

The Virginia press was almost unanimous in opposition to Negro suffrage. The Richmond Times, said, for example: The former masters of the Negroes in Virginia have no feeling of unkindness toward them, and they will give them all the encouragement they deserve, but they will not permit them to exercise the right of suffrage, nor will they treat them as anything but “free Negroes.” They are laborers who are to be paid for their services . . . but vote they shall not.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 199-202)

 

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

The American Revolution stirred the idea of emancipating the Africans brought to America on British and New England slave ships, and Virginia’s early emancipation efforts were second to none. But while the Northern States in the early 1800’s had trouble tolerating the few free black people among them, the very large number of free blacks and slaves in the South being influenced by black revolts in the Caribbean created a smoldering powder keg. Virginia had experienced an enemy inciting blacks to massacre white Virginian’s with Lord Dunmore’s 1775 emancipation proclamation; it was feared that New England’s radical abolitionists would do the same.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

“[An] alarming proportion of black families were “matriarchal,” that is, the husband/father was either absent or . . . present but of negligible influence. [Also] the woman-dominant family was unstable and disorganized, at once the symptom and cause of severe social pathology among black people.

Women were prominent among free blacks; they outnumbered the men three to two, they headed more than half of the town’s free black households, and they constituted almost half of the paid free black labor force. Among those free blacks who managed to accumulate property, a high proportion — 40 to 50 percent — were women.

The [Virginia] manumission law of 1782 empowered the owner to set free any slave under the age of forty-five by the stroke of a pen.

For the first time, a substantial proportion of black Virginians would be free people. Petersburg’s free black population more than tripled in the space of twenty years, its size swelled by the high rate of emancipation in the town itself and by the hundreds of newly-freed migrants from the countryside who came in search of kin, work and community.

By 1810, there were more than a thousand free blacks in Petersburg, and they made up close to a third of the town’s free population (31.2%). Free blacks and slaves together outnumbered the whites four to three.

It was the very success of the manumission law that led to its demise. In 1805, Petersburg’s common council begged the General Assembly for some action to halt the growth of the free black population.

The council feared an uprising, and with seeming good reason. Petersburg had welcomed its share of refugees from Saint-Domingue [Haiti], where dissatisfaction among free blacks had touched off protracted [racial] warfare; in 1803, the whites of Saint-Domingue were ousted altogether.

When Petersburg’s officials looked at their own burgeoning free black population, they imagined it happening all over again . . . “a mine sprung in St. Domingo that totally annihilated the whites. With such a population we are forever on the Watch.”

(The Free Women of Petersburg, Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860; Suzanne Lebsock, W.W. Norton, 1984, excerpts, pp. 89-91)

 

The Rock of a New and More Perfect Union

To secure Lincoln’s reelection, Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana later testified that “the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864 (Hapgood’s Life of Lincoln).” Dana was a prewar socialist who lived at the notorious Brook Farm commune, hired Karl Marx to write for Greeley’s Tribune, spied on Grant for Lincoln, and was the one who ordered manacles be bolted on President Jefferson Davis at Fortress Monroe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Rock of a New and More Perfect Union

“Lincoln’s second election was largely committed to the War and Navy Departments of the Federal government, he having been nominated by the same radical Republican Party, practically, that nominated him at Chicago in 1860; and George B. McClellan was the nominee of the Democratic Party.

Lincoln made criticism of his administration treason triable by court-martial, and United States soldiers ruled at the polls. General B.F. Butler’s book gives full particulars of the large force with which he controlled completely the voters of New York City; and McClure’s book, “Our Presidents,” tells “how necessary the army vote was, and was secured”; and Ida Tarbell says: “It was declared that Lincoln had been guilty of all the abuses of a military dictatorship.”

