Petition from Women of Augusta County,
January 19, 1832
In this petition, the women of Augusta County implored the Virginia Assembly to end slavery. They cited their fears about the physical dangers slavery posed to them, to their children, and to all the people they held dear. They recalled the "slaughter" and "carnage" that had been visited on whites in Virginia during the recent insurrection.
Slave Population, 1830: 4,265 (21% of total population)
To the Hon. the General Assembly of the State of Virginia:
The memorial of the subscribing females of the County of Augusta humbly represents, that although it is unexampled, in our beloved State, that females should interfere in its political concerns, and although we feel all the timidity incident to our sex in taking this step, yet we hold our right to do so to be unquestionable and feel ourselves to be irresistibly impelled to the exercise of that right by the most potent considerations and the perilous circumstances which surround us. We pretend not to conceal from you, our fathers and brothers, our protectors by your investment with the political powers of the land, the fears, which agitate our bosoms, and the dangers which await us, as revealed by recent tragical deeds. Our fears, we admit, are great, but we do not concede that they are the result of blind and unreflecting cowardice. We do not concede that they spring from superstitious timidity of our sex. Alas! We are indeed timid, but we appeal to your manly reason, to your more mature wisdom to attest the justice, propriety, of our fears, when we call to your recollection the late slaughter of our sisters and their little ones, in certain parts of our land, and the strong probability that the slaughter was but a partial execution of a widely projected scheme of carnage. We know not, we cannot know the night, or the unguarded moment, by day or by night which is pregnant with our destruction, and that of our husbands, and brothers, and sisters, and children; but we do know that we are, at any moment exposed to the means of extinction of all that is dear to us in life. The bloody monster, which threatens us is warmed and cherished on our hearths. O hear our prayer, and remove it, ye protectors of our persons, ye guardians of our peace!
Tell us not of the labors and hardships which we shall endure when our bondservants shall be removed from us. They have no terrors for us. Those labors and hardships cannot be greater, or so great as those we now endure in providing for and ruling the faithless beings who are subjected to us. Or were they greater still they are in our esteem, less than the small dust in the balance compared with the burden of our fears and our dangers. But what have we to fear from these causes, more than the females of other countries? Are they of the East and of the West, of England and of France, more "cumbered with much serving" than we are? Are they less enlightened or less accomplished? However, we may be flattered, we will not be argued out of our senses, and persuaded into a belief, which is contradicted, by all experience, and the testimony of sober facts. Many, very many of our sisters and brothers have fled to other lands, from the evils, which we experience, and they send us back the evidences of their contentment and prosperity. They lament not their labors and hardships, but exult in their deliverance from servitude to their quondam slaves; and we too would fly—we, too, would exult in similar deliverance were our destiny otherwise ordered. That destiny is in your hands, and we implore your high agency in ordering it for the best. Do not slight our importunities. Do not disregard our fears. We desire to enjoy our exultation in this land on our nativity. Our destiny is identified with yours. If we perish, alas! What will become of you and your offspring?
We are no political economists, but our domestic employments, our engagements in rearing up the children of our husbands and brothers, our intimate concern with the intercourse and prosperity of society, we presume, cannot but inform us of the great and elementary principles of that importance science. Indeed, it is impossible that that science can have any other basis than the principles, which are constantly developing themselves to us in our domestic relations. What is a nation but a family on a large scale? Our fears teach us to reflect and reason, and our reflections and reasonings have taught us that the peace of our homes, the welfare of society, the prosperity of future generations call aloud and imperatively for some decisive and efficient measure—and that measure cannot, we believe be efficient, or of much benefit, if it have not, for its ultimate object, the extinction of slavery from amongst us. Without, therefore, entering upon a detail of facts and arguments, we implore you, by the urgency of our fears, by the love we bear you, as our fathers, and brothers, by our anxieties for the little ones around us, by our estimate of domestic weal, by present danger, by the prospects of the future, by our female virtues, by the patriotism which glows in our bosoms, by our prayers to Almighty God, not to let the powers with which you are invested lie dormant, but that you exert it for the deliverance of yourselves, of us, of the children of the land of future ages, from the direct curse that can befall a people. Signalize your legislation by this mighty deed. This we pray, and in duty bound will ever pray.
From Erik S. Root, Sons of the Fathers: The Virginia Slavery Debates of 1831–1832 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2010), 327-328.