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American Beacon (Norfolk, Virginia),

August 26, 1831




We have purposely refrained from noticing this unwelcome occurrence, until proper and effective measures should be effected for its suppression, and until we should be in the possession of some authentic information to counteract the many exaggerated statements with which gossip rumour, with her hundred tongues, has hourly abused the public confidence, since Tuesday last. We now proceed to give such particulars of the tragical event as have come to our knowledge.


   On Tuesday last, about noon, it was rumoured here that verbal intelligence had reached Portsmouth by that days stage, that an insurrection had broken out among some deluded slaves near the Cross Keys in the county of Southampton, on Sunday night, the 21st inst. and that forty individuals of all ages and sexes had fallen victim to their murderous designs. Upon tracing this report we learned, that the sad reality had been announced to the citizens of Suffolk that morning by express from Jerusalem, and had filled all classes in that town with horror and apprehension.


   The intelligence was so awful and unexpected, that it was received with much hesitation and doubt by all to whom it was communicated, until the afternoon when the arrival of Col. [Colonel] Charlton, express from Suffolk, left no room for conjecture or uncertainty as to the facts before stated. He left there after the departure of the stage, and added confirmation strong, by letters giving the names of the unhappy victims.


   The members of our Court were speedily convened, and Judge R.B. Taylor being invited to the conference, measures were immediately concerted of safety for our own community, and for affording the most prompt and efficient aid to the citizens of Southampton in their calamitous circumstances. Application being made to Com. [Commodore] Warrington, at the Navy Yard, he very promptly replied that arms and ammunition to any required amount would be furnished at a moment’s warning from that depot. The Mayor was also directed to communicate the intelligence to Col. [Colonel] House, commanding officer at Fortress Monroe, and request that he would furnish as many of the troops of the garrison as could be spared, and that he (the Mayor) would apply to the U.S. Ships, the Natchez and Warren, lying in the Roads for such of the Marine force and Seamen as could be dispensed for the occasion—the Mayor was further directed to employ the Steam Boat Hampton to convey them with all expedition to Suffolk. It is due to Col. [Colonel] Wainwright, Commandant of the Marine Corps here, to notice the alacrity with which he attended the invitation of the Court to aid their deliberations, and his prompt offer of co-operation in any way in which his personal services, and those of his command, would be acceptable.


   To Capt. [Captain] Capron, of the Independent Volunteers, was confided the communication for Col. [Colonel] House, Com. [Commodore] Elliot, of the Natchez, and Capt. [Captain] Cooper, of the Warren. Owing, however, to the Hampton having that day made her regular trip to Smithfield, and not returning until a late hour in the night, she was unable to proceed for the Fortress until after midnight. Consequently Col. [Colonel] House did not receive the despatches of the Mayor until after 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning. The Col. [Colonel] gave immediate orders for three Companies, with a piece of artillery, to embark under the orders of Col. [Colonel] Worth and Maj. [Major] Kirby, and at 6 o’clock the boat left the Point, and proceeding for the Natchez and Warren, delivered the despatches to Com. [Commodore] Elliot and Captain Cooper, who cheerfully acquiesced in the request of the Mayor, and in addition the Commodore volunteered a choice body of Seamen under the orders of his flag Captain, Newton, and went himself in command of the detachments from the two ships.


   The Military and Naval expedition arrived at Suffolk between 10 and 11 o’clock on the same morning and greatly contributed to relieve the apprehension so powerfully excited among the citizens. They took up the line of march a short time after their arrival, for the scene of slaughter, and we since learn had proceeded 22 miles that night towards Jerusalem—they had not, however, yet come into contact with any of the miscreants, who being closely pressed by the militia of Southampton and a large body of mounted men sent from Murfreesboro, Winton and the neighboring counties, were directing their force towards South Quay, probably with the intention of taking to the Dismal Swamp. Rumors and statements are almost hourly reaching us, upon which, however, little reliance can be placed, respecting the force and direction of the Insurgents. A friend in whose representations much confidence may be reposed, arrived here yesterday from Suffolk, states their numbers to be variously computed from 40 to 100, but as he thinks not exceeding the latter. They are said to be well-mounted but there is no doubt will studiously avoid coming in contact with any well organized forces. They are said to have several smart skirmishes with detachments of the militia in the vicinity of the Cross Keys, in which several of the deluded wretches have been killed, and some taken prisoners.


   The militia of the counties of Virginia and North Carolina proximate to the scene of the insurrection, are generally under arms, but all accounts concur in stating that they are very deficient in proper arms, accouterments and ammunition, and that Calvary (of which, unhappily, all our fine corps are disbanded) are perhaps the only species of troops that can insure the capture of the Insurgents. Upon such intelligence reaching here on Wednesday, about thirty citizens of Norfolk and Portsmouth formed themselves into a company under the orders of Capt. [Captain] J.S. Garrison and Lt. [Lieutenant] Charles Johnson, mounted and well-equipped, and proceeded the same evening for Southampton, taking under their convoy an abundant supply of pistols, cutlasses and cartridges—furnished by Com. [Commodore] Warrington, from the Navy Yard depot. They reached Suffolk on Wednesday night about 11 o’clock and have had several skirmishes with detachments of the militia in the vicinity of the Cross Keys, in which several of the deluded wretches have been killed, and some taken prisoners.


   An express that arrived at Suffolk from Jerusalem, yesterday morning, reported that 64 whites had been killed and several others were missing: the Blacks in a state of confusion were closely pursued by the militia, and when overtaken shown no quarters. Among the killed are Mrs. Catherine Whitehead and 5 daughters, 1 son, and 1 grandson; Mr. Levi Walter’s (or Waller’s) family, 14 in number, himself the only one who escaped; Mr. Travis and family, 5; Mr. Williams and family, 5; Mr. Jacob Williams and family, 4; Mr. Vaughan, sister and family, 5; Mr. Barton and wife, 2; Mr. Reise and family, 2; —together with others not recollected making the above number 64.


            —The Norfolk Junior Volunteers, Lt. Com. [Lieutenant-Commander] Newton, left here yesterday for Southampton, via Suffolk, in the Steam Boat Constitution.


            —We cannot too severely reprehend the conduct of persons turning out as patrols, under present circumstances, firing guns and pistols in the streets.—It is contrary to all military usage, and calculated to excite alarm and distrust, instead of confidence in them as protectors.





   We have been obligingly furnished by a friend with the following extract from a letter received by the Southern mail this morning.


Petersburg, Aug. 23, 1831

   “The only information received since last night, is from a gentleman who came passenger in the stage from Halifax, N.C. He was informed in Hick’s Ford* that about thirty persons had been murdered. A company of between five and six hundred had been formed, and gone in pursuit of the Negroes, who had retreated into the Swamps.


   “The driver, who came about 20 miles from here, says a Mr. Harris of Southampton, was robbed of $15,000, and his son and son-in-law murdered. I cannot positively say that this information can be relied on.”


*At the point on the Meherrin River where the present town of Emporia is now located, a Captain Robert Hicks had established a trading post on the north side of the river. A settlement developed on both sides, and until about 1800 was called Hicksford. Subsequently the settlement on the north side became known as Belfield. In the late nineteenth century the two settlements were incorporated into the town of Emporia. (Letter, 4 April 1970, Mrs. Eleanor Eames.)


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