R.M. Stribling’s “From Gettysburg to Appomattox” gives undeniable proof of Lincoln’s conspiracy with his generals to secure his reelection: and Holland’s “Lincoln” says that “when Lincoln killed, by pocketing it, a bill for the reconstruction of the Union which Congress had just passed, Ben Wade, Winter Davis and Greeley published in Greeley’s Tribune (August 6) a bitter manifesto, “charging the President, by preventing this bill from becoming a law, with purposely holding the electoral votes of the rebel States at the discretion of his personal ambition”; and Usher tells how “pretended representatives from Virginia, West Virginia, and Louisiana were seated in Congress;” and (August, 1864) Schouler says: “An address to the people by the opposition in Congress accused Lincoln of the creation of bogus States.”

General [John C.] Fremont, the preceding nominee of Lincoln’s party for the presidency, charged Lincoln with “incapacity, selfishness, disregard of personal rights, and liberty of the press;” also “with feebleness, want of principle, and managing the war for personal ends.”

Lincoln’s success was not won by the North, for a large part of its people were against Lincoln’s policy of coercion. So, seeing voluntary enlistments ceasing, and the draft unpopular, by offering large bounties and other inducements, Lincoln secured recruits as follows: 176,800 Germans, 144,200 Irish, 99,000 English and British-Americans, 74,000 other foreigners, 186,017 Negroes, and from the border States 344,190, making a grand total of 1,151,660 men.

It is readily seen that without this great addition to Lincoln’s Northern army he would have been “in bad,” for, as it was, the North was almost on the point of “quitting” several times.

In an article in the [Confederate] Veteran, October, 1924 (“On Force and Consent”) Dr. Scrugham [states:] ”The United Daughters of the Confederacy have rendered a signal service to the perpetuation of government based on the consent of the governed by keeping alive the memory of the bravery of those who died that such government might not perish from the Southern States. Their work will not be completed till they have convinced the world, after the manner of the Athenian Greeks, that the Greek memorial to Lincoln in Washington, DC is dedicated to the wrong man.”  Amen.

Finally, let it not be forgotten, that this principle of government by the consent of the people was the rock on which our fathers of 1776 built the “new and more perfect” Union of States; and later, was the fundamental principle of the Union of the Southern Confederacy . . .”

(Events Leading to Lincoln’s Second Election, Cornelius B. Hite, Washington, DC, Confederate Veteran, July, 1926, excerpts, pp. 247-248)

 

Ruffin’s Library and Slaves Lost

Edmund Ruffin of Virginia, born in 1794 while Washington was president, committed suicide in his room at Redmoor Farm in Amelia County on 17 June 1865, unwilling and unable to live under a Northern tyranny that had already destroyed his life, family, and way of life. The veteran of the War of 1812 had observed, from 1861 through 1865, what the Northern conqueror was capable of with the invasion of his beloved Old Dominion.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ruffin’s Library and Slaves Lost 

“One other loss of property occurred during the first occupation at Beechwood [plantation], the result of looting by Union troops: the libraries were destroyed. Ruffin had no inventory of his books. He suspected at first that most of the volumes had been sent by the Union commander to New York for sale. A Union soldier’s letter, which eventually fell into the family’s hands, explained that the libraries had been the objects of looting by Union troops.

Slaves began “absconding” from Marlbourne, Beechwood, and Evelynton very early in the war, just as they did from farms all along the Pamunkey and lower James rivers once [General Geroge] McClellan occupied the peninsula. The level of desertions astonished Ruffin.

Beechwood suffered heaviest losses from slave defections between May and June 1862, when sixty-nine of the slaves still held there fled. “Not a single man is left belonging to the farm,” he noted on 11 June. (One of the absconders, a man Ruffin knew as William and described as “an uncommonly intelligent Negro,” would return in August 1862 to guide Union forces landing in Prince George.)

Events in June 1862 that broke up the slave community at Beechwood and Evelynton demolished Ruffin’s assumptions about slaves and their relationship to his family . . . he decided the notion that black people felt a commitment to their own families was just a false statement.

At Beechwood and Evelynton individual slaves had absconded with no apparent concern for their families left behind — evidence, Ruffin surmised, that they had no such commitment. [In the early summer of 1862, Ruffin sold] twenty-nine troublesome slaves. That sale, Ruffin said, was an ordeal . . . their slaves had forced them to “a painful necessity thus to sever more family ties,’ . . . [but] he had sold to just one buyer, who represented just two plantations; he had tried to break no family tie except those already broken by the slaves themselves.”

