Governor John Floyd (Virginia) to Governor James Hamilton (South Carolina), November 19, 1831
Governor Floyd and other prominent Virginians strongly emphasized their belief that black ministers were in large part responsible for encouraging the state’s slaves to be unruly and to rebel. As a result, the first two laws in the new black codes that the Virginia General Assembly passed in March of 1832 restricted the activities of enslaved and free black preachers.
November 19, 1831
I received your letter yesterday and with great pleasure will give you my impressions freely—
I will notice this affair in my annual message, but here only give a very careless history of it, as it appeared to the public—
I am fully persuaded, the spirit of insubordination which has, and still manifests itself in Virginia, had its origin among, and eminated from, the Yankee population, upon their first arrival amongst us, but mostly especially the Yankee pedlers [sic] and traders.
The course has been by no means a direct one – they began first, by making them religious –their conversations were of that character – telling the blacks God was no respecter of persons – the black man was as good as the white – that all men were born free and equal – that they cannot serve two masters – that the white people rebelled against England to obtain their freedom, so have the blacks a right to do.
In the mean time, I am sure without any purpose of this kind, the preachers, principally Northern – were very assiduous in operating upon our population, day and night, they were at work – and religion became, and is, the fashion of the times – finally our females and of the most respectable were persuaded that it was piety to teach negroes to read and write, to the end that they might read the Scriptures – many of them became tutoresses in Sunday schools and, pious distributors of tracts, from the New York Tract Society.
At this point, more active operations commenced – our magistrates and laws became more inactive – large assemblages of negroes were suffered to take place for religious purposes – Then commenced the efforts of the black preachers, often from the pulpits these pamphlets and papers were read – followed by the incendiary publications of Walker, Garrison and Knapp of Boston, these too with songs and hymns of a similar character were circulated, read and commented upon – We resting in apathetic security until the Southampton affair.
From all that has come to my knowledge during and since this affair – I am fully convinced that every black preacher in the whole country east of the Blue Ridge was in the secret, that the plans as published by those Northern presses were adopted and acted upon by them – that their congregations, as they were called knew nothing of this intended rebellion, except a few leading and intelligent men, who may have been head men in the Church – the mass were prepared by making them aspire to an equal station by such conversations as I have related as the first step.
I am informed that they had settled the form of government to be that of white people, whom they intended to cut off to a man – with the difference that the preachers were to be their Governors, Generals and Judges. I feel fully justified to myself, in believing the Northern incendiaries, tracts, Sunday Schools, religion and reading and writing has accomplished this end.
I shall in my annual message recommend that laws be passed – To confine the Slaves to the estates of their masters – prohibit negroes from preaching – absolutely to drive from this State all free negroes – and to substitute the surplus revenue in our Treasury annually for slaves, to work for a time upon our Rail Road etc etc and these sent out of the country, preparatory, or rather as the first step to emancipation – This last point will of course be tenderly and cautiously managed and will be urged or delayed as your State and Georgia may be disposed to co-operate.
In relation to the extent of this insurrection I think it greater than will ever appear – the facts will as now considered, appear to be these – It commenced with Nat and nine others on Sunday night – two o’clock, we date it, Monday morning before day and ceased by the dispersion of the negroes on Tuesday morning at ten o’clock – During this time the negroes had murdered sixty one persons, and traversed a distance of twenty miles, and increased to about seventy slave men – they spared but one family and that one was so wretched as to be in all respects upon a par with them – all died bravely indicating no reluctance to loose [sic] their lives in such a cause.
I am Sir,
with consideration and respect
Your obt Sevnt
James Hamilton, Jr.
Governor of South Carolina