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The Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts),

October 1, 1831




WALTHAM, Sept. 24th 1831.

Mr. Greene:


        SIR – Having noticed several sketches of the insurrection in Virginia, I feel a little disposed to narrate a few circumstances connected with that event.  At the time it took place, I saw in Norfolk, and afterwards at Richmond, and other parts of the State.  The alarm and agitation were truly great; and in the countenance of every white man, nothing was depicted but fear and dismay.  The Governor immediately summoned the white population to assemble, and to be furnished with arms and ammunition from the public magazines.  In a passage up James River, I went on shore several times, and visited the plantations, and witnessed the uneasiness prevailing among the owners or overseers.  At Charles County City, a resident informed me that in the neighborhood there were not more than 20 whites, while on four plantations in the vicinity there were 200 blacks, who, if so inclined, said he, might destroy us all, even if they were but armed with clubs.  They had just apprehended a black preacher, who came down from Richmond to preach in an old meeting-house near that place.  At Richmond, the whites were heard cursing the Quakers or Baptists, whom they declared would ruin the State.  I FREQUENTLY HEARD IT WISHED THAT THE D____D NEGROES MIGHT ALL BE EXTER- [p. 115] MINATED.’  Never were a people so heartily sick of slaves, yet not disposed to liberate them.  In riding in the stage from Richmond to Fredericksburg, a passenger by the name of Smith, direct form the seat of the insurrection, stated that the blacks who were taken prisoners were killed in the most barbarous manner.


        Their noses and ears were cut off, the flesh of their cheeks cut out, their jaws broken asunder, and then set up as a mark to shoot at!!!  If a black was found out of doors, after dark, without a pass, he would be immediately shot down. 


        It appears that the negro children had been taught to repeat that the British, or some other foe, were coming to Virginia to massacre all the white people: for some time before the insurrection, they had often been overheard repeating such a story to each other.  Many blacks not particularly concerned in the rebellion, and living quite remote from the scene, have been apprehended for uttering similar predictions.  I should think form all the information I obtained, that no doubt could exist but that a deep plot was laid for a general massacre of the whites.  The stagepassenger [sic] alluded to, mentioned that the slaves commenced an attack one week to soon, owing to some miscalculations.  This circumstances I have seen corroborated by other accounts.


        In August, extensive revivals of religion were prevailing.  In the Baptist churches, at Norfolk and Richmond.  At the latter place, on the Sabbath evening of the 28th several officers of the city entered their meeting and dispersed the congregation.  Several whites were summoned to appear at court that week, to answer for countenancing unlawful meetings of slaves.  It appears that the laws of Virginia do not allow the blacks to attend any evening or night meetings; but before the insurrection, they had been allowed the practice as a privilege.  Since that tragical event, this law has been put into strict force.  No black is now allowed to be out after 8 o’clock, without a pass, and then not at a religious meeting.  While at Richmond, a camp meeting was held about 8 miles from the city.  The blacks had heretofore attended, but at this they were forbidden.  The denial of such accustomed privileges must prove very galling to them, and I should not be surprised to hear of oft repeating attempts to throw off the chains of servitude and slavery.


        This visit of mine was the first to a slaveholding state under our own government.  I had twice been at Cuba, where I saw slave ships almost daily arriving, with their full cargoes of human beings.  I had seen them sold, whipped and worked like horses or oxen, but then it was by savage race of beings, under [p. 116] a despotic government.  But under the mild influences of a free and independent republic, we should expect better things.  But at Norfolk and Richmond are agents advertising and purchasing negroes for the Orleans or Cuba market.  And throughout Virginia are hundreds of whites who make it a part, if not their whole business, to rear negroes as they would cattle for the market.  And the Planters pretend that this is the only produce that will pay them at any profit.  To a Northerner or a Yankee, the face of this country looks miserable enough indeed.  You may ride a whole day and meet with no pleasant villages with their…spires, or well cultivated fields and orchards, the ornament and delight of a New-England journey.  But here are extensive plantations of tobacco, corn, &c. with a few miserable log huts peopled with a host of dirty and ragged negroes with their naked children, wallowing on the ground floor, with their no more brutish company of dogs and hogs.  I often remarked, that I thought it strange that the negro huts should be placed so near the road, when the owner’s situation was generally so hidden and remote.  But in Virginia, abundance of negroes is a white man’s pride.  Whenever you see a fine house with a garden attached to it, you will see the yard mostly filled up with huts, negroes and hogs.  I very soon became disgusted with so much filth and wretchedness, and sighed to see a return of accustomed cleanliness, comfort and liberty, which a yankee, by witnessing the scenes I have described, will relish with a most delightful zest.




Henry Irving Tragle, The Southampton Slave Revolt of 1831: A Compilation of Source Material (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1971), 114-116.                    


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