(Ruffin, Family and Reform in the Old South, David F. Allmendinger, Oxford University Press, 1990, excerpts, pp. 164-166)

 

 

 

Acts of Oppression Made in the Name of Liberty

From the Russian Embassy at Washington, diplomat Baron Edouard de Stoeckl monitored the Lincoln administration and reported his observations in detail to St. Petersburg. He concluded, as other observers did, that Lincoln’s apparent goal was to maintain the territorial union by force, with slavery intact and confined to the existing geographic limits of the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Acts of Oppression Made in the Name of Liberty

“If the reign of the demagogues continues for a long time, General [John] Fremont is destined to play an important role. He is already the standard-bearer of the radical [Republican] party, and he will become the head of the party because of his superiority over the other leaders, among whom are only mediocre men and not a single leader of talent and energy.

Continuing his analysis of the “deplorable situation,” Stoeckl discussed in some detail the efforts of the radicals to gain control of affairs.

“General Fremont acted without authorization of [President Lincoln] and even contrary to his instructions, which forbid him to act in regard to the slave States of the west where Unionists are still fairly numerous. So the President was greatly astonished to learn about the [emancipation] proclamation of General Fremont. He regarded is as an act of insubordination.

For awhile there was consideration of dismissal [of Fremont], but after all [Lincoln] did nothing and did not even dare to reprimand him. The radicals, emboldened by this triumph, demand today that the edicts laid down by General Fremont in Missouri shall be applied everywhere. In other words, they demand that the government should convert the present struggle into a war of extermination.

What the radical party fears most is a reaction which would bring its ruin. So it takes advantage of the hold it has on the administration in order to drive it to extreme measures. The government has forbidden postmasters to carry newspapers in the mails which advocate conciliation and compromise. The result has been that the majority of newspapers which were opposed to war have had to suspend publication.

In several towns the extremists have gone even further. They have stirred up the populace, which has smashed the plants of the moderate newspapers. Conditions are such that mere denunciation by a general is sufficient for a person to be arrested and imprisoned. The act of habeas corpus and all the guarantees which the Americans have appeared to prize so much, have vanished and given way to martial law, which . . . is being enforced throughout the North.

We are not far from a reign of terror such as existed during the great French Revolution, and what makes the resemblance more striking is that all these acts of oppression are made in the name of liberty.”

Stoeckl wrote that the people of the North were being misled into believing that these drastic measures would hasten the peaceful restoration of the Union. But he did not believe the deception could persist:

“People will not be duped long by their political leaders. The reaction will necessarily take place. But unfortunately it will come too late to repair the harm that the demagogues have done to the country. It will be necessary finally to revolutionize the political and administrative institutions . . . which have been weakened upon the first rock against which the nation has been hurled.

In the North and in the South they will have to reconstruct the edifice which the founders of the Republic have had so much trouble in building . . . The present war is only the prelude of the political convulsions which this country will have to pass through.”

(Lincoln and the Radicals, Albert A. Woldman, World Publishing Company, 1952, excerpts, pp. 80-83)

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

The following is a very graphic and long account Nat Turner’s massacre of innocents in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831, during which he and his followers brutally murdered over sixty white citizens: women, children and old men. This tragic event led to severe restrictions on slaves, free blacks, and the ongoing emancipation of slaves that had been common in the South before 1831.  The South laid blame for the murders on Northern abolitionists who incited the slaves to such actions, and led to the South seriously reconsidering the value of political union with the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

“With no large plantations, there were no large slaveholders, and [Southampton] county typified older communities where slavery was passing by personal manumission; the slaves and freed Negroes outnumbered the whites to make a potentially dangerous problem. To 6500 whites, there were 7700 slaves and 1500 freed Negroes. Slave and free, all Negroes lived in intimate proximity to the whites, a situation which did not exist on large plantations where overseers came between the masters and field hands. Field hands in that sense scarcely existed in Southampton County.

