top of page

James Strange French



At the time of the uprising, James Strange French was only twenty-four yeras old. In 1825, he had attended the College of William and Mary in 1825 and the following year, University of Viriginia, where he may have shared a room with Edgar Allan Poe. He began practicing law in Southampton in 1828.


French served as the defense attorney for twenty-three slaves and one free black man tried in Southampton County on charges related to the revolt. He continued to serve as an attorney in Jerusalem after the insurrection trials, but in the mid-1830s French also began writing novels. In 1836, he published Elkswatawa; or the Prophet of the West. The plot centered on the Shawnee rebellion of 1811. In the novel, Elkswatawa convinced his wary brother Tecumseh of the merits of striking back against whites. The white protagonist was a young lawyer named Richard Rolfe, who had recently graduated from the College of William and Mary. Rolfe came to empathize with the desire of the Shawnee to lash out against whites as a result of the injustices their people had suffered.

Passages from Elkswatawa

Link to full text of the novel


Information on French from David Allmendinger, Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 274-5.

Background Image:

Drawing of Elkswatawa in Encyclopedia of United States History vol. 3 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912)

bottom of page