Browsing "Race and the South"

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)

 

 

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

The responsibility for populating its American colonies with enslaved Africans rests with the British, who needed cheap labor for the plantations producing profit for England. Southern colonists, alarmed at the increasing numbers of black slaves arriving in British and New England hulls, repeatedly called for an end to the cruel trade. As Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) suggests below, any and all demands by Virginians and Carolinians to halt the slave-trade were nullified by the British Crown.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Richard Henry Lee Rails Against England’s Slave Trade

“Massachusetts invalidated the British commercial system, which Virginia resisted from abhorrence of the slave-trade. Never before had England pursued the traffic in Negroes with such eager avarice.

The remonstrances of philanthropy and of the colonies were unheeded, and categorical instructions from the [British] Board of Trade kept every American port open as markets for men.

The Legislature of Virginia had repeatedly showed a disposition to obstruct the commerce; a deeply-seated public opinion began more and more to avow the evils and the injustice of slavery itself; and in 1761, it was proposed to suppress the importation of Africans by a prohibitory duty.

Among those who took part in the long and violent debate was Richard Henry Lee, the representative of Westmoreland. Descended from one of the oldest families in Virginia, he had been educated in England and had returned to his native land familiar with the spirit of Grotius and Cudworth, of Locke and Montesquieu; his first recorded speech was against Negro slavery, in behalf of human freedom.

In the continued importation of slaves, he foreboded danger to the political and moral interests of the Old Dominion; an increase of the free Anglo-Saxons he argued, would foster arts and varied agriculture, while a race doomed to abject bondage was of necessity an enemy to social happiness. He painted from ancient history the horrors of servile insurrections. He deprecated the barbarous atrocity of the trade with Africa, and its violation of the equal rights of men created like ourselves in the image of God.

“Christianity,” thus he spoke in conclusion, “by introducing into Europe the truest principles of universal benevolence and brotherly love, happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty, pay a proper regard to our rue interests and to the dictates of justice and humanity.”

The tax for which Lee raised his voice was carried through the Assembly of Virginia by a majority of one; but from England a negative followed with certainty every colonial act tending to diminish the [British] slave-trade. South Carolina, also appalled by the great increase of its black population, endeavored by its own laws to restrain the importation of slaves, and in like manner came into collision with the same British policy.”

(History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, Volume IV; George Bancroft, Brown, Little and Company, 1856, excerpts, pp. 421-422)

“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)

 

Nov 5, 2017 - America Transformed, Antebellum Realities, Carnage, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South, Slave Revolt Fears, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Both colonies, Virginia and North Carolina, feared the growing numbers of Africans working the plantations that enriched far-off England, but pleas to restrict importations of slaves were rebuffed by the King. After the Revolution, sentiment towards solving the slavery problem increased steadily in the South and in 1816 the American Colonization Society was formed with more Virginians active in its affairs than any other State. The object of the group was to colonize Negroes in Liberia and return them to the land from which they were torn.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

“[In] August 1831 an event in Southampton County, in the southeastern corner of the State near North Carolina, caused the people of Virginia to forget for a time that there was a controversy between the sections. This was Nat Turner’s bloody slave insurrection.

The white population of Richmond and the entire State was filled with alarm when the slave Nat Turner led some sixty blacks in an orgy of killing that took the lives of nearly sixty whites, most of them women and children. Captain Randolph Harrison of Richmond led his troop of light horse to the scene, but was unable to cover the eighty miles to Jerusalem . . . until the day after the massacre. By that time the Negro uprising had been effectively put down.

The bugler for the light horse troop was a free Negro named Dick Gaines. He is described as tall and black, “a fine rider and striking figure as he appeared on horseback, bugle in hand, in his red jacket, sword and helmet, with its crest of white horse-hair falling over his broad shoulders.”

Unrest among Richmond slaves was feared when word of the Turner massacre was received, but the blacks were said to be altogether docile and “as astonished and indignant was were the whites.” However, the white population not only of Richmond but the entire South was alarmed by the events in Southampton.

Turner had been treated well by his master, and had apparently been satisfied with his lot. Yet he and his cohorts not only murdered his master and mistress and their baby, but scores of others. The memory of Gabriel, and his far more extensive plan for wholesale murder, was also on their minds.

It was in this atmosphere that the General Assembly convened in late 1831. The frankest discussion of slavery that had yet occurred took place in that session. Both the Richmond Enquirer and Whig were arguing for the immediate or eventual elimination of the slave system. But the legislature ended by doing little or nothing . . . The time was not felt to be ripe.

