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Black Rebellion by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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Beyond this, the plan of action was either unformed or undiscovered; some
slight reliance seems to have been placed on English aid,--more on
assistance from St. Domingo. At any rate, all the ships in the harbor
were to be seized; and in these, if the worst came to the worst, those
most deeply inculpated could set sail, bearing with them, perhaps, the
spoils of shops and of banks. It seems to be admitted by the official
narrative, that they might have been able, at that season of the year,
and with the aid of the fortifications on the Neck and around the harbor,
to retain possession of the city for some time.

So unsuspicious were the authorities, so unprepared the citizens, so open
to attack lay the city, that nothing seemed necessary to the success of
the insurgents except organization and arms. Indeed, the plan of
organization easily covered a supply of arms. By their own contributions
they had secured enough to strike the first blow,--a few hundred pikes
and daggers, together with swords and guns for the leaders. But they had
carefully marked every place in the city where weapons were to be
obtained. On King-street Road, beyond the municipal limits, in a common
wooden shop, were left unguarded the arms of the Neck company of militia,
to the number of several hundred stand; and these were to be secured by
Bacchus Hammett, whose master kept the establishment. In Mr. Duquercron's
shop there were deposited for sale as many more weapons; and they had
noted Mr. Schirer's shop in Queen Street, and other gunsmiths'
establishments. Finally, the State arsenal in Meeting Street, a building
with no defences except ordinary wooden doors, was to be seized early in
the outbreak. Provided, therefore, that the first moves proved
successful, all the rest appeared sure.

Very little seems to have been said among the conspirators in regard to
any plans of riot or debauchery, subsequent to the capture of the city.
Either their imaginations did not dwell on them, or the witnesses did not
dare to give testimony, or the authorities to print it. Death was to be
dealt out, comprehensive and terrible; but nothing more is mentioned. One
prisoner, Rolla, is reported in the evidence to have dropped hints in
regard to the destiny of the women; and there was a rumor in the
newspapers of the time, that he or some other of Gov. Bennett's slaves
was to have taken the governor's daughter, a young girl of sixteen, for
his wife, in the event of success; but this is all. On the other hand,
Denmark Vesey was known to be for a war of immediate and total
extermination; and when some of the company opposed killing "the
ministers and the women and children," Vesey read from the Scriptures
that all should be cut off, and said that "it was for their safety not to
leave one white skin alive, for this was the plan they pursued at St.
Domingo." And all this was not a mere dream of one lonely enthusiast, but
a measure which had been maturing for four full years among several
confederates, and had been under discussion for five months among
multitudes of initiated "candidates."

As usual with slave-insurrections, the best men and those most trusted
were deepest in the plot. Rolla was the only prominent conspirator who
was not an active church-member. "Most of the ringleaders," says a
Charleston letter-writer of that day, "were the rulers or class-leaders
in what is called the African Society, and were considered faithful,
honest fellows. Indeed, many of the owners could not be convinced, till
the fellows confessed themselves, that they were concerned, and that the
first object of all was to kill their masters." And the first official
report declares that it would not be difficult to assign a motive for the
insurrectionists, "if it had not been distinctly proved, that, with
scarcely an exception, they had no individual hardship to complain of,
and were among the most humanely treated negroes in the city. The
facilities for combining and confederating in such a scheme were amply
afforded by the extreme indulgence and kindness which characterize the
domestic treatment of our slaves. Many slave-owners among us, not
satisfied with ministering to the wants of their domestics by all the
comforts of abundant food and excellent clothing, with a misguided
benevolence have not only permitted their instruction, but lent to such
efforts their approbation and applause."

"I sympathize most sincerely," says the anonymous author of a pamphlet of
the period, "with the very respectable and pious clergyman whose heart
must still bleed at the recollection that his confidential class-leader,
but a week or two before his just conviction, had received the communion
of the Lord's Supper from his hand. This wretch had been brought up in
his pastor's family, and was treated with the same Christian attention as
was shown to their own children." "To us who are accustomed to the base
and proverbial ingratitude of these people, this ill return of kindness
and confidence is not surprising; but they who are ignorant of their real
character will read and wonder."

One demonstration of this "Christian attention" had lately been the
closing of the African Church,--of which, as has been stated, most of the
leading revolutionists were members,--on the ground that it tended to
spread the dangerous infection of the alphabet. On Jan. 15, 1821, the
city marshal, John J. Lafar, had notified "ministers of the gospel and
others who keep night--and Sunday-schools for slaves, that the education
of such persons is forbidden by law, and that the city government feel
imperiously bound to enforce the penalty." So that there were some
special as well as general grounds for disaffection among these
ungrateful favorites of fortune, the slaves. Then there were fancied
dangers. An absurd report had somehow arisen,--since you cannot keep men
ignorant without making them unreasonable also,--that on the ensuing
Fourth of July the whites were to create a false alarm, and that every
black man coming out was to be killed, "in order to thin them;" this
being done to prevent their joining an imaginary army supposed to be on
its way from Hayti. Others were led to suppose that Congress had ended
the Missouri Compromise discussion by making them all free, and that the
law would protect their liberty if they could only secure it. Others,
again, were threatened with the vengeance of the conspirators, unless
they also joined; on the night of attack, it was said, the initiated
would have a countersign, and all who did not know it would share the
fate of the whites. Add to this the reading of Congressional speeches,
and of the copious magazine of revolution to be found in the Bible,--and
it was no wonder, if they for the first time were roused, under the
energetic leadership of Vesey, to a full consciousness of their own

"Not only were the leaders of good character, and very much indulged by
their owners; but this was very generally the case with all who were
convicted,--many of them possessing the highest confidence of their
owners, and not one of bad character." In one case it was proved that
Vesey had forbidden his followers to trust a certain man, because he had
once been seen intoxicated. In another case it was shown that a slave
named George had made every effort to obtain their confidence, but was
constantly excluded from their meetings as a talkative fellow who could
not be trusted,--a policy which his levity of manner, when examined in
court, fully justified. They took no women into counsel,--not from any
distrust apparently, but in order that their children might not be left
uncared-for in case of defeat and destruction. House-servants were rarely
trusted, or only when they had been carefully sounded by the chief
leaders. Peter Poyas, in commissioning an agent to enlist men, gave him
excellent cautions: "Don't mention it to those waiting-men who receive
presents of old coats, etc., from their masters, or they'll betray us; I
will speak to them." When he did speak, if he did not convince them, he
at least frightened them. But the chief reliance was on those slaves who
were hired out, and therefore more uncontrolled,--and also upon the
country negroes.

The same far-sighted policy directed the conspirators to disarm suspicion
by peculiarly obedient and orderly conduct. And it shows the precaution
with which the thing was carried on, that, although Peter Poyas was
proved to have had a list of some six hundred persons, yet not one of his
particular company was ever brought to trial. As each leader kept to
himself the names of his proselytes, and as Monday Gell was the only one
of these leaders who turned traitor, any opinion as to the numbers
actually engaged must be altogether conjectural. One witness said nine
thousand; another, six thousand six hundred. These statements were
probably extravagant, though not more so than Gov. Bennett's assertion,
on the other side, that "all who were actually concerned had been brought
to justice,"--unless by this phrase he designates only the ringleaders.
The avowed aim of the governor's letter, indeed, is to smooth the thing
over, for the credit and safety of the city; and its evasive tone
contrasts strongly with the more frank and thorough statements of the
judges, made after the thing could no longer be hushed up. These high
authorities explicitly acknowledge that they had failed to detect more
than a small minority of those concerned in the project, and seem to
admit, that, if it had once been brought to a head, the slaves generally
would have joined in.

"We cannot venture to say," says the intendant's pamphlet, "to how many
the knowledge of the intended effort was communicated, who without
signifying their assent, or attending any of the meetings, were yet
prepared to profit by events. That there are many who would not have
permitted the enterprise to have failed at a critical moment, for the
want of their co-operation, we have the best reason for believing." So
believed the community at large; and the panic was in proportion, when
the whole danger was finally made public. "The scenes I witnessed," says
one who has since narrated the circumstances, "and the declaration of the
impending danger that met us at all times and on all occasions, forced
the conviction that never were an entire people more thoroughly alarmed
than were the people of Charleston at that time.... During the
excitement, and the trial of the supposed conspirators, rumor proclaimed
all, and doubtless more than all, the horrors of the plot. The city was
to be fired in every quarter; the arsenal in the immediate vicinity was
to be broken open, and the arms distributed to the insurgents, and a
universal massacre of the white inhabitants to take place. Nor did there
seem to be any doubt in the mind of the people, that such would actually
have been the result had not the plot fortunately been detected before
the time appointed for the outbreak. It was believed, as a matter of
course, that every black in the city would join in the insurrection, and
that if the original design had been attempted, and the city taken by
surprise, the negroes would have achieved a complete and easy victory.
Nor does it seem at all impossible that such might have been, or yet may
be, the case, if any well-arranged and resolute rising should take

Indeed, this universal admission, that all the slaves were ready to take
part in any desperate enterprise, was one of the most startling aspects
of the affair. The authorities say that the two principal State's
evidence declared that "they never spoke to any person of color on the
subject, or knew of any one who had been spoken to by the other leaders,
who had withheld his assent." And the conspirators seem to have been
perfectly satisfied that all the remaining slaves would enter their ranks
upon the slightest success. "Let us assemble a sufficient number to
commence the work with spirit, and we'll not want men; they'll fall in
behind us fast enough." And as an illustration of this readiness, the
official report mentions a slave who had belonged to one master for
sixteen years, sustaining a high character for fidelity and affection,
who had twice travelled with him through the Northern States, resisting
every solicitation to escape, and who yet was very deeply concerned in
the insurrection, though knowing it to involve the probable destruction
of the whole family with whom he lived.

One singular circumstance followed the first rumors of the plot. Several
white men, said to be of low and unprincipled character, at once began to
make interest with the supposed leaders among the slaves, either from
genuine sympathy, or with the intention of betraying them for money, or
by profiting by the insurrection, should it succeed. Four of these were
brought to trial; but the official report expresses the opinion that many
more might have been discovered but for the inadmissibility of slave
testimony against whites. Indeed, the evidence against even these four
was insufficient for a capital conviction, although one was overheard,
through stratagem, by the intendant himself, and arrested on the spot.
This man was a Scotchman, another a Spaniard, a third a German, and the
fourth a Carolinian. The last had for thirty years kept a shop in the
neighborhood of Charleston; he was proved to have asserted that "the
negroes had as much right to fight for their liberty as the white
people," had offered to head them in the enterprise, and had said that in
three weeks he would have two thousand men. But in no case, it appears,
did these men obtain the confidence of the slaves; and the whole plot was
conceived and organized, so far as appears, without the slightest
co-operation from any white man.