The most successful plantations were operated avocationally by professional men, doctors and lawyers, since the plantation represented the aspiration of everyone. In the same way, many of the plantation-conscious farmers supplemented their agricultural incomes by working as artisans in small enterprises. Such a man was Joseph Travis, the honest coach-maker.

He had apprenticed to him a sixteen-year-old boy, who shared the bedroom of Mr. Travis’ foster son, Putnam Moore. Mrs. Travis, whose first husband had died, had a baby by Joseph Travis. This small family had no house servants as such. The few colored families of slaves lived in a single cluster of buildings around the farmyard and there was no distinction between house people and field hands. There the whites and blacks, working together and virtually living together, shared an hourly and constant companionship, and knew one another with the casual intimacy of members of the same family. Though everybody worked hard, the slaves were held to a fairly rigid schedule.

Working five days a week from roughly sunup until sundown, they had Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. They were encouraged to grow garden crops for themselves on allotted plots of ground, either to fill out their diets according to personal tastes or for use in trade or barter. Skills were taught them and, as in other families like the Travis’ who could not afford to free their lifetime investment, sometimes a Negro worked out his freedom at a trade.

Great attention was given to their religious education. They went to the whites’ churches, where the Methodist and Baptist preachers of the peoples’ religion evoked fiery and wondrous images, and they developed their own preachers, who supplanted the whites’. Such a Negro preacher acted as Joseph Travis’ “overseer.”

The overseer of this little family plantation, bearing not even unintentional similarity to Simon Legree, merely acted for the owner with the few Negroes who worked on the farm. With Joseph Travis busy at his coach-making, somebody had to be in charge of the work, though The Preacher extended his leadership over the total lives of the three families in the Travis farmyard, and exerted considerable influence over other Negroes in the scattered community.

He always said that Mr. Travis was a very kind man, maybe even too indulgent with his people, and Mr. Travis regarded The Preacher as something of a privileged character. He had been born in the county of an African mother and a slave father, who ran away when The Preacher was a child. He had been raised by his grandmother, who worked on his religious education, and by his mother, who was deeply impressed with the child’s gift of second sight.

When the owners’ attention was called to his precociousness, they encouraged him to read and gave him a Bible. He culled the Bible for predictions and prophesies which he used to impose his visions on his fellow slaves. He found portents in the sun and moon, portentous hieroglyphics in leaves and suchlike, and in general created of himself a mysterious figure of supernatural gifts.

The Preacher did not regard himself as a humbug in imposing on his fellows. He actually believed he could read signs in the sky. “Behold me in the heavens,” the Holy Spirit said to him, and he beheld and he knew. He knew the signs were directing him toward a holy mission. In the spring of 1828, he heard a loud noise in the heavens and, he said, “The spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it in and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be the last and the last should be free.”

The twenty-first of August was a Sunday, in the season when the white people spent the day away at camp meetings. In The Preacher’s cabin, his wife was fixing Sunday dinner for their child. In the woods below the fields, six of The Preacher’s disciples were gathered in the glen, where to a Sunday feast they added some of the apple brandy which was always handy to acquire. Only one of them belonged to Mr. Travis – Hark Travis, a magnificently and powerfully built black man. Two others, Sam and the ferocious Will Francis, belonged to one of Mrs. Travis’ brothers. As farms were relatively few in the sparsely settled and wooded country, all the Negroes were intimately acquainted.

The Preacher, after his custom of keeping himself aloof, joined the frolic in the middle of the afternoon, when several hours of feasting and drinking had his followers in receptive humor. From then until full night he coached them in the details of his predestined mission in which they were to be allowed to participate.

At ten o’clock they left the woods and silently approached the dark farmyard of the Travis house. All lights were out in the house where the family, tired from their trip to the camp-meeting, were asleep. In the farmyard stood a Negro named Austin, who joined them, and brought The Preacher’s band to eight.