Negroes, both slave and free, made up a vital part of Richmond’s labor force, especially in the tobacco factories, the coal mines and the Tredegar Iron Works. In addition, black mechanics had a virtual monopoly in carpentry, masonry, shoemaking, cooperage and other trades prior to the Civil War. Many white artisans left the State rather than compete with them.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 109-110)

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)

 

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)

 

 

 

Oct 21, 2017 - Antebellum Realities, Black Slaveowners, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the North, Race and the South    Comments Off on Selling Runaway Slaves in Delaware

Selling Runaway Slaves in Delaware

The author below records that Virginia slave owners averaged a loss of only about 60 slaves per year between 1800 and 1830, an insignificant number given a total slave population of nearly 470,000 by the latter year. He also notes that “there is little evidence to support the view that the average runaway was motivated by a desire for freedom in the abstract sense. Frequently he wanted to get back to his family, friends, and the place he was reared.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Selling Runaway Slaves in Delaware

“The average age of a runaway slave was about twenty-seven years, but their ages ranged from ten to sixty. To run away and remain at large for an extended period of time required considerably agility, ingenuity and bravery. Many times the runaway was forced to “lay up” during the day and move about at night.

Unless aid was forthcoming from friends, the fugitive had to rely entirely on his own wits to obtain food and shelter. This helps explain why so few slave women attempted to escape. Because of the danger and the rigor of such an existence, slave women were reluctant to run away.

The misery of many slaves did not begin until after they had escaped. They had to continually be on the lookout for slave patrols . . . and being returned to his master, if he had one, or sold to pay the jail fees. Jailers were required by law to provide adequate clothing and other basic necessities when needed, but some of the jailers were negligent and their prisoners suffered terribly, particularly in winter.

One such instance of neglect occurred in King William County. The slave brought charges against the sheriff and the latter was fined $400.

The fate of at least twelve runaways, who managed to escape to Wilmington, Delaware, is worth noting. Two Negro couples operated what proved to be a very unprofitable business there. While their husbands were in Maryland and Virginia decoying runaway slaves into the State of Delaware, the wives were enticing into their web certain runaways who were promptly sold. The two women were finally arrested, and at their trial it was revealed that they had sold more than a dozen fugitive slaves back into slavery.”

(Runaway Slaves in Virginia, 1800-1830, Major Stanley W. Campbell, Rockbridge Historical Society, Volume Six of the Proceedings, J.P. Bell Company, 1966, excerpts, pp. 58-61)

Saving the South for Southerners

The States’ Rights Democratic Party of the mid-1940s had no stronger advocate than Charleston News & Courier editor William Watts Ball.  Also known as the “Dixiecrats,” its platform in 1948 called for strict interpretation of the Constitution, opposed the usurpation of legislative functions by the executive and judicial departments, and condemned “the effort to establish in the United States a police nation that would destroy the last vestige of liberty enjoyed by a citizen.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Saving the South for Southerners

“A full year before the end of Roosevelt’s third term, Ball was again active in attempts to organize a Southern Democratic party. It was the spring of 1944, however, before the movement was underway in earnest. Through public contributions (Ball gave one hundred dollars) the anti-Roosevelt faction hoped to finance an advertising campaign in newspapers and on radio. The independent white Democrats would not present candidates in the primaries, but offer only a ticket of presidential electors pledged not to vote for Roosevelt.

They might back a favorite son for president, or they might better co-operate with the similarly-minded in other States in support of someone like Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia . . . in May anti-Roosevelt Democrats had held their first meeting in Columbia, with nineteen counties represented, and made plans for a State convention. The Southern Democratic Party had been reborn.

[Ball’s] News and Courier continued to urge the election of independent Democratic electors. If eleven to sixteen Southern States withheld their electoral votes, they could assure respect for their political policies.

But in spite of the untiring efforts of The News and Courier, aided principally by the Greenwood Index-Journal, the anti-Roosevelt movement did not develop. Very few people made financial contributions; the Southern Democratic Party could not wage an effective campaign. Once again South Carolina gave solid support to Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.  All the State schools except the Citadel, he charged, were part of the State political machine . . .”

But at that moment, the “second Reconstruction” was already underway . . . [and] emerging forces combined to force open the entire [racial] issue. The Negro migration northward had begun in earnest with World War I. By 1940, a small Negro professional and white-collar class resided in a number of northern cities and it used its growing political power to win greater equality of treatment there.