The trial of the conspirators began on Wednesday, June 19. At the request
of the intendant, Justices Kennedy and Parker summoned five freeholders
(Messrs. Drayton, Heyward, Pringle, Legare, and Turnbull) to constitute a
court, under the provisions of the Act "for the better ordering and
governing negroes and other slaves." The intendant laid the case before
them, with a list of prisoners and witnesses. By a vote of the court, all
spectators were excluded, except the owners and counsel of the slaves
concerned. No other colored person was allowed to enter the jail, and a
strong guard of soldiers was kept always on duty around the building.
Under these general arrangements the trials proceeded with elaborate
formality, though with some variations from ordinary usage,--as was,
indeed, required by the statute.

For instance, the law provided that the testimony of any Indian or slave
could be received, without oath, against a slave or free colored person,
although it was not valid, even under oath, against a white. But it is
best to quote the official language in respect to the rules adopted: "As
the court had been organized under a statute of a peculiar and local
character, and intended for the government of a distinct class of persons
in the community, they were bound to conform their proceedings to its
provisions, which depart in many essential features from the principles
of the common law and some of the settled rules of evidence. The court,
however, determined to adopt those rules, whenever they were not
repugnant to nor expressly excepted by that statute, nor inconsistent
with the local situation and policy of the State; and laid down for their
own government the following regulations: First, that no slave should be
tried except in the presence of his owner or his counsel, and that notice
should be given in every case at least one day before the trial; second,
that the testimony of one witness, unsupported by additional evidence or
by circumstances, should lead to no conviction of a capital nature;
third, that the witnesses should be confronted with the accused and with
each other in every case, except where testimony was given under a solemn
pledge that the names of the witnesses should not be divulged,--as they
declared, in some instances, that they apprehended being murdered by the
blacks, if it was known that they had volunteered their evidence; fourth,
that the prisoners might be represented by counsel, whenever this was
requested by the owners of the slaves, or by the prisoners themselves if
free; fifth, that the statements or defences of the accused should be
heard in every case, and they be permitted themselves to examine any
witness they thought proper."

It is singular to observe how entirely these rules seem to concede that a
slave's life has no sort of value to himself, but only to his master. His
master, not he himself, must choose whether it be worth while to employ
counsel. His master, not his mother or his wife, must be present at the
trial. So far is this carried, that the provision to exclude "persons who
had no particular interest in the slaves accused" seems to have excluded
every acknowledged relative they had in the world, and admitted only
those who had invested in them so many dollars. And yet the very first
section of that part of the statute under which they were tried lays down
an explicit recognition of their humanity: "And whereas natural justice
forbids that any _person_, of what condition soever, should be condemned
unheard." So thoroughly, in the whole report, are the ideas of person and
chattel intermingled, that when Gov. Bennett petitions for mitigation of
sentence in the case of his slave Batteau, and closes, "I ask this,
gentlemen, as an individual incurring a severe and distressing loss," it
is really impossible to decide whether the predominant emotion be
affectional or financial.

It is a matter of painful necessity to acknowledge that the proceedings
of most slave-tribunals have justified the honest admission of Gov. Adams
of South Carolina, in his legislative message of 1855: "The
administration of our laws, in relation to our colored population, by our
courts of magistrates and freeholders, as these courts are at present
constituted, calls loudly for reform. Their decisions are rarely in
conformity with justice or humanity." This trial, as reported by the
justices themselves, seems to have been no worse than the
average,--perhaps better. In all, thirty-five were sentenced to death,
thirty-four to transportation, twenty-seven acquitted by the court, and
twenty-five discharged without trial, by the Committee of
Vigilance,--making in all one hundred and twenty-one.

The sentences pronounced by Judge Kennedy upon the leading rebels, while
paying a high tribute to their previous character, of course bring all
law and all Scripture to prove the magnitude of their crime. "It is a
melancholy fact," he says, "that those servants in whom we reposed the
most unlimited confidence have been the principal actors in this wicked
scheme." Then he rises into earnest appeals. "Are you incapable of the
heavenly influence of that gospel, all whose paths are peace? It was to
reconcile us to our destiny on earth, and to enable us to discharge with
fidelity all our duties, whether as master or servant, that those
inspired precepts were imparted by Heaven to fallen man."

To these reasonings the prisoners had, of course, nothing to say; but the
official reports bear the strongest testimony to their fortitude. "Rolla,
when arraigned, affected not to understand the charge against him, and,
when it was at his request further explained to him, assumed, with
wonderful adroitness, astonishment and surprise. He was remarkable,
throughout his trial, for great presence and composure of mind. When he
was informed he was convicted, and was advised to prepare for death,
though he had previously (but after his trial) confessed his guilt, he
appeared perfectly confounded, but exhibited no signs of fear. In Ned's
behavior there was nothing remarkable; but his countenance was stern and
immovable, even whilst he was receiving the sentence of death: from his
looks it was impossible to discover or conjecture what were his feelings.
Not so with Peter: for in his countenance were strongly marked
disappointed ambition, revenge, indignation, and an anxiety to know how
far the discoveries had extended; and the same emotions were exhibited in
his conduct. He did not appear to fear personal consequences, for his
whole behavior indicated the reverse; but exhibited an evident anxiety
for the success of their plan, in which his whole soul was embarked. His
countenance and behavior were the same when he received his sentence; and
his only words were, on retiring, 'I suppose you'll let me see my wife
and family before I die?' and that not in a supplicating tone. When he
was asked, a day or two after, if it was possible he could wish to see
his master and family murdered, who had treated him so kindly, he only
replied to the question by a smile. Monday's behavior was not peculiar.
When he was before the court, his arms were folded; he heard the
testimony given against him, and received his sentence, with the utmost
firmness and composure. But no description can accurately convey to
others the impression which the trial, defence, and appearance of Gullah
Jack made on those who witnessed the workings of his cunning and rude
address. When arrested and brought before the court, in company with
another African named Jack, the property of the estate of Pritchard, he
assumed so much ignorance, and looked and acted the fool so well, that
some of the court could not believe that this was the necromancer who was
sought after. This conduct he continued when on his trial, until he saw
the witnesses and heard the testimony as it progressed against him; when,
in an instant, his countenance was lighted up as if by lightning, and his
wildness and vehemence of gesture, and the malignant glance with which he
eyed the witnesses who appeared against him, all indicated the savage,
who indeed had been _caught_, but not _tamed_. His courage, however, soon
forsook him. When he received sentence of death, he earnestly implored
that a fortnight longer might be allowed him, and then a week longer,
which he continued earnestly to solicit until he was taken from the
court-room to his cell; and when he was carried to execution, he gave up
his spirit without firmness or composure."

Not so with Denmark Vesey. The plans of years were frustrated; his own
life and liberty were thrown away; many others were sacrificed through
his leadership; and one more was added to the list of unsuccessful
insurrections. All these disastrous certainties he faced calmly, and gave
his whole mind composedly to the conducting of his defence. With his arms
tightly folded, and his eyes fixed on the floor, he attentively followed
every item of the testimony. He heard the witnesses examined by the
court, and cross-examined by his own counsel; and it is evident from the
narrative of the presiding judge, that he showed no small skill and
policy in the searching cross-examination which he then applied. The
fears, the feelings, the consciences, of those who had betrayed him, all
were in turn appealed to; but the facts were quite overpowering, and it
was too late to aid his comrades or himself. Then turning to the court,
he skilfully availed himself of the point which had so much impressed the
community: the intrinsic improbability that a man in his position of
freedom and prosperity should sacrifice every thing to free other people.
If they thought it so incredible, why not give him the benefit of the
incredibility? The act being, as they stated, one of infatuation, why
convict him of it on the bare word of men who, by their own showing, had
not only shared the infatuation, but proved traitors to it? An ingenious
defence,--indeed, the only one which could by any possibility be
suggested, anterior to the days of Choate and somnambulism; but in vain.
He was sentenced; and it was not, apparently, till the judge reproached
him for the destruction he had brought on his followers, that he showed
any sign of emotion. Then the tears came into his eyes. But he said not
another word.

The executions took place on five different days; and, bad as they were,
they might have been worse. After the imaginary Negro Plot of New York,
in 1741, thirteen negroes had been judicially burned alive; two had
suffered the same sentence at Charleston in 1808; and it was undoubtedly
some mark of progress, that in this case the gallows took the place of
the flames. Six were hanged on July 2, upon Blake's lands, near
Charleston,--Denmark Vesey, Peter Poyas, Jesse, Ned, Rolla, and
Batteau,--the last three being slaves of the governor himself. Gullah
Jack and John were executed "on the Lines," near Charleston, on July 12;
and twenty-two more on July 26. Four others suffered their fate on July
30; and one more, William Garner, effected a temporary escape, was
captured, and tried by a different court, and was finally executed on
Aug. 9.

The self-control of these men did not desert them at their execution.
When the six leaders suffered death, the report says, Peter Poyas
repeated his charge of secrecy: "Do not open your lips; die silent, as
you shall see me do;" and all obeyed. And though afterwards, as the
particulars of the plot became better known, there was less inducement to
conceal, yet every one of the thirty-five seems to have met his fate
bravely, except the conjurer. Gov. Bennett, in his letter, expresses much
dissatisfaction at the small amount learned from the participators. "To
the last hour of the existence of several who appeared to be conspicuous
actors in the drama, they were pressingly importuned to make further
confessions,"--this "importuning" being more clearly defined in a letter
of Mr. Ferguson, owner of two of the slaves, as "having them severely
corrected." Yet so little was obtained, that the governor was compelled
to admit at last that the really essential features of the plot were not
known to any of the informers.

It is to be remembered, that the plot failed because a man unauthorized
and incompetent, William Paul, undertook to make enlistments on his own
account. He happened on one of precisely that class of men,--favored
house-servants,--whom his leaders had expressly reserved for more skilful
manipulations. He being thus detected, one would have supposed that the
discovery of many accomplices would at once have followed. The number
enlisted was counted by thousands; yet for twenty-nine days after the
first treachery, and during twenty days of official examination, only
fifteen of the conspirators were ferreted out. Meanwhile the informers'
names had to be concealed with the utmost secrecy; they were in peril of
their lives from the slaves,--William Paul scarcely dared to go beyond
the doorstep,--and the names of important witnesses examined in June were
still suppressed in the official report published in October. That a
conspiracy on so large a scale should have existed in embryo during four
years, and in an active form for several months, and yet have been so
well managed, that, after actual betrayal, the authorities were again
thrown off their guard, and the plot nearly brought to a head
again,--this certainly shows extraordinary ability in the leaders, and a
talent for concerted action on the part of slaves generally, with which
they have hardly been credited.

