New York Daily Sentinel,

September 17, 1831

 

The Sentinel, which was openly opposed to slavery, published the diary of an attorney from New York who was forced by an angry mob to leave Petersburg, Virginia, the week after the revolt.

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        August 30th (Tuesday) . . . Called on Mr. Herthorn at 12 o’clock A.M. Had a conversation on slavery. Maintained that the blacks, as men, were entitled to their freedom, and ought to be emancipated. Mr. Herthorn, his clerk, and a country doctor were the only persons present. The doctor assumed that the blacks were not men, and that they ought all to be exterminated. “The had declared war first,” he said, “let them be hunted like wild beasts.” . . . The fellow asked me “how I dared express myself as I had just done before blacks.” I told him that I had not done so, and would not do it for fear they might misunderstand me, and think I approved of their killing women and children, which I condemned as much as any man; and this, I said, was proved last Friday, when an alarm was given at 11 o’clock at night, and five hundred of them said to be coming down the Halifax road. I was one of the first to fly to arms. . . .

 

        31st (Wednesday). I was fast asleep at 6 o’clock this morning when Mr. Carter entered my bed-room, and informed me that some of the inhabitants were determined to mob me for what I had said the day before. he advised me to leave town immediately. I could scarcely credit what he was telling me, till he told me that it was a serious business—that my life was in danger, and repeated his earnest advice that I should leave Petersburg immediately. The mayor had received an anonymous letter the evening before, in which it was stated, that, although the blacks had not succeeded in their recent attempt, they would ultimately, and very soon, overcome the white population of the State of Virginia. The Mayor though I was the author of this note, which was no doubt written by one of the actors in this morning’s atrocious assault on my person.

 

        I agree to leave Petersburg at 8 o’clock. This was told to the leaders of the mob, who expressed themselves satisfied, and promised to let me depart in peace. I made my preparations, ordered the coachman of the Richmond stage to call for me, and after parting with my worthy landlord and landlady, got into the coach, which was yet to stop at Powell’s hotel, Bolingbroke Street. When we arrived there I [p. 90] saw a party of fifteen or twenty men coming down Bolingbroke Street. They looked into the coach, saw that I was there, and walked off towards the bridge leading to Richmond. I guessed their purpose, and as soon as they were at a distance I told the driver that I had forgotten something, but would be back in a few minutes. I ran to Mr. Carter’s. . . . The doors were locked, and he went out to request the assistance of the civil authorities. But these, it seems, did not think it worth their while to interfere. A mob soon assembled in the street. . . . At last the ruffians forced themselves into the house, in spite of Mr. Carter’s exertions to keep them out. . . .

 

        The drawing room was first visited by the bloodthirsty republicans! I heard Mrs. Carter exclaim, “Oh! what do you want? what are you going to do?” “Do not be alarmed, Madam, we will not hurt you.” And not finding me in the drawing room, they ascended the staircase leading to the place where I was. A little hesitation prevailed at that moment, for I heard one of them cry out, “Well! who comes with me? God damn! will none come?” As soon as they made their appearance at the foot of the stair case, I put down the musket I still held in my hand, and said, “here I willingly give up my life.” They rushed on me. One dragged me down by one arm, another took hold of me by the other arm, and a third held me behind by the collar of my coat. As they were dragging me along, a pistol was fired behind me, whether at me I cannot tell. There were about a hundred or a hundred and fifty persons in the street, as near as I could judge. I expected to be murdered before the house, but the executioners led me towards the bridge. My idea at that time was, that they intended to drown me in the river. I made several attempts to speak, and told them a few plain and severe truths, the force of which they felt, and therefore did all they could to prevent my being heard. “Do not let him speak,” was vociferated from the mob. “Knock him down if he does not hold his tongue,” was often repeated; but whenever I had an opportunity, I made my voice heard. I asked them whether this was the country in which “all men were born free and equal”—in which “the freedom of speech” was guaranteed to every one; and, also, whether this was their reward for my flying to arms, last Friday, in defence of the helpless—of their wives and of their children? . . .

 

        . . . Another altercation followed, which, fortunately for me, terminated in favor of those who were for mercy. Never can I forget a young man who stood near me with my clothes in his hands, and who strongly opposed this intended cruelty. I saw grief and compassion written in his countenance, and I am glad I had an opportunity of shaking him by the hand as he handed me my clothes. I am not sure I know his name, although I believe it to be C. C.; but never can I forget his face, nor will ever my heart cease to remember the proofs of sympathy and kindness he gave me on this occasion.

 

[p. 91]

        I was now allowed to dress, and ordered to take immediately the road to Richmond. A line was drawn with a stick, and I was told that if ever I passed that line, it would fare “worser” with me.

 

        I took my departure, scarcely believing in my escape from these Virginian brigands; and notwithstanding the soreness I felt all over my lacerated body, I walked on as fast as possible. The sun, which was on my back all the way, caused me to suffer excruciating pains. After marching 5 or 6 miles, my feet began also to feel sore, so that it was with difficulty I reached the half-way house. The landlord knew already part of my story, which had been related to him by the coachman, who drove the 8 o’clock coach. Here I learnt that a party of men, the same that passed me in Bolingbroke Street, had stopped the stage on the other side of the bridge, from Petersburg to Richmond; that they looked in, and not finding me, said, “he is not here,” and ran back towards the town.

 

        The landlord advised me not to show my wounds to any one; but I assured him, that far from being ashamed, I felt proud of them.

 

Eric Foner, editor, Nat Turner (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971), 89-91.