New York Daily Sentinel,
September 17, 1831
DARING OUTRAGE OF VIRGINIA SLAVITES—It becomes our duty to-day to record the particulars of an outrage more daring than any we remember to have heard of in this country, and one of more unjustifiable atrocity than any committed by the poor degraded ignorant blacks in Virginia, some of whom have been put to death, for their unsuccessful attempt to emancipate themselves.
No one laments more the occurrence of such scenes as the Southampton massacre than the writer of this paragraph, and no one is more desirous of preventing the recurrence of such scenes; but we believe that the only effectual method of preventing their recurrence is to speak the truth in relation to what has taken place, even though we are certain that it may prove unpalatable. Of what were the Southampton negroes guilty? Of putting to death men, women, and children. For what object? Plyunder? No—there is no evidence that such was their object. On the contrary, almost all the accounts concur in stating that they expected to emancipate themselves, and they no doubt thought that their only hope of doing so was to put to death, indiscriminately, the whole race of those who held them in bondage. If such were their impressions, were they not justifiable in doing so? Undoubtedly they were, if freedom is the birthright of man, as the declaration of independence tells us. If their ideas respecting their [p. 77] chance of success were absurd, and their plans chimerical, it is attributable to their ignorance. But who kept them in ignorance? Those who have suffered so dearly by its effects. Would the blacks have attempted their foolish project, if they had possessed even the mere rudiments of a common education? never. They were in a state of brutal ignorance, and however absurd or cruel were their proceedings, if their object was to obtain their freedom, those who kept them in slavery and ignorance alone are answerable for their conduct. They were deluded, but their cause was just.
Now let us look at the conduct of the slaveholders. They say the evil of slavery was entailed upon them—that they deplore its existence, and desire its removal, and so forth. We readily grant that the evil is not of their own choosing, and no one, we believe, will contend that they are responsible for it, as they found it. But have they done what they could and should do for eradicating the evil of slavery?—have they diminished the number of slaves? Have they prepared for the present generation, or made provision for preparing the next, to enjoy freedom? The answer to each of these questions involves them in guilt. The number of slaves in proportion to the number of freemen is increasing! and instead of preparing them for the enjoyment of freedom, and providing means for their gradual emancipation, Virginia—yes, the state which gave birth to the immortal Jefferson, the author of the declaration that declares that all men are born free and equal—that declaration which no slaveholder dare dispute the truth of—Virginia! at the last session of its legislature, passed a law making it penal for a slaveholder to teach his own slaves to read and write!!—
Eric Foner, editor, Nat Turner (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971), 76-77.