And it is also to be noted, that the range of the conspiracy extended far
beyond Charleston. It was proved that Frank, slave of Mr. Ferguson,
living nearly forty miles from the city, had boasted of having enlisted
four plantations in his immediate neighborhood. It was in evidence that
the insurgents "were trying all round the country, from Georgetown and
Santee round about to Combahee, to get people;" and, after the trials, it
was satisfactorily established that Vesey "had been in the country as far
north as South Santee, and southwardly as far as the Euhaws, which is
between seventy and eighty miles from the city." Mr. Ferguson himself
testified that the good order of any gang was no evidence of their
ignorance of the plot, since the behavior of his own initiated slaves had
been unexceptionable, in accordance with Vesey's directions.

With such an organization and such materials, there was nothing in the
plan which could be pronounced incredible or impracticable. There is no
reason why they should not have taken the city. After all the governor's
entreaties as to moderate language, the authorities were obliged to admit
that South Carolina had been saved from a "horrible catastrophe." "For,
although success could not possibly have attended the conspirators, yet,
before their suppression, Charleston would probably have been wrapped in
flames, many valuable lives would have been sacrificed, and an immense
loss of property sustained by the citizens, even though no other
distressing occurrences were experienced by them; while the plantations
in the lower country would have been disorganized, and the agricultural
interests have sustained an enormous loss." The Northern journals had
already expressed still greater anxieties. "It appears," said the
New-York _Commercial Advertiser_, "that, but for the timely disclosure,
the whole of that State would in a few days have witnessed the horrid
spectacle once witnessed in St. Domingo."

My friend, David Lee Child, has kindly communicated to me a few memoranda
of a conversation held long since with a free colored man who had worked
in Vesey's shop during the time of the insurrection; and these generally
confirm the official narratives. "I was a young man then," he said; "and,
owing to the policy of preventing communication between free colored
people and slaves, I had little opportunity of ascertaining how the
slaves felt about it. I know that several of them were abused in the
street, and some put in prison, for appearing in sackcloth. There was an
ordinance of the city, that any slave who wore a badge of mourning should
be imprisoned and flogged. They generally got the law, which is
thirty-nine lashes; but sometimes it was according to the decision of the
court." "I heard, at the time, of arms being buried in coffins at
Sullivan's Island." "In the time of the insurrection, the slaves were
tried in a small room in the jail where they were confined. No colored
person was allowed to go within two squares of the prison. Those two
squares were filled with troops, five thousand of whom were on duty day
and night. I was told, Vesey said to those that tried him, that the work
of insurrection would go on; but as none but white persons were permitted
to be present, I cannot tell whether he said it."

During all this time there was naturally a silence in the Charleston
journals, which strongly contrasts with the extreme publicity at last
given to the testimony. Even the _National Intelligencer_, at Washington,
passed lightly over the affair, and deprecated the publication of
particulars. The Northern editors, on the other hand, eager for items,
were constantly complaining of this reserve, and calling for further
intelligence. "The Charleston papers," said the Hartford _Courant_ of
July 16, "have been silent on the subject of the insurrection; but
letters from this city state that it has created much alarm, and that two
brigades of troops were under arms for some time to suppress any risings
that might have taken place." "You will doubtless hear," wrote a
Charleston correspondent of the same paper, just before, "many reports,
and some exaggerated ones." "There was certainly a disposition to revolt,
and some preparations made, principally by the plantation negroes, to
take the city." "We hoped they would progress so far as to enable us to
ascertain and punish the ringleaders." "Assure my friends that we feel in
perfect security, although the number of nightly guards, and other
demonstrations, may induce a belief among strangers to the contrary."

The strangers would have been very blind strangers, if they had not been
more influenced by the actions of the Charleston citizens than by their
words. The original information was given on May 25, 1822. The time
passed, and the plot failed on June 16. A plan for its revival on July 2
proved abortive. Yet a letter from Charleston, in the Hartford _Courant_
of Aug. 6, represented the panic as unabated: "Great preparations are
making, and all the military are put in preparation to guard against any
attempt of the same kind again; but we have no apprehension of its being
repeated." On Aug. 10, Gov. Bennett wrote the letter already mentioned,
which was printed and distributed as a circular, its object being to
deprecate undue alarm. "Every individual in the State is interested,
whether in regard to his own property, or the reputation of the State, in
giving no more importance to the transaction than it justly merits." Yet,
five days after this,--two months after the first danger had passed,--a
re-enforcement of United-States troops arrived at Fort Moultrie; and,
during the same month, several different attempts were made by small
parties of armed negroes to capture the mails between Charleston and
Savannah, and a reward of two hundred dollars was offered for their

The first official report of the trials was prepared by the intendant, by
request of the city council. It passed through four editions in a few
months,--the first and fourth being published in Charleston, and the
second and third in Boston. Being, however, but a brief pamphlet, it did
not satisfy the public curiosity; and in October of the same year (1822),
a larger volume appeared at Charleston, edited by the magistrates who
presided at the trials,--Lionel H. Kennedy and Thomas Parker. It contains
the evidence in full, and a separate narrative of the whole affair, more
candid and lucid than any other which I have found in the newspapers or
pamphlets of the day. It exhibits that rarest of all qualities in a
slave-community, a willingness to look facts in the face. This narrative
has been faithfully followed, with the aid of such cross-lights as could
be secured from many other quarters, in preparing the present history.

The editor of the first official report racked his brains to discover the
special causes of the revolt, and never trusted himself to allude to the
general one. The negroes rebelled because they were deluded by
Congressional eloquence; or because they were excited by a church
squabble; or because they had been spoilt by mistaken indulgences, such
as being allowed to learn to read,--"a misguided benevolence," as he
pronounces it. So the Baptist Convention seems to have thought it was
because they were not Baptists; and an Episcopal pamphleteer, because
they were not Episcopalians. It never seems to occur to any of these
spectators, that these people rebelled simply because they were slaves,
and wished to be free.

No doubt, there were enough special torches with which a man so skilful
as Denmark Vesey could kindle up these dusky powder-magazines; but, after
all, the permanent peril lay in the powder. So long as that existed,
every thing was incendiary. Any torn scrap in the street might contain a
Missouri-Compromise speech, or a report of the last battle in St.
Domingo, or one of those able letters of Boyer's which were winning the
praise of all, or one of John Randolph's stirring speeches in England
against the slave-trade. The very newspapers which reported the happy
extinction of the insurrection by the hanging of the last conspirator,
William Garner, reported also, with enthusiastic indignation, the
massacre of the Greeks at Constantinople and at Scio; and then the
Northern editors, breaking from their usual reticence, pointed out the
inconsistency of Southern journals in printing, side by side,
denunciations of Mohammedan slave-sales, and advertisements of those of

Of course the insurrection threw the whole slavery question open to the
public. "We are sorry to see," said the _National Intelligencer_ of Aug.
31, "that a discussion of the hateful Missouri question is likely to be
revived, in consequence of the allusions to its supposed effect in
producing the late servile insurrection in South Carolina." A member of
the Board of Public Works of South Carolina published in the Baltimore
_American Farmer_ an essay urging the encouragement of white laborers,
and hinting at the ultimate abolition of slavery "if it should ever be
thought desirable." More boldly still, a pamphlet appeared in Charleston,
under the signature of "Achates," arguing with remarkable sagacity and
force against the whole system of slave-labor _in towns_; and proposing
that all slaves in Charleston should be sold or transferred to the
plantations, and their places supplied by white labor. It is interesting
to find many of the facts and arguments of Helper's "Impending Crisis"
anticipated in this courageous tract, written under the pressure of a
crisis which had just been so narrowly evaded. The author is described in
the preface as "a soldier and patriot of the Revolution, whose name, did
we feel ourselves at liberty to use it, would stamp a peculiar weight and
value on his opinions." It was commonly attributed to Gen. Thomas

Another pamphlet of the period, also published in Charleston, recommended
as a practical cure for insurrection the copious administration of
Episcopal-Church services, and the prohibition of negroes from attending
Fourth-of-July celebrations. On this last point it is more consistent
than most pro-slavery arguments. "The celebration of the Fourth of July
belongs _exclusively_ to the white population of the United States. The
American Revolution was _a family quarrel among equals_. In this the
negroes had no concern; their condition remained, and must remain,
unchanged. They have no more to do with the celebration of that day than
with the landing of the Pilgrims on the rock at Plymouth. It therefore
seems to me improper to allow these people to be present on these
occasions. In our speeches and orations, much, and sometimes more than is
politically necessary, is said about personal liberty, which negro
auditors know not how to apply except by running the parallel with their
own condition. They therefore imbibe false notions of their own personal
rights, and give reality in their minds to what has no real existence.
The peculiar state of our community must be steadily kept in view. This,
I am gratified to learn, will in some measure be promoted by the
institution of the South Carolina Association."

On the other hand, more stringent laws became obviously necessary to keep
down the advancing intelligence of the Charleston slaves. Dangerous
knowledge must be excluded from without and from within. For the first
purpose the South Carolina Legislature passed, in December, 1822, the Act
for the imprisonment of Northern colored seamen, which afterwards
produced so much excitement. For the second object, the Grand Jury, about
the same time, presented as a grievance "the number of schools which are
kept within the city by persons of color," and proposed their
prohibition. This was the encouragement given to the intellectual
progress of the slaves; while, as a reward for betraying them, Pensil,
the free colored man who advised with Devany, received a present of one
thousand dollars; and Devany himself had what was rightly judged to be
the higher gift of freedom, and was established in business, with liberal
means, as a drayman. He lived long in Charleston, thriving greatly in his
vocation, and, according to the newspapers, enjoyed the privilege of
being the only man of property in the State whom a special statute
exempted from taxation.

More than half a century has passed since the incidents of this true
story closed. It has not vanished from the memories of South Carolinians,
though the printed pages which once told it have gradually disappeared
from sight. The intense avidity which at first grasped at every incident
of the great insurrectionary plot was succeeded by a prolonged distaste
for the memory of the tale; and the official reports which told what
slaves had once planned and dared have now come to be among the rarest of
American historical documents. In 1841, a friend of the writer, then
visiting South Carolina, heard from her hostess, for the first time, the
events which are recounted here. On asking to see the reports of the
trials, she was cautiously told that the only copy in the house, after
being carefully kept for years under lock and key, had been burnt at
last, lest it should reach the dangerous eyes of the slaves. The same
thing had happened, it was added, in many other families. This partially
accounts for the great difficulty now to be found in obtaining a single
copy of either publication; and this is why, to the readers of American
history, Denmark Vesey and Peter Poyas have commonly been but the shadows
of names.