Because New Deal programs were designed to advance employment security, including that of Negroes, most northern Negroes abandoned their historic allegiance to the Republican Party. In cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland, the Democratic political machine depended heavily upon the Negro vote.

But already an earnest and vital independent political movement was underway [in 1948], in protest against the civil rights program of the Truman administration and the attitudes of the liberal court. Of 531 electoral votes, 140 were in the South; yet the North, East and West treated the South as a slave province. Other papers joined Ball in the demand for action; the [Columbia] State, like the News and Courier, called for a Southern third party.

On January 19th, in the State Democratic Party’s biennial convention, Governor Strom Thurmond was nominated for the office of president of the United States. The State’s national convention votes were to be withheld from Harry S. Truman. If Truman were nominated, South Carolina would not support the national party in the electoral college.

The State had not spoken so sharply since 1860; it would bolt rather than accept Truman. At the same time Governor Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi issued the call to revolt at the western end of the Deep South. The Southern governors’ conference . . . named its own political action committee, headed by Thurmond, which was to go to Washington . . . to demand concessions . . . from President Truman.

About two weeks later a delegation of governors met with Howard McGrath, National Chairman of the Democratic Party. When McGrath gave a flat “No” to their request that Truman’s anti-discrimination proposals be withdrawn, the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas called on Democrats to join a revolt against Truman. The South, they announced, was not “in the bag” anymore.

If the South united behind Thurmond, Truman would lose all its electoral votes and the election might be thrown to the House of Representatives, where with the votes of the South and the West, a man such as Thurmond would have a real chance. Whatever the outcome, the national parties would learn a lesson they would not soon forget — the “Solid South” would no longer be a dependable political factor.

“In the electoral college,” Ball advised, “lies the only chance to save the South for Southerners.”

(Damned Upcountryman, William Watts Ball, John D. Starke, Duke Press, 1968, excerpts, pp. 201-233)

 

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)

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

With Benjamin Harrison in the White House in 1889, the Republican party moved quickly to restore its political hegemony and construct numerous barriers to future Democratic victories. In a two-pronged effort the McKinley Bill would establish high tariff rates to protect northeastern manufacturers from foreign competition and encourage campaign contributions; the Force Bill ostensibly prevented corruption in Federal elections – but in reality gave Federal district judges the power to manipulate congressional elections in the South by shearing as much authority as possible from local election officials.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

“When Congress assembled in December, 1889, the Republicans were in complete control of both branches for the first time in sixteen years. With a great deal of satisfaction, therefore, their leaders revived the partisan measures that a Democratic majority in one house had previously thwarted.

In the opening days of the session they prepared several items of legislation designed to strengthen and lengthen Republican power. Their high tariff supporters were to be rewarded with the McKinley bill with its inflated schedules; the [treasury] surplus was to be obliterated by a veritable orgy of Federal spending; and any subsequent restoration of the Democratic party to power was to be hampered by a set of Federal election laws that would weaken the Solid South with Negro ballots and, if necessary, Northern bayonets.

If the Democrats were to survive the onslaught that the Republicans planned for them, they would require unflagging minority leadership in Congress. Shrewd parliamentary leadership would be needed there to employ effectively the minority’s somewhat limited resources.

The elections bill . . . was designed to appeal to lovers of human, rather than property rights. Its provisions were to be simple, just, and, to all outward appearance, eminently nonpartisan. Those who opposed its passage would place themselves in the position of defending Negro disenfranchisement, unconstitutional usurpation by Southern whites, and downright criminality. To attack the elections bill would be equivalent to a shameless confession of guilt.

Both measures were designed to cripple the Democratic party. The Tariff bill was not simply the negation of avowed Democratic principle; it was both the repayment of Republican campaign debts and the promise of future contributions.

“Fat-frying” had made Republican victories possible in 1888; high tariff schedules would now satisfy old customers and establish a new group of beneficiaries whose financial support might ensure Democratic defeat indefinitely.

The ulterior motives behind the elections bill were equally clear. Pious declarations that it was not a political weapon might assist its passage, but once it became law, the President would be empowered to enforce its provisions with the full support of the Army and Navy.

By this time it was clear to everyone that the Republicans were not motivated by humanitarian impulses in their efforts to protect the Negro in his constitutional rights; they were attempting to restore the political control over the Southern election machinery which they had exercised during the Reconstruction era”

(Arthur Pue Gorman, John R. Lambert, Louisiana State University Press, 1953, excerpts, pp. 145-148; 157)

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