National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.),
September 19, 1831
Commotion in North Carolina
The feelings of the inhabitants of Washington were much excited, on Saturday, by the reports brought by the Mail of that morning of outrages committed by the Blacks in the lower counties of North Carolina. These rumors became exaggerated in proportion to their distance from the scene of action; and, among the less informed of the geography and physical character of the country, produced great though vague alarm. Much of this was dissipated by the mail of yesterday morning; but enough yet remains to constitute a cause of deep regret and some solicitude. We publish the accounts from authentic sources which have reached us. The extract of a private letter, at the close of them, is the latest.
Raleigh, Sept. 14
Another Insurrection!—For the last twenty-four hours this City has been in a state of considerable excitement, in consequence of the reception of intelligence from such a source as leaves no doubt of its truth, that the Slaves of Duplin and Sampson counties, in this State, have risen in rebellion against the Whites, and have committed many horrid butcheries. Some accounts include New Hanover and Bladen also, but the probability as to these is not so strong. We are, as yet, entirely in the dark as to the number of the insurgents, the extent of their murders, the names of their victims, or their ultimate destination. Our town, however, has been put in a state of complete defence, for the purpose either of suppressing disturbances at home or of meeting danger from abroad.
At a meeting of the citizens held at the Court House, on Tuesday afternoon a Senior Volunteer Association was formed, composed altogether of individuals exempt from military duty, the command of which was assigned to Thomas G. Scott, Esq. Other measures of defence were also adopted, calculated to add to the security of our citizens.
An express having arrived from Johnston county, requesting a supply of ammunition, the Commissioners of the City had a meeting and immediately ordered a full supply of powder, lead, and flints, to be dispatched to Smithfield, where it is understood that the Militia of the County are embodied.
The most recent account states the number of families murdered at seventeen! We are in momentary expectation of particulars . . .
Observer Office, Fayetteville
Sept. 14, 3 P.M.
Two of the gentlemen who went from this place to Clinton on Monday night, have this moment returned; there being no danger, though the existence of the plot is clearly established. We have procured from one of them the following statement, drawn up by himself yesterday at Clinton. It is worthy of entire reliance.
On Sunday, the 4th inst. the first information of the contemplated rising of the blacks was sent from South Washington. The disclosure was made by a free mulatto man to Mr. Usher, of Washington, who sent the information to Mr. Kelly of Duplin. It appears from the mulatto’s testimony, that Dave, a slave belonging to Mr. Morissey, of Sampson, applied to him to join the conspirators; stated that the negroes in Sampson, Duplin, and New Hanover, were regularly organized and prepared to rise on the 4th of October. Dave was taken up, and on this testimony convicted. After his conviction, he made a confession of the above to his master, and, in addition, gave the names of the four principal ringleaders in Sampson and Duplin, and [p. 63] several in Wilmington, named several families which they intended to murder. Their object was to march by two routes to Wilmington, spreading destruction and murder on their way. At Wilmington they expected to be reinforced by 2000 to supply themselves with arms and ammunition, and then return. Three of the ringleaders in Duplin have been taken, and Dave and Jim executed. There are 23 negroes in jail in Duplin county, all of them no doubt concerned in the conspiracy. Several have been whipped, and some released. In Sampson 25 are in jail, all concerned directly or indirectly in the plot. The excitement among the people in Sampson is very great, and increasing; they are taking effectual measures to arrest all suspected persons. A very intelligent negro preacher named David was put on his trial today, and clearly convicted by the testimony of another negro. The people were so much enraged, that they scarcely could be prevented from shooting him on his passage from the Court house to the jail. All the confessions made induce the belief that the conspirators were well-organized, and their plans well understood in Duplin, Sampson, Wayne, New Hanover, and Lenoir. Nothing had transpired to raise even a suspicion that they extended into Cumberland or Bladen, except that Jim confessed that Nat, Col. Wright’s negro, (who has been missing since the discovery of the plot,) had gone to Bryant Wright’s, in the neighborhood of Fayetteville, to raise a company to join the conspirators. The rumors respecting a large force having been seen collected together are unfounded, though there seems no doubt but that small armed bands have been seen. I cannot believe that any danger is to be apprehended, where the citizens are so constantly on the watch, and pursue such rigorous measures toward the offenders. The militia are assembled in ample force.
The Raleigh Star of Thursday last says—“We understand that about 21 negroes have been committed to jail in Edenton, on a charge of having been concerned in concerting a project of rebellion.”
Raleigh, N.C., Sept. 15, 1831
“As promised I write again to-day, and am glad that I am able to say, that our excitement has in a great measure subsided. We learn, from Fayetteville, that there have been disturbances in Sampson and Duplin, but cannot ascertain particulars. It is now even doubtful, whether any white family has been killed, though the statement, current yesterday, that seventeen families were murdered, was communicated to the Governor by an official despatch [sic] from Gen. Whitfield of Lenoir. The Newbern state, this evening, will give us the particulars, [p. 64] we expect. In the mean time, we keep up, at night, a vigilant watch. Business has resumed its usual course, and several families of the country which flocked in here, have returned. Things look so well, that, unless some additional information is received this evening, I shall not think it necessary to write again to-morrow, but leave you to infer good news from the absence of all intelligence.
“Yesterday, every free negro in the city, without exception, was arrested, and underwent an examination before the Committee of Vigilance constituted at our town meeting. Those who could not give a satisfactory account of their mode of subsistence, were either imprisoned for the moment, or ordered to leave the place forthwith. Every kitchen in the town was diligently searched, and, I am happy to say, that nothing was found on any one, likely to bring them into trouble.”
Eric Foner, Editor, Nat Turner (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971), 61-64.