During the year 1831, up to the 23d of August, the Virginia newspapers
seem to have been absorbed in the momentous problems which then occupied
the minds of intelligent American citizens: What Gen. Jackson should do
with the scolds, and what with the disreputables? should South Carolina
be allowed to nullify? and would the wives of cabinet ministers call on
Mrs. Eaton? It is an unfailing opiate to turn over the drowsy files of
the Richmond _Enquirer_, until the moment when those dry and dusty pages
are suddenly kindled into flame by the torch of Nat Turner. Then the
terror flared on increasing, until the remotest Southern States were
found shuddering at nightly rumors of insurrection; until far-off
European colonies--Antigua, Martinique, Caraccas, Tortola--recognized by
some secret sympathy the same epidemic alarms; until the very boldest
words of freedom were reported as uttered in the Virginia House of
Delegates with unclosed doors; until an obscure young man named Garrison
was indicted at common law in North Carolina, and had a price set upon
his head by the Legislature of Georgia.

Near the south-eastern border of Virginia, in Southampton County, there
is a neighborhood known as "The Cross Keys." It lies fifteen miles from
Jerusalem, the county-town, or "court-house," seventy miles from Norfolk,
and about as far from Richmond. It is some ten or fifteen miles from
Murfreesborough in North Carolina, and about twenty-five from the Great
Dismal Swamp. Up to Sunday, the 21st of August, 1831, there was nothing
to distinguish it from any other rural, lethargic, slipshod Virginia
neighborhood, with the due allotment of mansion-houses and log huts,
tobacco-fields and "old-fields," horses, dogs, negroes, "poor white
folks," so called, and other white folks, poor without being called so.
One of these last was Joseph Travis, who had recently married the widow
of one Putnam Moore, and had unfortunately wedded to himself her negroes

In the woods on the plantation of Joseph Travis, upon the Sunday just
named, six slaves met at noon for what is called in the Northern States a
picnic, and in the Southern a barbecue. The bill of fare was to be
simple: one brought a pig, and another some brandy, giving to the meeting
an aspect so cheaply convivial that no one would have imagined it to be
the final consummation of a conspiracy which had been for six months in
preparation. In this plot four of the men had been already
initiated--Henry, Hark or Hercules, Nelson, and Sam. Two others were
novices, Will and Jack by name. The party had remained together from
twelve to three o'clock, when a seventh man joined them,--a short, stout,
powerfully built person, of dark mulatto complexion, and strongly marked
African features, but with a face full of expression and resolution. This
was Nat Turner.

He was at this time nearly thirty-one years old, having been born on the
2d of October, 1800. He had belonged originally to Benjamin Turner,--from
whom he took his last name, slaves having usually no patronymic;--had
then been transferred to Putnam Moore, and then to his present owner. He
had, by his own account, felt himself singled out from childhood for some
great work; and he had some peculiar marks on his person, which, joined
to his mental precocity, were enough to occasion, among his youthful
companions, a superstitious faith in his gifts and destiny. He had some
mechanical ingenuity also; experimentalized very early in making paper,
gunpowder, pottery, and in other arts, which, in later life, he was found
thoroughly to understand. His moral faculties appeared strong, so that
white witnesses admitted that he had never been known to swear an oath,
to drink a drop of spirits, or to commit a theft. And, in general, so
marked were his early peculiarities that people said "he had too much
sense to be raised; and, if he was, he would never be of any use as a
slave." This impression of personal destiny grew with his growth: he
fasted, prayed, preached, read the Bible, heard voices when he walked
behind his plough, and communicated his revelations to the awe-struck
slaves. They told him, in return, that, "if they had his sense, they
would not serve any master in the world."

The biographies of slaves can hardly be individualized; they belong to
the class. We know bare facts; it is only the general experience of human
beings in like condition which can clothe them with life. The outlines
are certain, the details are inferential. Thus, for instance, we know
that Nat Turner's young wife was a slave; we know that she belonged to a
different master from himself; we know little more than this, but this is
much. For this is equivalent to saying, that, by day or by night, her
husband had no more power to protect her than the man who lies bound upon
a plundered vessel's deck has power to protect his wife on board the
pirate schooner disappearing in the horizon. She may be well treated, she
may be outraged; it is in the powerlessness that the agony lies. There
is, indeed, one thing more which we do know of this young woman: the
Virginia newspapers state that she was tortured under the lash, after her
husband's execution, to make her produce his papers: this is all.

What his private experiences and special privileges or wrongs may have
been, it is therefore now impossible to say. Travis was declared to be
"more humane and fatherly to his slaves than any man in the county;" but
it is astonishing how often this phenomenon occurs in the contemporary
annals of slave insurrections. The chairman of the county court also
stated, in pronouncing sentence, that Nat Turner had spoken of his master
as "only too indulgent;" but this, for some reason, does not appear in
his printed Confession, which only says, "He was a kind master, and
placed the greatest confidence in me." It is very possible that it may
have been so, but the printed accounts of Nat Turner's person look
suspicious: he is described in Gov. Floyd's proclamation as having a scar
on one of his temples, also one on the back of his neck, and a large knot
on one of the bones of his right arm, produced by a blow; and although
these were explained away in Virginia newspapers as having been produced
by fights with his companions, yet such affrays are entirely foreign to
the admitted habits of the man. It must therefore remain an open
question, whether the scars and the knot were produced by black hands or
by white.

Whatever Nat Turner's experiences of slavery might have been, it is
certain that his plans were not suddenly adopted, but that he had brooded
over them for years. To this day there are traditions among the Virginia
slaves of the keen devices of "Prophet Nat." If he was caught with lime
and lampblack in hand, conning over a half-finished county-map on the
barn-door, he was always "planning what to do if he were blind"; or,
"studying how to get to Mr. Francis's house." When he had called a
meeting of slaves, and some poor whites came eavesdropping, the poor
whites at once became the subjects for discussion: he incidentally
mentioned that the masters had been heard threatening to drive them away;
one slave had been ordered to shoot Mr. Jones's pigs, another to tear
down Mr. Johnson's fences. The poor whites, Johnson and Jones, ran home
to see to their homesteads, and were better friends than ever to Prophet

He never was a Baptist preacher, though such vocation has often been
attributed to him. The impression arose from his having immersed himself,
during one of his periods of special enthusiasm, together with a poor
white man named Brantley. "About this time," he says in his Confession,
"I told these things to a white man, on whom it had a wonderful effect;
and he ceased from his wickedness, and was attacked immediately with a
cutaneous eruption, and the blood oozed from the pores of his skin, and
after praying and fasting nine days he was healed. And the Spirit
appeared to me again, and said, as the Saviour had been baptized, so
should we be also; and when the white people would not let us be baptized
by the church, we went down into the water together, in the sight of many
who reviled us, and were baptized by the Spirit. After this I rejoiced
greatly, and gave thanks to God."

The religious hallucinations narrated in his Confession seem to have been
as genuine as the average of such things, and are very well expressed.
The account reads quite like Jacob Behmen. He saw white spirits and black
spirits contending in the skies; the sun was darkened, the thunder
rolled. "And the Holy Ghost was with me, and said, 'Behold me as I stand
in the heavens!' And I looked, and saw the forms of men in different
attitudes. And there were lights in the sky, to which the children of
darkness gave other names than what they really were; for they were the
lights of the Saviour's hands, stretched forth from east to west, even as
they were extended on the cross on Calvary, for the redemption of
sinners." He saw drops of blood on the corn: this was Christ's blood,
shed for man. He saw on the leaves in the woods letters and numbers and
figures of men,--the same symbols which he had seen in the skies. On May
12, 1828, the Holy Spirit appeared to him, and proclaimed that the yoke
of Jesus must fall on him, and he must fight against the serpent when the
sign appeared. Then came an eclipse of the sun in February, 1831: this
was the sign; then he must arise and prepare himself, and slay his
enemies with their own weapons; then also the seal was removed from his
lips, and then he confided his plans to four associates.

When he came, therefore, to the barbecue on the appointed Sunday, and
found not these four only, but two others, his first question to the
intruders was, how they came thither. To this Will answered manfully,
that his life was worth no more than the others, and "his liberty was as
dear to him." This admitted him to confidence; and as Jack was known to
be entirely under Hark's influence, the strangers were no bar to their
discussion. Eleven hours they remained there, in anxious consultation:
one can imagine those dusky faces, beneath the funereal woods, and amid
the flickering of pine-knot torches, preparing that stern revenge whose
shuddering echoes should ring through the land so long. Two things were
at last decided: to begin their work that night; and to begin it with a
massacre so swift and irresistible as to create in a few days more terror
than many battles, and so spare the need of future bloodshed. "It was
agreed that we should commence at home on that night, and, until we had
armed and equipped ourselves and gained sufficient force, neither age nor
sex was to be spared: which was invariably adhered to."

John Brown invaded Virginia with nineteen men, and with the avowed
resolution to take no life but in self-defence. Nat Turner attacked
Virginia from within, with six men, and with the determination to spare
no life until his power was established. John Brown intended to pass
rapidly through Virginia, and then retreat to the mountains. Nat Turner
intended to "conquer Southampton County as the white men did in the
Revolution, and then retreat, if necessary, to the Dismal Swamp." Each
plan was deliberately matured; each was in its way practicable; but each
was defeated by a single false step, as will soon appear.

We must pass over the details of horror, as they occurred during the next
twenty-four hours. Swift and stealthy as Indians, the black men passed
from house to house,--not pausing, not hesitating, as their terrible work
went on. In one thing they were humaner than Indians, or than white men
fighting against Indians: there was no gratuitous outrage beyond the
death-blow itself, no insult, no mutilation; but in every house they
entered, that blow fell on man, woman, and child,--nothing that had a
white skin was spared. From every house they took arms and ammunition,
and from a few money. On every plantation they found recruits: those
dusky slaves, so obsequious to their master the day before, so prompt to
sing and dance before his Northern visitors, were all swift to transform
themselves into fiends of retribution now; show them sword or musket, and
they grasped it, though it were an heirloom from Washington himself. The
troop increased from house to house,--first to fifteen, then to forty,
then to sixty. Some were armed with muskets, some with axes, some with
scythes, some came on their masters' horses. As the numbers increased,
they could be divided, and the awful work was carried on more rapidly
still. The plan then was for an advanced guard of horsemen to approach
each house at a gallop, and surround it till the others came up.
Meanwhile, what agonies of terror must have taken place within, shared
alike by innocent and by guilty! what memories of wrongs inflicted on
those dusky creatures, by some,--what innocent participation, by others,
in the penance! The outbreak lasted for but forty-eight hours; but,
during that period, fifty-five whites were slain, without the loss of a
single slave.

One fear was needless, which to many a husband and father must have
intensified the last struggle. These negroes had been systematically
brutalized from childhood; they had been allowed no legalized or
permanent marriage; they had beheld around them an habitual
licentiousness, such as can scarcely exist except under slavery; some of
them had seen their wives and sisters habitually polluted by the husbands
and the brothers of these fair white women who were now absolutely in
their power. Yet I have looked through the Virginia newspapers of that
time in vain for one charge of an indecent outrage on a woman against
these triumphant and terrible slaves. Wherever they went, there went
death, and that was all. It is reported by some of the contemporary
newspapers, that a portion of this abstinence was the result of
deliberate consultation among the insurrectionists; that some of them
were resolved on taking the white women for wives, but were overruled by
Nat Turner. If so, he is the only American slave-leader of whom we know
certainly that he rose above the ordinary level of slave vengeance; and
Mrs. Stowe's picture of Dred's purposes is then precisely typical of his:
"Whom the Lord saith unto us, 'Smite,' them will we smite. We will not
torment them with the scourge and fire, nor defile their women as they
have done with ours. But we will slay them utterly, and consume them from
off the face of the earth."

When the number of adherents had increased to fifty or sixty, Nat Turner
judged it time to strike at the county-seat, Jerusalem. Thither a few
white fugitives had already fled, and couriers might thence be despatched
for aid to Richmond and Petersburg, unless promptly intercepted. Besides,
he could there find arms, ammunition, and money; though they had already
obtained, it is dubiously reported, from eight hundred to one thousand
dollars. On the way it was necessary to pass the plantation of Mr.
Parker, three miles from Jerusalem. Some of the men wished to stop here
and enlist some of their friends. Nat Turner objected, as the delay might
prove dangerous; he yielded at last, and it proved fatal.

He remained at the gate with six or eight men; thirty or forty went to
the house, half a mile distant. They remained too long, and he went alone
to hasten them. During his absence a party of eighteen white men came up
suddenly, dispersing the small guard left at the gate; and when the main
body of slaves emerged from the house, they encountered, for the first
time, their armed masters. The blacks halted; the whites advanced
cautiously within a hundred yards, and fired a volley; on its being
returned, they broke into disorder, and hurriedly retreated, leaving some
wounded on the ground. The retreating whites were pursued, and were saved
only by falling in with another band of fresh men from Jerusalem, with
whose aid they turned upon the slaves, who in their turn fell into
confusion. Turner, Hark, and about twenty men on horseback retreated in
some order; the rest were scattered. The leader still planned to reach
Jerusalem by a private way, thus evading pursuit; but at last decided to
stop for the night, in the hope of enlisting additional recruits.

During the night the number increased again to forty, and they encamped
on Major Ridley's plantation. An alarm took place during the
darkness,--whether real or imaginary, does not appear,--and the men
became scattered again. Proceeding to make fresh enlistments with the
daylight, they were resisted at Dr. Blunt's house, where his slaves,
under his orders, fired upon them; and this, with a later attack from a
party of white men near Capt. Harris's, so broke up the whole force that
they never re-united. The few who remained together agreed to separate
for a few hours to see if any thing could be done to revive the
insurrection, and meet again that evening at their original rendezvous.
But they never reached it.

Gloomily came Nat Turner at nightfall into those gloomy woods where
forty-eight hours before he had revealed the details of his terrible plot
to his companions. At the outset all his plans had succeeded; every thing
was as he predicted: the slaves had come readily at his call; the masters
had proved perfectly defenceless. Had he not been persuaded to pause at
Parker's plantation, he would have been master before now of the arms and
ammunition at Jerusalem; and with these to aid, and the Dismal Swamp for
a refuge, he might have sustained himself indefinitely against his

Now the blood was shed, the risk was incurred, his friends were killed or
captured, and all for what? Lasting memories of terror, to be sure, for
his oppressors; but, on the other hand, hopeless failure for the
insurrection, and certain death for him. What a watch he must have kept
that night! To that excited imagination, which had always seen spirits in
the sky and blood-drops on the corn and hieroglyphic marks on the dry
leaves, how full the lonely forest must have been of signs and solemn
warnings! Alone with the fox's bark, the rabbit's rustle, and the
screech-owl's scream, the self-appointed prophet brooded over his
despair. Once creeping to the edge of the wood, he saw men stealthily
approach on horseback. He fancied them some of his companions; but before
he dared to whisper their ominous names, "Hark" or "Dred,"--for the
latter was the name, since famous, of one of his more recent
recruits,--he saw them to be white men, and shrank back stealthily
beneath his covert.

There he waited two days and two nights,--long enough to satisfy himself
that no one would rejoin him, and that the insurrection had hopelessly
failed. The determined, desperate spirits who had shared his plans were
scattered forever, and longer delay would be destruction for him also. He
found a spot which he judged safe, dug a hole under a pile of fence-rails
in a field, and lay there for six weeks, only leaving it for a few
moments at midnight to obtain water from a neighboring spring. Food he
had previously provided, without discovery, from a house near by.

Meanwhile an unbounded variety of rumors went flying through the State.
The express which first reached the governor announced that the militia
were retreating before the slaves. An express to Petersburg further fixed
the number of militia at three hundred, and of blacks at eight hundred,
and invented a convenient shower of rain to explain the dampened ardor of
the whites. Later reports described the slaves as making three desperate
attempts to cross the bridge over the Nottoway between Cross Keys and
Jerusalem, and stated that the leader had been shot in the attempt. Other
accounts put the number of negroes at three hundred, all well mounted and
armed, with two or three white men as leaders. Their intention was
supposed to be to reach the Dismal Swamp, and they must be hemmed in from
that side.

Indeed, the most formidable weapon in the hands of slave insurgents is
always this blind panic they create, and the wild exaggerations which
follow. The worst being possible, every one takes the worst for granted.
Undoubtedly a dozen armed men could have stifled this insurrection, even
after it had commenced operations; but it is the fatal weakness of a
rural slaveholding community, that it can never furnish men promptly for
such a purpose. "My first intention was," says one of the most
intelligent newspaper narrators of the affair, "to have attacked them
with thirty or forty men; but those who had families here were strongly
opposed to it."

As usual, each man was pinioned to his own hearth-stone. As usual, aid
had to be summoned from a distance; and, as usual, the United-States
troops were the chief reliance. Col. House, commanding at Fort Monroe,
sent at once three companies of artillery under Lieut.-Col. Worth, and
embarked them on board the steamer "Hampton" for Suffolk. These were
joined by detachments from the United States ships "Warren" and
"Natchez," the whole amounting to nearly eight hundred men. Two volunteer
companies went from Richmond, four from Petersburg, one from Norfolk, one
from Portsmouth, and several from North Carolina. The militia of Norfolk,
Nansemond, and Princess Anne Counties, and the United States troops at
Old Point Comfort, were ordered to scour the Dismal Swamp, where it was
believed that two or three thousand fugitives were preparing to join the
insurgents. It was even proposed to send two companies from New York and
one from New London to the same point.

When these various forces reached Southampton County, they found all
labor paralyzed and whole plantations abandoned. A letter from Jerusalem,
dated Aug. 24, says, "The oldest inhabitant of our county has never
experienced such a distressing time as we have had since Sunday night
last.... Every house, room, and corner in this place is full of women and
children, driven from home, who had to take the woods until they could
get to this place." "For many miles around their track," says another
"the county is deserted by women and children." Still another writes,
"Jerusalem is full of women, most of them from the other side of the
river,--about two hundred at Vix's." Then follow descriptions of the
sufferings of these persons, many of whom had lain night after night in
the woods. But the immediate danger was at an end, the short-lived
insurrection was finished, and now the work of vengeance was to begin. In
the frank phrase of a North Carolina correspondent, "The massacre of the
whites was over, and the white people had commenced the destruction of
the negroes, which was continued after our men got there, from time to
time, as they could fall in with them, all day yesterday." A postscript
adds, that "passengers by the Fayetteville stage say, that, by the latest
accounts, one hundred and twenty negroes had been killed,"--this being
little more than one day's work.

These murders were defended as Nat Turner defended his: a fearful blow
must be struck. In shuddering at the horrors of the insurrection, we have
forgotten the far greater horrors of its suppression.

The newspapers of the day contain many indignant protests against the
cruelties which took place. "It is with pain," says a correspondent of
the _National Intelligencer_, Sept. 7, 1831, "that we speak of another
feature of the Southampton Rebellion; for we have been most unwilling to
have our sympathies for the sufferers diminished or affected by their
misconduct. We allude to the slaughter of many blacks without trial and
under circumstances of great barbarity.... We met with an individual of
intelligence who told us that he himself had killed between ten and
fifteen.... We [the Richmond troop] witnessed with surprise the
sanguinary temper of the population, who evinced a strong disposition to
inflict immediate death on every prisoner."

There is a remarkable official document from Gen. Eppes, the officer in
command, to be found in the Richmond _Enquirer_ for Sept. 6, 1831. It is
an indignant denunciation of precisely these outrages; and though he
refuses to give details, he supplies their place by epithets:
"revolting,"--"inhuman and not to be justified,"--"acts of barbarity and
cruelty,"--"acts of atrocity,"--"this course of proceeding dignifies the
rebel and the assassin with the sanctity of martyrdom." And he ends by
threatening martial law upon all future transgressors. Such general
orders are not issued except in rather extreme cases. And in the parallel
columns of the newspaper the innocent editor prints equally indignant
descriptions of Russian atrocities in Lithuania, where the Poles were
engaged in active insurrection, amid profuse sympathy from Virginia.

The truth is, it was a Reign of Terror. Volunteer patrols rode in all
directions, visiting plantations. "It was with the greatest difficulty,"
said Gen. Brodnax before the House of Delegates, "and at the hazard of
personal popularity and esteem, that the coolest and most judicious among
us could exert an influence sufficient to restrain an indiscriminate
slaughter of the blacks who were suspected." A letter from the Rev. G. W.
Powell declares, "There are thousands of troops searching in every
direction, and many negroes are killed every day: the exact number will
never be ascertained." Petition after petition was subsequently presented
to the Legislature, asking compensation for slaves thus assassinated
without trial.