The seven followers went to the unlocked cider press while The Preacher studied the situation. When the silent man returned, The Preacher directed Hark, the Apollo, to set a tall ladder against an upper story window sill. The Preacher climbed the ladder, stepped through the open window, and tiptoed through the familiar house down to the front door. When he opened it, his disciples crept in. The fearsome Will Francis held a broadax and one of the men gave The Preacher a hatchet. Without any other weapons, the eight men crept into the master bedroom, where Mr. & Mrs. Travis were asleep.

When The Preacher stood over them, he paused, looking on the face of the kindly man who had given him so many privileges. The other Negroes told him the leader must strike the first blow. After another pause, The Preacher struck suddenly and awkwardly down at the sleeping man.

The hatchet glanced off, giving a blow to the side of the head. Mr. Travis, startled into wakefulness, struggled out of bed, sleepily calling for his wife. When his bare feet touched the floor, Will Francis, with no confusion of purpose, brought the broadax down on his head in a single long stroke. Without another sound, Mr. Travis fell dead to the floor. Whirling, Will came down with the broadax again, and Mrs. Travis died in her bed without ever coming fully awake.

The sounds had not aroused the two sixteen-year-old boys – Mrs. Travis’ son, Putnam Moore, and the apprentice, Joel Westbrook – asleep in the same bed in a room in another part of the house. They were killed before they were awakened.

Last, The Preacher went into the baby’s room. He had often played with the child and fondled it, and the baby smiled at him when he woke up. The Preacher backed out, unable to touch the child, and sent in Will and another follower to knock the baby’s brains out against the brick fireplace.

With the house theirs, they took four shotguns, several muskets, powder and shot, and exchanged their clothes for garments of the dead men. To give a dash to their new costumes, they got some of the red cloth with which the top of the gig was lined and tore that into sashes to go around their waists and shoulders. The material gave out and they made other strips from sheets, which they dyed in the freely flowing blood. The Preacher felt that this unit was now ready to serve as the nucleus around which all the slaves of the county would rally.

With some of the force mounted on Travis’ horses, they went to the small farm owned by Mrs. Travis’ brother, who was also the brother of the owner of Sam and Will. This younger Mr. Francis, a bachelor who lived with his one slave in a single-room house, came to the door when Will and Sam called to him that they had a message from his brother.

When he opened the door they grabbed him. He was a strong man and he fought, calling to his loyal slave for his gun. One of The Preacher’s men shot Mr. Francis’s slave, Nelson, who managed to stagger to the back door and escape in the darkness to the woods. He started out to give the alarm to his master’s brother, the owner of Will and Sam, but he didn’t make it that far. Mr. Francis was finished off before Nelson had reached the woods, going down under repeated blows from the hatchet.

From there The Preacher’s band walked on through the night to the home of Mrs. Harris, a widow with several children and grandchildren. Unbeknownst to themselves as they slept, this family was spared through the agency of their slave, Joe, who joined The Preacher on the condition that his people be spared.

With their first recruit, the band descended on the home of the widow Reese, whose front door was unlocked. They killed her in her sleep, her son as he awakened, caught the white farm manager who tried to escape in the darkness. He got off with his life by feigning death, though he was forever after crippled.

By then other slaves, too frightened to defend the whites but unwilling to join the insurgents, had fled before the band, and nearby plantations were warned. Not willing to risk losing any of his eight followers, The Preacher changed his course.

At sunrise on Monday morning they reached the substantial home of the widow Turner…Mrs. Turner’s manager was already at work at the distillery beside the lane to the house. He was shot and stripped, his clothes going to the last recruit, the Joe who had saved his own people. Mrs. Turner and a kinswoman were awakened by the shot and came downstairs to bolt the door. The fearsome will battered the door down with several strokes of his ax, and the two women were grabbed in the hallway.

While they pleaded for their lives, Will went about his skillful work of execution on Mrs. Turner, and The Preacher pulled Mrs. Newsom, trembling violently, out of the door. He kept striking her over the head with a sword he had acquired. The edge was too blunt to kill the screaming woman and Will, turning from the corpse of Mrs. Turner, methodically finished off The Preacher’s victim with his ax.

