Petition from Women of Fluvanna County,
November 24, 1831
In this petition, white women from Fluvanna County asked the Virginia Assembly to explore ways to put an end to the evils of slavery before future generations--"our daughters, and their daughters"--were put in danger of dying at the hands of slaves like Nat Turner and his men.
Slave Population, 1830: 3,795 (47% of total population)
Your memorialists have hitherto been blessed with contentment in the happy privacy of domestic retirement, where they have enjoyed peace and security, under the wise institutions of a free government; nor have they, until now, had occasion to appeal to the guardians of their country's rights, for redress of any national grievance, having shared the prosperity of their heaven-favored land, with feelings of gratitude to the Author of all good and to their natural guardians and protectors. They retain a grateful recollection of the patriotic exertions of your predecessors in office, when the land of their nativity [was in] the fetters of foreign thralldom, and the destinies of a mighty nation were involved in your deliberations as a legislative body. The spirit now animates your counsels, which then triumphed over the oppression of Great Britain, and bore us safely through the perils of unequal contest. The same wisdom pervades your deliberations, which framed for our emancipated realm, a system of laws unequalled in the universe. Under this salutary code, we have seen our sons arise to manhood, unfettered by abject restrictions, and our daughters fill their allotted stations among the honored matrons of a free land.
But, a blight now hangs over our national prospects, and a cloud dims the sunshine of domestic peace throughout our State. Our ears have heard the wailings of distress, and a mysterious dread mingled with fearful suspicion, disturbs the sacred quiet of our homes. We have heard "Rachel," as it were, "weeping for her children because they are not," and an uncontrollable sympathy with distant murmurs, quickens the throbbing of our once tranquil bosom.
We cannot conceal from ourselves that an evil is among us, which threatens to outgrow the growth and eclipse the brightness of our national blessings. A shadow deepens over the land and casts its thickest gloom upon the sacred shrine of domestic bliss, darkening over us as time advances. We reflect, with gratitude that no error in the framers of our Constitution, entailed this evil upon us. We drew the taint from the bosom that fostered us, and it has gradually mingled with the vital principle of our national existence. It can no longer remain dormant and inert in the social system, but calls [fully] for redress from the sages of our land. We are feelingly aware of the arduous difficulties of the case in question, and nothing but the fullest confidence in the wisdom and prudence of our Legislative Council, joined to a sacred trust in the God of nations, could induce us thus to intrude on the important avocations which engage your time and your attention. We feel confident of your sympathy in all real dangers, and trust that none of your revered body will impute our interference in this delicate matter, to a culpable degree of timidity; neither will you impute to us the extravagant expectation that your utmost exertions can effect an immediate removal of the evil we deplore. We are prepared to endure a large proportion of the affliction, during our brief term of existence. But, we look forward to the time, when our children's children will occupy the places, which must soon know us no more. Should your wisdom devise a method of alleviating our nation's misfortune, posterity will be indebted to you for the security of the domestic sphere. Our daughters, and their daughters, are destined to become in their turn, the tender fosterers of helpless infancy, the directors of developing childhood, and the companions of those citizens who will occupy the legislative and executive offices of their country.
Can we calmly anticipate the condition of the Southern States, at that period, should no remedy be devised to arrest the progressive miseries attendant on slavery? We shudder for the fate of our female descendants, while we endeavor to stifle the too importunate apprehensions of our own bosoms. It will be their province, as it is ours, to impose the salutary restraints of domestic discipline, and, in the absence of their lawful directors, to maintain temporary sway over the household. Can this post of duty be safely filled by a helpless female, amid the impediments arising from the increasing evils of slavery? Will the absent father's heart be at peace when, amid the hurry of public affairs, his truant thoughts return to the home of his affections, surrounded by doubtful, if not dangerous subjects, to a precarious authority? Perhaps when deeply engaged in his legislative duties, his heart may quail, and his tongue falter, with irrepressible apprehensions for the peace and safety of objects dearer than life itself.
Such will be the trials of our posterity, unless efficient measures are speedily put into operation to avert them from the unborn myriads of our native land.
We presume not to intrude our suggestions as to the method of accomplishing this stupendous undertaking, but we are content to leave the choice of measures to those on whose wisdom we can rely. It is sufficient that we are allowed the privilege of entreating our lawgivers to commence, without delay, a work, which must be slowly and gradually performed. We can only aid the mighty task by ardent outpourings of the spirit of supplication at the Throne of Grace. We will call upon the God in whom we trust, to direct your counsels by his unerring wisdom, and guide you with his effectuated spirit. We now conjure you by sacred charities of kindred, by the solemn obligations of justice, by every consideration of domestic affection and patriotic duty, to nerve every faculty of your minds to the investigation of this important subject—and let not the united voices of your mothers, wives, daughters, and kindred have sounded in your ears in vale!!
From Erik S. Root, Sons of the Fathers: The Virginia Slavery Debates of 1831–1832 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2010), 309–310.