Men were tortured to death, burned, maimed, and subjected to nameless
atrocities. The overseers were called on to point out any slaves whom
they distrusted, and if any tried to escape they were shot down. Nay,
worse than this. "A party of horsemen started from Richmond with the
intention of killing every colored person they saw in Southampton County.
They stopped opposite the cabin of a free colored man, who was hoeing in
his little field. They called out, 'Is this Southampton County?' He
replied, 'Yes, sir, you have just crossed the line, by yonder tree.' They
shot him dead, and rode on." This is from the narrative of the editor of
the Richmond _Whig_, who was then on duty in the militia, and protested
manfully against these outrages. "Some of these scenes," he adds, "are
hardly inferior in barbarity to the atrocities of the insurgents."

These were the masters' stories. If even these conceded so much, it would
be interesting to hear what the slaves had to report. I am indebted to my
honored friend, Lydia Maria Child, for some vivid recollections of this
terrible period, as noted down from the lips of an old colored woman,
once well known in New York, Charity Bowery. "At the time of the old
Prophet Nat," she said, "the colored folks was afraid to pray loud; for
the whites threatened to punish 'em dreadfully, if the least noise was
heard. The patrols was low drunken whites; and in Nat's time, if they
heard any of the colored folks praying, or singing a hymn, they would
fall upon 'em and abuse 'em, and sometimes kill 'em, afore master or
missis could get to 'em. The brightest and best was killed in Nat's time.
The whites always suspect such ones. They killed a great many at a place
called Duplon. They killed Antonio, a slave of Mr. J. Stanley, whom they
shot; then they pointed their guns at him, and told him to confess about
the insurrection. He told 'em he didn't know any thing about any
insurrection. They shot several balls through him, quartered him, and put
his head on a pole at the fork of the road leading to the court." (This
is no exaggeration, if the Virginia newspapers may be taken as evidence.)
"It was there but a short time. He had no trial. They never do. In Nat's
time, the patrols would tie up the free colored people, flog 'em, and try
to make 'em lie against one another, and often killed them before anybody
could interfere. Mr. James Cole, high sheriff, said, if any of the
patrols came on his plantation, he would lose his life in defence of his
people. One day he heard a patroller boasting how many niggers he had
killed. Mr. Cole said, 'If you don't pack up, as quick as God Almighty
will let you, and get out of this town, and never be seen in it again,
I'll put you where dogs won't bark at you.' He went off, and wasn't seen
in them parts again."

These outrages were not limited to the colored population; but other
instances occurred which strikingly remind one of more recent times. An
Englishman, named Robinson, was engaged in selling books at Petersburg.
An alarm being given, one night, that five hundred blacks were marching
towards the town, he stood guard, with others, on the bridge. After the
panic had a little subsided, he happened to remark, that "the blacks, as
men, were entitled to their freedom, and ought to be emancipated." This
led to great excitement, and he was warned to leave town. He took passage
in the stage, but the stage was intercepted. He then fled to a friend's
house; the house was broken open, and he was dragged forth. The civil
authorities, being applied to, refused to interfere. The mob stripped
him, gave him a great number of lashes, and sent him on foot, naked,
under a hot sun, to Richmond, whence he with difficulty found a passage
to New York.

Of the capture or escape of most of that small band who met with Nat
Turner in the woods upon the Travis plantation, little can now be known.
All appear among the list of convicted, except Henry and Will. Gen.
Moore, who occasionally figures as second in command, in the newspaper
narratives of that day, was probably the Hark or Hercules before
mentioned; as no other of the confederates had belonged to Mrs. Travis,
or would have been likely to bear her previous name of Moore. As usual,
the newspapers state that most, if not all the slaves, were "the property
of kind and indulgent masters."

The subordinate insurgents sought safety as they could. A free colored
man, named Will Artist, shot himself in the woods, where his hat was
found on a stake and his pistol lying by him; another was found drowned;
others were traced to the Dismal Swamp; others returned to their homes,
and tried to conceal their share in the insurrection, assuring their
masters that they had been forced, against their will, to join,--the
usual defence in such cases. The number shot down at random must, by all
accounts, have amounted to many hundreds, but it is past all human
registration now. The number who had a formal trial, such as it was, is
officially stated at fifty-five; of these, seventeen were convicted and
hanged, twelve convicted and transported, twenty acquitted, and four free
colored men sent on for further trial and finally acquitted. "Not one of
those known to be concerned escaped." Of those executed, one only was a
woman, "Lucy, slave of John T. Barrow."

There is one touching story, in connection with these terrible
retaliations, which rests on good authority, that of the Rev. M. B. Cox,
a Liberian missionary, then in Virginia. In the hunt which followed the
massacre, a slaveholder went into the woods, accompanied by a faithful
slave, who had been the means of saving his life during the insurrection.
When they had reached a retired place in the forest, the man handed his
gun to his master, informing him that he could not live a slave any
longer, and requesting him either to free him or shoot him on the spot.
The master took the gun, in some trepidation, levelled it at the faithful
negro, and shot him through the heart. It is probable that this
slaveholder was a Dr. Blunt,--his being the only plantation where the
slaves were reported as thus defending their masters. "If this be true,"
said the Richmond _Enquirer_, when it first narrated this instance of
loyalty, "great will be the desert of these noble-minded Africans."

Meanwhile the panic of the whites continued; for, though all others might
be disposed of, Nat Turner was still at large. We have positive evidence
of the extent of the alarm, although great efforts were afterwards made
to represent it as a trifling affair. A distinguished citizen of Virginia
wrote, three months later, to the Hon. W. B. Seabrook of South Carolina,
"From all that has come to my knowledge during and since that affair, I
am convinced most fully that every black preacher in the country east of
the Blue Ridge was in the secret." "There is much reason to believe,"
says the Governor's Message on Dec. 6, "that the spirit of insurrection
was not confined to Southampton. Many convictions have taken place
elsewhere, and some few in distant counties." The withdrawal of the
United States troops, after some ten days' service, was a signal for
fresh excitement; and an address, numerously signed, was presented to the
United States Government, imploring their continued stay. More than three
weeks after the first alarm, the governor sent a supply of arms into
Prince William, Fauquier, and Orange Counties. "From examinations which
have taken place in other counties," says one of the best newspaper
historians of the affair (in the Richmond _Enquirer_ of Sept. 6), "I fear
that the scheme embraced a wider sphere than I at first supposed." Nat
Turner himself, intentionally or otherwise, increased the confusion by
denying all knowledge of the North Carolina outbreak, and declaring that
he had communicated his plans to his four confederates within six months;
while, on the other hand, a slave-girl, sixteen or seventeen years old,
belonging to Solomon Parker, testified that she had heard the subject
discussed for eighteen months, and that at a meeting held during the
previous May some eight or ten had joined the plot.

It is astonishing to discover, by laborious comparison of newspaper
files, how vast was the immediate range of these insurrectionary alarms.
Every Southern State seems to have borne its harvest of terror. On the
eastern shore of Maryland, great alarm was at once manifested, especially
in the neighborhood of Easton and Snowhill; and the houses of colored men
were searched for arms even in Baltimore. In Delaware, there were similar
rumors through Sussex and Dover Counties; there were arrests and
executions; and in Somerset County great public meetings were held, to
demand additional safeguards. On election-day in Seaford, Del., some
young men, going out to hunt rabbits, discharged their guns in sport; the
men being absent, all the women in the vicinity took to flight; the alarm
spread like the "Ipswich Fright"; soon Seaford was thronged with armed
men; and when the boys returned from hunting, they found cannon drawn out
to receive them.

In North Carolina, Raleigh and Fayetteville were put under military
defence, and women and children concealed themselves in the swamps for
many days. The rebel organization was supposed to include two thousand.
Forty-six slaves were imprisoned in Union County, twenty-five in Sampson
County, and twenty-three at least in Duplin County, some of whom were
executed. The panic also extended into Wayne, New Hanover, and Lenoir
Counties. Four men were shot without trial in Wilmington,--Nimrod,
Abraham, Prince, and "Dan the Drayman," the latter a man of seventy,--and
their heads placed on poles at the four corners of the town. Nearly two
months afterwards the trials were still continuing; and at a still later
day, the governor in his proclamation recommended the formation of
companies of volunteers in every county.

In South Carolina, Gen. Hayne issued a proclamation "to prove the
groundlessness of the existing alarms,"--thus implying that serious
alarms existed. In Macon, Ga., the whole population were roused from
their beds at midnight by a report of a large force of armed negroes five
miles off. In an hour, every woman and child was deposited in the largest
building of the town, and a military force hastily collected in front.
The editor of the Macon _Messenger_ excused the poor condition of his
paper, a few days afterwards, by the absorption of his workmen in patrol
duties and describes "dismay and terror" as the condition of the people
of "all ages and sexes." In Jones, Twiggs, and Monroe Counties, the same
alarms were reported; and in one place "several slaves were tied to a
tree, while a militia captain hacked at them with his sword."

In Alabama, at Columbus and Fort Mitchell, a rumor was spread of a joint
conspiracy of Indians and negroes. At Claiborne the panic was still
greater: the slaves were said to be thoroughly organized through that
part of the State, and multitudes were imprisoned; the whole alarm being
apparently founded on one stray copy of the Boston _Liberator_.

In Tennessee, the Shelbyville _Freeman_ announced that an insurrectionary
plot had just been discovered, barely in time for its defeat, through the
treachery of a female slave. In Louisville, Ky., a similar organization
was discovered or imagined, and arrests were made in consequence. "The
papers, from motives of policy, do not notice the disturbance," wrote one
correspondent to the Portland _Courier_. "Pity us!" he added.

But the greatest bubble burst in Louisiana. Capt. Alexander, an English
tourist, arriving in New Orleans at the beginning of September, found the
whole city in tumult. Handbills had been issued, appealing to the slaves
to rise against their masters, saying that all men were born equal,
declaring that Hannibal was a black man, and that they also might have
great leaders among them. Twelve hundred stand of weapons were said to
have been found in a black man's house; five hundred citizens were under
arms, and four companies of regulars were ordered to the city, whose
barracks Alexander himself visited.

If such was the alarm in New Orleans, the story, of course, lost nothing
by transmission to other slave States. A rumor reached Frankfort, Ky.,
that the slaves already had possession of the coast, both above and below
New Orleans. But the most remarkable circumstance is, that all this seems
to have been a mere revival of an old terror once before excited and
exploded. The following paragraph had appeared in the Jacksonville, Ga.,
_Observer_, during the spring previous:--

"FEARFUL DISCOVERY.--We were favored, by yesterday's mail, with a
letter from New Orleans, of May 1, in which we find that an
important discovery had been made a few days previous in that
city. The following is an extract: 'Four days ago, as some
planters were digging under ground, they found a square room
containing eleven thousand stand of arms and fifteen thousand
cartridges, each of the cartridges containing a bullet.' It is
said the negroes intended to rise as soon as the sickly season
began, and obtain possession of the city by massacring the white
population. The same letter states that the mayor had prohibited
the opening of Sunday schools for the instruction of blacks,
under a penalty of five hundred dollars for the first offence,
and, for the second, death."