They got silver there and more decoration for their costumes, and when they left the silent plantation at full daylight their number had spread to fifteen. They divided, those on foot under The Preacher swinging by the Bryant’s, where they paused to kill the couple, their child, and Mrs. Bryant’s mother, before joining the mounted force at the pleasant establishment of Mrs. Whitehead.

When The Preacher’s force got there, Mrs. Whitehead’s grown son had already been hacked to death in a cotton patch while his own slaves looked on. Inside the house three daughters and a child, being bathed by his grandmother were dead. Will was dragging the mother of the family out into the yard, where he decapitated her, and a young girl who had hidden was running for the woods. The Preacher caught her and, his sword failing him again, beat her to death with a fence rail. Another daughter, the only member of the family to survive, had made it to the woods where she was hidden by a house slave.

When they left the seven dead and mutilated bodies at the Whitehead’s, The Preacher’s band had grown and acquired more weapons and horses. They had also drunk more cider and brandy, and they moved boldly ahead to continue the massacre although they knew that the alarm was out by then. Several of the next small plantations in their line of march were deserted. The band divided again, with Will the executioner leading the mounted force toward the house of his own master, Nathaniel Francis, the brother of The Preacher’s Mrs. Travis and of the bachelor whose slave, Nelson, had been among the first to give the warning.

Though the warning had not reached the Francis plantation, a Negro boy had told Mr. Francis a wild tale of the slaughter of his sister’s family. Having heard nothing of The Preacher’s band, Mr. Francis and his mother were on their way to investigate the grisly scene awaiting them at the Travis household.

Two of Mr. Francis’ nephews, eight- and three year-old boys, were playing in the lane as the Negroes rode silently toward them. The three-year-old, seeing the familiar Will, asked for a ride as he had many times before. Will picked him up on the horse, cut off his head, and dropped the body in the lane. The other boy screamed and tried to hide, but they were too fast for him.

Henry Doyle, the overseer, seeing this, ran to warn Mrs. Francis. He was shot dead in the doorway of the house, but not before he had warned Mrs. Francis. A house slave hid her between the plastering and the roof in one of the “jump” rooms, and kept The Preacher’s band away from her hiding place by pretending to hunt for her. When the Negroes had gone on, the house slave of necessity among them, Mrs. Francis came down to find the other house women dividing her clothes, including her wedding dress. One attacked her with a dirk and another defended her. She escaped to join her husband and be taken to safety.

When the band left the Francis plantation, the alarm by then was general and the Negroes were beginning to get drunk. They headed for the road to the county seat. They found more deserted houses, where faithful slaves had left to hide their masters, and met other slaves who had waited to join the insurrectionists. At young Captain Barrow’s the warning had been received and the overseer had escaped, but Mrs. Barrow, a woman of beauty, had delayed to arrange her toilet before appearing abroad. She tarried so long that the Negroes reached the house before she left. Her husband called to her to run out the back door while he fought from the front.

In leaving, Mrs. Barrow had the same experience with her house slaves as had Mrs. Francis. A younger one tried to hold her for the mob, while an older one freed her and held the young Negro woman while her mistress escaped. In front, Captain Barrow emptied a pistol, a single-shot rifle, and a shotgun, and fought with the butt of the gun across the porch, through the hall, and into the front room. He was holding them off when a Negro on the outside reached through the window sill and, from behind, sliced his throat with a razor.

The Preacher’s men had great respect for Captain Barrow’s bravery. They drank his blood and spared his corpse mutilation. Instead, they laid him out in a bed quilt and placed a plug of tobacco on his breast.

It was ten o’clock Monday morning when they left there, and the two bands soon converged. They then numbered about fifty. The Preacher’s vision of a mass insurrection was coming true. White men were trying to form a force ahead of the band but some of the men, on seeing the bleeding and mutilated bodies of women, hurried back to their farms to hide their own wives and children. Hundreds of women and children were gathering in the county seat at Jerusalem, unaware that the band’s winding course was directed there.

On the way The Preacher’s formidable force passed more deserted places, but got its biggest haul at Walker’s country corner. A children’s boarding school was there and a large distillery, a blacksmith shop, and the wheelwright, and it had taken some time to gather all the people in the neighborhood. Before they could start for Jerusalem, the Negroes were on them. Some escaped to the screams of those being chased and butchered. More than ten were killed there, mostly children.

