Petition of Peter Edwards, November 21, 1831
To the members of the General Assembly of Virginia this petition of Peter Edwards of the County of Southampton respectfully represents that during the late insurrection of the slaves of this county three of his slaves were killed, to wit Nelson aged 33, Austin aged 22 and Jim aged 19—as will appear by the annexed affidavits from which it also appears that the said slaves were all actually engaged in open insurrection and rebellion and were destroyed by those engaged in the suppression—
Your petitioner humbly prays that due compensation may be made by an act of the legislature for the loss of property he has thus sustained—
He will not pretend to enter into a minute course of reasoning with a body as enlightened in order to demonstrate the justice of his claim.
The people of Virginia have at all times been renowned for a generous sympathy with individual sufferers and he feels assured that there is not a man among them who would not rather impose a small tax upon himself than that an innocent person should suffer such a heavy loss of property.
In [?] to former acts of the assembly in relation to such subjects it seems that [?] has been the invariable policy of the state.
As far back as the year 1691 an act was passed “for suppressing outlying slaves” in which it was made the duty of the sheriff of the county acting under a warrant from two justices of the peace to kill and destroy such as arrested ran away or refused to surrender, and allowing to the owner 4000 lbs of tobaco [sic] for each slave so destroyed.
The act making compensation to the owners of slaves tried, convicted, and condemned for capital offenses was passed many years afterwards.
Your petitioner considers the case of a slave killed in open and actual rebellion as presenting much stronger grounds for relief to the owners than either of the above—At such a time when the object of the slaves is to throw off all authority it is not to be expected that their owner can exercise any control over them or should be held responsible for their criminal acts—nor could they under such circumstances of excitement and apprehension extend protection even to such as came under suspicion of designs so destructive to society—It would be vain for the owners of slaves so destroyed to look to the individuals who destroyed them for redress. Even where they could be designated it is not to be supposed that juries would award damages against persons that they might think were acting out of a sense of duty and with a view to the public safety—Such of the slaves as were killed in pursuit your petitioner presumes were rightly slain and where the evidence of guilt was clear those that were captured armed certainly have paid at the gallows the forfeit of their crimes—It is a known and recognized rule of constitutional law that whenever private property is taken or destroyed for public use the owners are entitled to receive adequate compensation and your petitioner hopes that his case may not be made an exception to this universal and equitable rule.