Such were the terrors that came back from nine other slave States, as the
echo of the voice of Nat Turner. And when it is also known that the
subject was at once taken up by the legislatures of other States, where
there was no public panic, as in Missouri and Tennessee; and when,
finally, it is added that reports of insurrection had been arriving all
that year from Rio Janeiro, Martinique, St. Jago, Antigua, Caraccas, and
Tortola,--it is easy to see with what prolonged distress the accumulated
terror must have weighed down upon Virginia during the two months that
Nat Turner lay hid.

True, there were a thousand men in arms in Southampton County, to inspire
security. But the blow had been struck by only seven men before; and
unless there were an armed guard in every house, who could tell but any
house might at any moment be the scene of new horrors? They might kill or
imprison negroes by day, but could they resist their avengers by night?
"The half cannot be told," wrote a lady from another part of Virginia, at
this time, "of the distresses of the people. In Southampton County, the
scene of the insurrection, the distress beggars description. A gentleman
who has been there says that even here, where there has been great alarm,
we have no idea of the situation of those in that county.... I do not
hesitate to believe that many negroes around us would join in a massacre
as horrible as that which has taken place, if an opportunity should

Meanwhile the cause of all this terror was made the object of desperate
search. On Sept. 17 the governor offered a reward of five hundred dollars
for his capture; and there were other rewards, swelling the amount to
eleven hundred dollars,--but in vain. No one could track or trap him. On
Sept. 30 a minute account of his capture appeared in the newspapers, but
it was wholly false. On Oct. 7 there was another, and on Oct. 18 another;
yet all without foundation. Worn out by confinement in his little cave,
Nat Turner grew more adventurous, and began to move about stealthily by
night, afraid to speak to any human being, but hoping to obtain some
information that might aid his escape. Returning regularly to his retreat
before daybreak, he might possibly have continued this mode of life until
pursuit had ceased, had not a dog succeeded where men had failed. The
creature accidentally smelt out the provisions hid in the cave, and
finally led thither his masters, two negroes, one of whom was named
Nelson. On discovering the formidable fugitive, they fled precipitately,
when he hastened to retreat in an opposite direction. This was on Oct.
15; and from this moment the neighborhood was all alive with excitement,
and five or six hundred men undertook the pursuit.

It shows a more than Indian adroitness in Nat Turner to have escaped
capture any longer. The cave, the arms, the provisions, were found; and,
lying among them, the notched stick of this miserable Robinson Crusoe,
marked with five weary weeks and six days. But the man was gone. For ten
days more he concealed himself among the wheat-stacks on Mr. Francis's
plantation, and during this time was reduced almost to despair. Once he
decided to surrender himself, and walked by night within two miles of
Jerusalem before his purpose failed him. Three times he tried to get out
of that neighborhood, but in vain: travelling by day was of course out of
the question, and by night he found it impossible to elude the patrol.
Again and again, therefore, he returned to his hiding-place; and, during
his whole two months' liberty, never went five miles from the Cross Keys.
On the 25th of October, he was at last discovered by Mr. Francis as he
was emerging from a stack. A load of buckshot was instantly discharged at
him, twelve of which passed through his hat as he fell to the ground. He
escaped even then; but his pursuers were rapidly concentrating upon him,
and it is perfectly astonishing that he could have eluded them for five
days more.

On Sunday, Oct. 30, a man named Benjamin Phipps, going out for the first
time on patrol duty, was passing at noon a clearing in the woods where a
number of pine-trees had long since been felled. There was a motion among
their boughs; he stopped to watch it; and through a gap in the branches
he saw, emerging from a hole in the earth beneath, the face of Nat
Turner. Aiming his gun instantly, Phipps called on him to surrender. The
fugitive, exhausted with watching and privation, entangled in the
branches, armed only with a sword, had nothing to do but to
yield,--sagaciously reflecting, also, as he afterwards explained, that
the woods were full of armed men, and that he had better trust fortune
for some later chance of escape, instead of desperately attempting it
then. He was correct in the first impression, since there were fifty
armed scouts within a circuit of two miles. His insurrection ended where
it began; for this spot was only a mile and a half from the house of
Joseph Travis.

Tom, emaciated, ragged, "a mere scarecrow," still wearing the hat
perforated with buckshot, with his arms bound to his sides, he was driven
before the levelled gun to the nearest house, that of a Mr. Edwards. He
was confined there that night; but the news had spread so rapidly that
within an hour after his arrival a hundred persons had collected, and the
excitement became so intense "that it was with difficulty he could be
conveyed alive to Jerusalem." The enthusiasm spread instantly through
Virginia; M. Trezvant, the Jerusalem postmaster, sent notices of it far
and near; and Gov. Floyd himself wrote a letter to the Richmond
_Enquirer_ to give official announcement of the momentous capture.

When Nat Turner was asked by Mr. T. R. Gray, the counsel assigned him,
whether, although defeated, he still believed in his own Providential
mission, he answered, as simply as one who came thirty years after him,
"Was not Christ crucified?" In the same spirit, when arraigned before the
court, "he answered, 'Not guilty,' saying to his counsel that he did not
feel so." But apparently no argument was made in his favor by his
counsel, nor were any witnesses called,--he being convicted on the
testimony of Levi Waller, and upon his own confession, which was put in
by Mr. Gray, and acknowledged by the prisoner before the six justices
composing the court, as being "full, free, and voluntary." He was
therefore placed in the paradoxical position of conviction by his own
confession, under a plea of "Not guilty." The arrest took place on the
30th of October, 1831, the confession on the 1st of November, the trial
and conviction on the 5th, and the execution on the following Friday, the
11th of November, precisely at noon. He met his death with perfect
composure, declined addressing the multitude assembled, and told the
sheriff in a firm voice that he was ready. Another account says that he
"betrayed no emotion, and even hurried the executioner in the performance
of his duty." "Not a limb nor a muscle was observed to move. His body,
after his death, was given over to the surgeons for dissection."

The confession of the captive was published under authority of Mr. Gray,
in a pamphlet, at Baltimore. Fifty thousand copies of it are said to have
been printed; and it was "embellished with an accurate likeness of the
brigand, taken by Mr. John Crawley, portrait-painter, and lithographed by
Endicott & Swett, at Baltimore." The newly established _Liberator_ said
of it, at the time, that it would "only serve to rouse up other leaders,
and hasten other insurrections," and advised grand juries to indict Mr.
Gray. I have never seen a copy of the original pamphlet; it is not easily
to be found in any of our public libraries; and I have heard of but one
as still existing, although the Confession itself has been repeatedly
reprinted. Another small pamphlet, containing the main features of the
outbreak, was published at New York during the same year, and this is in
my possession. But the greater part of the facts which I have given were
gleaned from the contemporary newspapers.

Who now shall go back thirty years, and read the heart of this
extraordinary man, who, by the admission of his captors, "never was known
to swear an oath, or drink a drop of spirits"; who, on the same
authority, "for natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension was
surpassed by few men," "with a mind capable of attaining any thing"; who
knew no book but his Bible, and that by heart; who devoted himself soul
and body to the cause of his race, without a trace of personal hope or
fear; who laid his plans so shrewdly that they came at last with less
warning than any earthquake on the doomed community around; and who, when
that time arrived, took the life of man, woman, and child, without a
throb of compunction, a word of exultation, or an act of superfluous
outrage? Mrs. Stowe's "Dred" seems dim and melodramatic beside the actual
Nat Turner, and De Quincey's "Avenger" is his only parallel in
imaginative literature. Mr. Gray, his counsel, rises into a sort of
bewildered enthusiasm with the prisoner before him. "I shall not attempt
to describe the effect of his narrative, as told and commented on by
himself, in the condemned-hole of the prison. The calm, deliberate
composure with which he spoke of his late deeds and intentions, the
expression of his fiend-like face when excited by enthusiasm, still
bearing the stains of the blood of helpless innocence about him, clothed
with rags and covered with chains, yet daring to raise his manacled hands
to heaven, with a spirit soaring above the attributes of man,--I looked
on him, and the blood curdled in my veins."

But, the more remarkable the personal character of Nat Turner, the
greater the amazement felt that he should not have appreciated the
extreme felicity of his position as a slave. In all insurrections, the
standing wonder seems to be that the slaves most trusted and best used
should be most deeply involved. So in this case, as usual, men resorted
to the most astonishing theories of the origin of the affair. One
attributed it to Free-Masonry, and another to free whiskey,--liberty
appearing dangerous, even in these forms. The poor whites charged it upon
the free colored people, and urged their expulsion; forgetting that in
North Carolina the plot was betrayed by one of this class, and that in
Virginia there were but two engaged, both of whom had slave wives. The
slaveholding clergymen traced it to want of knowledge of the Bible,
forgetting that Nat Turner knew scarcely any thing else. On the other
hand, "a distinguished citizen of Virginia" combined in one sweeping
denunciation "Northern incendiaries, tracts, Sunday schools, religion,
reading, and writing."

But whether the theories of its origin were wise or foolish, the
insurrection made its mark; and the famous band of Virginia
emancipationists, who all that winter made the House of Delegates ring
with unavailing eloquence,--till the rise of slave-exportation to new
cotton regions stopped their voices,--were but the unconscious
mouthpieces of Nat Turner. In January, 1832, in reply to a member who had
called the outbreak a "petty affair," the eloquent James McDowell thus
described the impression it left behind:--

"Now, sir, I ask you, I ask gentlemen in conscience to say, was
that a 'petty affair' which startled the feelings of your whole
population; which threw a portion of it into alarm, a portion of
it into panic; which wrung out from an affrighted people the
thrilling cry, day after day, conveyed to your executive, '_We
are in peril of our lives; send us an army for defence_'? Was
that a 'petty affair' which drove families from their
homes,--which assembled women and children in crowds, without
shelter, at places of common refuge, in every condition of
weakness and infirmity, under every suffering which want and
terror could inflict, yet willing to endure all, willing to meet
death from famine, death from climate, death from hardships,
preferring any thing rather than the horrors of meeting it from a
domestic assassin? Was that a 'petty affair' which erected a
peaceful and confiding portion of the State into a military camp;
which outlawed from pity the unfortunate beings whose brothers
had offended; which barred every door, penetrated every bosom
with fear or suspicion; which so banished every sense of security
from every man's dwelling, that, let but a hoof or horn break
upon the silence of the night, and an aching throb would be
driven to the heart, the husband would look to his weapon, and
the mother would shudder and weep upon her cradle? Was it the
fear of Nat Turner, and his deluded, drunken handful of
followers, which produced such effects? Was it this that induced
distant counties, where the very name of Southampton was strange,
to arm and equip for a struggle? No, sir: it was the suspicion
eternally attached to the slave himself,--the suspicion that a
Nat Turner might be in every family; that the same bloody deed
might be acted over at any time and in any place; that the
materials for it were spread through the land, and were always
ready for a like explosion. Nothing but the force of this
withering apprehension,--nothing but the paralyzing and deadening
weight with which it falls upon and prostrates the heart of every
man who has helpless dependants to protect,--nothing but this
could have thrown a brave people into consternation, or could
have made any portion of this powerful Commonwealth, for a single
instant, to have quailed and trembled."