From the Walker massacre, the band headed directly for Jerusalem. By then eighteen white men had gathered with arms at some distance from the town, where four hundred unarmed people had collected. The Preacher’s band of sixty would have reached the town first except that his lieutenants overruled him when they passed the famous brandy cellar at Parker’s deserted plantation, three miles from town. They tarried there to quench their thirsts.

The eighteen white men came on them in Parker’s field and opened fire. In a short, pitched battle the boldest Negroes, leading a charge, fell, and most of the insurrectionists fled. The Preacher escaped with twenty of his most faithful followers, and headed for the Carolina border.

He was seeking new recruits then. They were slow coming in and victims were getting scarce. Late in the afternoon The Preacher, still supported by the Apollo-like Hark and Will with his broadax, allowed a single armed planter to hold off his band from a lady with two children. That planter’s family had already escaped to safety.

[After camping that night,] . . . at dawn, The Preacher started for the large and handsome home of Dr. Blunt, one of the county’s few plantations of the legend, and on the edge of the district of yesterday’s triumph. Not seeking victims then, The Preacher wanted fresh supplies and recruits to put heart and strength back into the insurrection.

He reached the Blunts’ yard fence just before daylight. A precautionary shot was fired to see if the darkened house was deserted, as expected. Then the powerful Hark broke down the gate, and the group advanced toward the house, looking for salves to join them. The band was within twenty yards of the house when firing broke out from the front porch. Hark Travis, one of the original conspirators . . . fell wounded in the first volley. When The Preacher, shaken but grown desperate, tried to rally his force for an attack, another volley dropped two more. His men broke. At that moment, Dr. Blunt’s slaves came swarming out of hiding places, armed with grub hoes, and rushed the insurrectionists. The Preacher fled with his men, Dr. Blunt’s slaves rounded up several prisoners, including the wounded Hark, crawling toward a cotton patch.

Dr. Blunt, his fifteen-year-old son, and his manager had done the firing, while the women loaded single-shot rifles and shotguns. Before The Preacher’s men arrived, Dr. Blunt had given his own slaves the choice of fighting with his family or leaving. They chose unanimously to fight.

More in desperation than purpose [The Preacher] led the dozen remaining followers to retrace their triumphant steps of the day before. At the first plantation the Greenville County cavalry militia rode them down. They killed will, the ax-executioner, and killed or captured all except The Preacher and two others. The insurrection was over then, though the alarmed neighbors did not know it.

Following the Greenville cavalry, other militia units poured into the county during the next two days, and US Marines from Norfolk. The two men who had escaped with The Preacher were captured. Many who had followed the leader during the successful stages of Monday had returned to their homes. They were hunted down, some killed and others taken to jail. But The Preacher eluded them until the beginning of October.

While changing hiding places on another Sunday, he encountered a poor farmer in some woods. Like his neighbors, this Mr. Phipps was carrying a gun when he came upon the ragged, emaciated, and wretched-looking Preacher, who immediately surrendered.

No demonstration was made against The Preacher when he was brought to jail or when he and fifty-two others were brought to trial. Of these, seventeen were hanged and twelve transported. Of five free Negroes among them, one was acquitted, the others went to Superior Court, where one more was acquitted and three convicted. The Preacher confessed fully to his leadership and to the details of the murder of more than fifty white people.

With The Preacher’s execution, the case was closed and entered the record books as Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

In history, the unelaborated reference to “Nat Turner’s Rebellion” has been made so casually for so long that the tag has no association with the terror and horror of mass murder. Also, to the population of the United States today the slave insurrection in Haiti is a remote thing, part of the inevitable and the just march of events. But to the South, where white refugees had fled – at least one to Southampton County – the Haiti massacre was the dread reminder of what could happen to them. With Nat Turner, it had happened. The deep fear of the blacks’ uprising against them had been implemented. It was never to leave.”

(The Land they Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, excerpts, pp. 14-22)

 

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