The Petersburg Index (Petersburg, Virginia),
October 1, 1869
“The Virginia Swamp has a historical memory clinging to it, somber as its cypress and mosses. It was the hiding place of the Nat Turner insurrectionists after their first stroke for liberty. For six weeks, to the whole south, it seemed that in those horrid recesses of nature the avenging genius of slavery crouched but for a moment before covering the land with desolation. Turner and his followers were but a dozen negroes.
“The slave system magnified the danger to the conscious deserts of its crime. Nat Turner came out of the Dismal Swamp starved at last, and was taken and hung as a monster black fiend, and history has passed him as a murderer on the gallows. If the rebellion had been successful, as it deserved, failing by no fault of his, to free his oppressed race, his monument today would not be unfinished as Washington’s.”
The above, which appeared originally in the Cincinnati Commercial, we clip from a Richmond paper, in which it was copied without a word of comment. The statements contained in it are so full of errors, that it may not be out of place, even at this late date, to correct them. The writer is mistaken in saying that “there is a historical memory clinging to it,” in connection with the Nat Turner affair. We doubt whether Nat Turner ever saw the Dismal Swamp, certainly he never reached its sheltering reeds, nor did any of his followers after the failure of his nefarious undertaking. Hence, the white South did not crouch for fear before this “avenging genius of slavery,” for six weeks, since he and his besotted companions in less time than that mentioned, had expiated their crimes on the gallows.
After the failure of this fiendish conspiracy, which included in its plan of operation the butchery of every white person in the county, Nat Turner never was able to get beyond the bounds of Southampton County. Barely a week had passed before he was found hidden a short distance from his home, in a pen of fence rails—one of his followers having betrayed his plan of concealment.
We well remember the thrill of horror which shot through the veins of the community when the news of the massacre reached our home. People stood aghast at the horrible intelligence and now, more than thirty years after the event we find a respectable journalist justifying the awful tragedy and glorifying the incarnate actors in it. Times have wonderfully changed since its occurrence, and man must have changed with them. When the schemes of an incarnate fiend, which could only have been accomplished by indiscriminately killing men, women, and children, are condemned and applauded. In the few days that this murderous band held their carnival of death, they spared neither the aged in their outrage, the young in their strength, nor the infant in his helplessness. White families were mercilessly butchered and infants were killed by dashing their brains against the walls. But so soon as the avengers got upon their track, they scattered and fled like cowardly dogs, and the insurrection was at an end.*
This wholesale murder is dignified by the Commercial as a rebellion, the authors declare it worthy of a monument—in the same breath he mentions the name of Washington.
Is the Commercial destitute of shame that it gives utterance to such sentiments? And what should be said of a Virginia journal which published such matters without a word of condemnation?