While these things were going on, the enthusiasm for the Polish
Revolution was rising to its height. The nation was ringing with a peal
of joy, on hearing that at Frankfort the Poles had killed fourteen
thousand Russians. The _Southern Religious Telegraph_ was publishing an
impassioned address to Kosciuszko; standards were being consecrated for
Poland in the larger cities; heroes like Skrzynecki, Czartoryski,
Rozyski, Raminski, were choking the trump of Fame with their complicated
patronymics. These are all forgotten now; and this poor negro, who did
not even possess a name, beyond one abrupt monosyllable,--for even the
name of Turner was the master's property,--still lives, a memory of
terror, and a symbol of wild retribution.



1. Dallas, R. C. "The History of the Maroons, from their origin to the
establishment of their chief tribe at Sierra Leone: including the
expedition to Cuba, for the purpose of procuring Spanish chasseurs; and
the state of the Island of Jamaica for the last ten years, with a
succinct history of the island previous to that period." In two volumes.
London, 1803. [8vo.]

2. Edwards, Bryan. "The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British
Colonies in the West Indies. To which is added a general description of
the Bahama Islands, by Daniel M'Kinnen, Esq." In four volumes.
Philadelphia, 1806. [8vo.]

3. Edwards, Bryan. "Proceedings of the Governor and Associates of Jamaica
in regard to the Maroon Negroes, with an account of the Maroons." London,
1796. 8vo.

4. Edwards, Bryan. "Historical Survey of St. Domingo, with an account of
the Maroon Negroes, a history of the war in the West Indies, 1793-94"
[etc.]. London, 1801. 4to.

5. _Edinburgh Review_, ii. 376. [Review of Dallas and Edwards, by Henry
Lord Brougham.]

Also Annual Register, Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, etc.

[There appeared in _Once a Week_ (1865) a paper entitled "The Maroons of
Jamaica," and reprinted in _Every Saturday_ (i. 50, Jan. 31, 1866), in
which Gov. Eyre is quoted as having said, in the London _Times_, "To the
fidelity and loyalty of the Maroons it is due that the negroes did not
commit greater devastation" in the recent insurrection; thus curiously
repeating the encomium given by Lord Balcarres seventy years before.]

* * * * *


1. "Narrative of a Five Years' Expedition against the revolted negroes of
Surinam, in Guiana, on the wild coast of South America, from the year
1772 to 1777 ... by Capt. J. G. Stedman." London. Printed for J. Johnson,
St. Paul's Churchyard, and J. Edwards, Pall Mall. 1790. [2 vols. 4to.]

2. "Transatlantic Sketches, comprising visits to the most interesting
scenes in North and South America and the West Indies. With notes on
negro slavery and Canadian emigration. By Capt. J. E. Alexander, 42 Royal
Highlanders." London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington St., 1833. [2 vols.

Also Annual Register, etc.

[The best account of the present condition of the Maroons, or, as they
are now called, bush-negroes, of Surinam, is to be found in a graphic
narrative of a visit to Dutch Guiana, by W. G. Palgrave, in the
_Fortnightly Review_, xxiv. 801; xxv. 194, 536. These papers are
reprinted in _Littell's Living Age_, cxxviii. 154, cxxix. 409. He
estimates the present numbers of these people as approaching thirty
thousand. The "Encyclopaedia Britannica" gives the names of several
publications relating to their peculiar dialect, popularly known as
Negro-English, but including many Dutch words.]

* * * * *


The materials for the history of Gabriel's revolt are still very
fragmentary, and must be sought in the contemporary newspapers. No
continuous file of Southern newspapers for the year 1800 was to be found,
when this narrative was written, in any Boston or New-York library,
though the Harvard-College Library contained a few numbers of the
Baltimore _Telegraphe_ and the Norfolk _Epitome of the Times_. My chief
reliance has therefore been the Southern correspondence of the Northern
newspapers, with the copious extracts there given from Virginian
journals. I am chiefly indebted to the Philadelphia _United-States
Gazette_, the Boston _Independent Chronicle_, the Salem _Gazette_ and
_Register_, the New-York _Daily Advertiser_, and the Connecticut
_Courant_. The best continuous narratives that I have found are in the
_Courant_ of Sept. 29, 1800, and the Salem _Gazette_ of Oct. 7, 1800; but
even these are very incomplete. Several important documents I have been
unable to discover,--the official proclamation of the governor, the
description of Gabriel's person, and the original confession of the
slaves as given to Mr. Sheppard. The discovery of these would no doubt
have enlarged, and very probably corrected, my narrative.

* * * * *


1. "Negro Plot. An Account of the late intended insurrection among a
portion of the blacks of the city of Charleston, S.C. Published by the
Authority of the Corporation of Charleston." Second edition. Boston:
printed and published by Joseph W. Ingraham. 1822. 8vo, pp. 50.

[A third edition was printed at Boston during the same year, a copy of
which is in the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The
first and fourth editions, which were printed at Charleston, S.C., I have
never seen.]

2. "An Official Report of the trials of sundry negroes, charged with an
attempt to raise an insurrection in the State of South Carolina: preceded
by an introduction and narrative; and in an appendix, a report of the
trials of four white persons, on indictments for attempting to excite the
slaves to insurrection. Prepared and published at the request of the
court. By Lionel H. Kennedy and Thomas Parker, members of the Charleston
bar, and the presiding magistrates of the court." Charleston: printed by
James R. Schenck, 23 Broad St. 1822. 8vo, pp. 188x4.

3. "Reflections occasioned by the late disturbances in Charleston, by
Achates." Charleston: printed and sold by A. E. Miller, No. 4 Broad St.
1822. 8vo, pp. 30.

4. "A Refutation of the Calumnies circulated against the Southern and
Western States, respecting the institution and existence of slavery among
them. To which is added a minute and particular account of the actual
state and condition of their Negro Population, together with Historical
Notices of all the Insurrections that have taken place since the
settlement of the country.--Facts are stubborn things.--_Shakspeare_. By
a South Carolinian." [Edwin C. Holland.] Charleston: printed by A. E.
Miller, No. 4 Broad St. 1822. 8vo, pp. 86.

5. "Rev. Dr. Richard Furman's Exposition of the views of the Baptists
relative to the colored population in the United States, in a
communication to the Governor of South Carolina." Second edition.
Charleston: printed by A. E. Miller, No. 4 Broad St. 1833. 8vo, pp. 16.

[The first edition appeared in 1823. It relates to a petition offered by
a Baptist Convention for a day of thanksgiving and humiliation, in
reference to the insurrection, and to a violent hurricane which had just

6. "Practical Considerations, founded on the Scriptures, relative to the
Slave Population of South Carolina. Respectfully dedicated to the South
Carolina Association. By a South Carolinian." Charleston: printed and
sold by A. E. Miller, No. 4 Broad St. 1823. 8vo, pp. 38.

7. [The letter of Gov. Bennett, dated Aug. 10, 1822, was evidently
printed originally as a pamphlet or circular, though I have not been able
to find it in that form. It may be found reprinted in the _Columbian
Centinel_ (Aug. 31, 1822), _Connecticut Courant_ (Sept. 3), and Worcester
_Spy_ (Sept. 18). It is also printed in Lundy's _Genius of Universal
Emancipation_ for September, 1822 (ii. 42), and reviewed in subsequent
numbers (pp. 81, 131, 142).]

8. "The Liberty Bell, by Friends of Freedom. Boston: Anti-Slavery Bazaar.
1841. 12mo." [This contains an article on p. 158, entitled "Servile
Insurrections," by Edmund Jackson, including brief personal reminiscences
of the Charleston insurrection, during which he resided in that city.]

[Of the above-named pamphlets, all now rare, Nos. 1 and 2 are in my own
possession. Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, are in the Wendell Phillips collection of
pamphlets in the Boston Public Library.]

* * * * *


1. "The Confessions of Nat Turner, the leader of the late Insurrection in
Southampton, Va., as fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray, in the
prison where he was confined, and acknowledged by him to be such when
read before the Court of Southampton, with the certificate under seal of
the court convened at Jerusalem, Nov. 5, 1831, for this trial. Also an
authentic account of the whole insurrection, with lists of the whites who
were murdered, and of the negroes brought before the Court of
Southampton, and there sentenced, etc." New York: printed and published
by C. Brown, 211 Water Street, 1831.

[This pamphlet was reprinted in the _Anglo-African Magazine_ (New York),
December, 1859. Whether it is identical with the work said by the
newspapers of the period to have been published at Baltimore, I have been
unable to ascertain. But if, as was alleged, forty thousand copies of the
Baltimore pamphlet were issued, it seems impossible that they should have
become so scarce. The first reprint of the Confession, so far as I know,
was a partial one in Abdy's "Journal in the United States." London. 1835.
3 vols. 8vo.]

2. "Authentic and Impartial Narrative of the Tragical Scene which was
witnessed in Southhampton County (Va.), on Monday, the 22d of August
last, when Fifty-five of its inhabitants (mostly women and children) were
inhumanly massacred by the blacks! Communicated by those who were
eye-witnesses of the bloody scene, and confirmed by the confessions of
several of the Blacks, while under Sentence of Death." [By Samuel Warner,
New York.] Printed for Warner & West. 1831. 12mo, pp. 36 [or more, copy
incomplete. With a frontispiece]. Among the Wendell Phillips tracts in
the Boston Public Library.

3. "Slave Insurrection in 1831, in Southampton County, Va., headed by Nat
Turner. Also a conspiracy of slaves in Charleston, S.C., in 1822." New
York: compiled and published by Henry Bibb, 9 Spruce St. 1849. 12mo, pp.

[The contemporary newspaper narratives may be found largely quoted in the
first volume of the _Liberator_ (1831), and in Lundy's _Genius of
Universal Emancipation_ (September, 1831). The files of the Richmond
_Enquirer_ have also much information on the subject.]

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