Most Americans first learned details about the Southampton revolt through newspapers. The first reports appeared in papers published in Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg, Virginia. Newspapers beyond southeastern Virginia generally reprinted articles that appeared in these papers, which in turn had been based on letters from correspondents at the scene of the events. Thomas R. Gray, who later published the popular pamphlet The Confessions of Nat Turner, was one such correspondent, as was Theodore Trezvant, the Jerusalem postmaster and brother of Southampton magistrate Colonel James Trezvant. Colonel Trezvant himself likely also gave information to at least one local newspaper. William C. Parker, another magistrate, seems to have corresponded with another paper.
In their haste to report the news of the insurrection, however, editors often neglected to check facts, especially in the first chaotic days following the rebellion. This lack of thoroughness led initially to the publication of wildly inaccurate rumors and misinformation. Newspapers also freely exhibited editorial bias, usually omitting even the pretense of objectivity. All newspaper reports, like most of the documents surrounding the revolt, were written by whites, and usually by white southern men. Their opinions of the slave rebels shine through in the articles they printed about the revolt's progression.
"[I]t was hardly in the power of rumor itself, to exaggerate the atrocities which have been perpetrated by the insurgents: whole families, father, mother, daughters, sons, sucking babes, and school children, butchered, thrown into heaps, and left to be devoured by hogs and dogs, or to putrify on the spot."
- Richmond Whig,
August 29, 1831
More newspaper articles:
"We must caution our reader against all exaggerations.-- He ought to take every report with many grains of allowance--he will scarcely be safe if he believes a fiftieth part of what he hears."
- Richmond Compiler,
August 24, 1831