Speech by James McDowell, January 21, 1832 (excerpt)
From these and like extracts, which might easily be multiplied, it appears, generally, sir, that to its extent, there never was a bloodier or more shocking massacre than that of Southampton, that besides the sixty-two or sixty-three white persons who were murdered and the forty odd insurgents who were shot in arms or executed afterwards, there were others (how many is not known) who were shot privily (and by whom, I believe is not known) without accusation or trial;- that many died in the field refusing to surrender; that a detachment only of these wretches attacked Dr. Blount’s house and were repelled by the “three men and two boys” spoken of; that the insurgents, recruited others at every house to which they went, with but few exceptions, and that before they were checked, they had traversed the country a distance of twenty miles spreading desolation and woe around them. It also appears that it was early believed and early made known to the governor and the public as the opinion of the commanding general (General Brodnax) that there was no general conspiracy and that Nat and his whole force might at any time have been put down by twenty resolute men. And yet sir, notwithstanding this statement such was the general consternation produced by this event and such the conscious insecurity of every neighborhood and family that rapid and vigorous preparations were almost every where making for military defense. Companies were organized—concerts established—military supplies provided—towns and counties far from the place of revolt—far from one another—many of them days and weeks after the revolt had been crushed, were still anxiously calling on the Executive for arms, arms.
Now sir, I ask you, I ask gentlemen, in conscience to say, was this a “petty affair”? I ask you, whether that was 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 affrighted people the thrilling cry, day after day conveyed to your Executive, “we are in peril of our lives, send us arms for defence.” Was that a “petty affair” which drove families from their homes, which assembled women and children in crowds and without shelter at places of common refuge, in every condition of weakness and infirmity, under every suffering which want and pain and terror could inflict yet willing to endure all—willing to meet death from famine, death from the climate, death from hardships, any thing rather than risk the horrors of meeting it form 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 the sense of security from every man’s dwelling that let a hoof or a horn but break upon the silence of 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 and drunken handful of followers which produced or could produce 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 could be acted over at any time and in any place, that the materials for it were spread though the land and 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 dependents 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 or trembled.
Slave Population, 1830: 3,398 (24% of total population)
In his speech to the Virginia Assembly, James McDowell, of Rockbridge County, argues that the rebellion was not a minor incident, but a major event that had serious consequences for the entire state. After citing some newspaper reports concerning the rebellion, he declared: