August 24, 1831
The city was thrown into some excitement yesterday in consequence of a report in circulation that there was some insurrection of negroes in the county of Southampton. We have made it our business to trace these reports and we have ascertained the following facts:
An express was despatched by Col. [Colonel] Trezvant [sic] with a short letter dated on the 21st purporting to be for the information of the public, and addressed to the Authorities of the town of Petersburg, stating that an insurrection had broken out among the blacks; that several white families had been destroyed; that arms and ammunition were wanting in Southampton; and that a considerable military force might be required to subdue the disturbers. Colonel Trezvant resides in the town of Jerusalem, in Southampton County—and it would seem that the disturbance has arisen in another part of the county, and that his general statement was forwarded on rumour, which, as in other cases, we suspect, will prove much exaggerated. The letter does not state the names of the families that are said to have been destroyed, nor the number of the blacks concerned, nor anything which can shed any light upon the character of the transaction. The letter of Col. [Colonel] Trezevant was evidently written in great haste—it required some little time to decipher it. To remove any sort of doubt of its authenticity, Mr. Gilliam of Petersburg had certified that he Col. T’s [sic] hand writing and that it was genuine.
It is reported that when this letter was received, the Petersburg Volunteers immediately put themselves in march for the scene itself.
The Recorder of the Town, upon receiving the letter despatched it to the Mayor of this City.—A new express [not the one from Southampton,] arrived in this city with the letter about 3 o’clock on Monday night. Early in the morning the Mayor put it into the hands of the Governor of the Commonwealth, who immediately convened the Council. The Lieutenant Governor, the only member in town, who advised the earliest and most efficient measures to be taken—leaving full direction to the to the Governor upon the subject. Arrangements were immediately taken by the Chief Magistrate for that purpose. Arms and ammunition were despatched in wagons to the county of Southampton. The four volunteer Companies from Petersburg, two Companies from Richmond (viz: the Cavalry and the Artillery,) one from Norfolk, and one from Portsmouth, and the Regiments of Sussex and Southampton have been ordered out. The Dragoons of this city, commanded by Captain Randolph Harrison (60 or 70 strong) set out in the evening about 5 o’clock, and will probably be on the ground by 12 o’clock. The distance is about 60 miles.
The Lafayette Artillery company, commanded by Captain Richardson, embarked last evening about 8 o’clock, in the steam boat Norfolk, and will land at Smithfield.
The intelligence has burst very unexpectedly upon us. No one has had the slightest intimation or dream of such movement. We have no doubt that the transaction has been much exaggerated; and that less mischief has been done, and less force has been gathered together, than has been rumoured, and that the range of the evil will soon be arrested. The wretches who have conceived this thing are mad—infuriated—deceived by some artful knaves, or stimulated by their own miscalculating passions. The ruin must return on their own heads—they must fall certain sacrifice to their own folly and infatuation.
It is scarcely necessary to say that everything is perfectly quiet here—all our population unusually calm—and that these rumours have not ruffled the tranquility of the city. All our care is for our brethren in Southampton; who, from some local cause or other, not explained or conjectured, have been subjected to this visitation. The authorities of the city are, however, on the alert, as they should be. No danger appears but no necessary caution will be spared—the police will be vigilant. Last night the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were out on the watch—the surveillance will be maintained until our volunteer corps are returned, and tranquility shall be restored to the infected district, if District it can be called.
--Since writing the above we understand another express has arrived (about 6 o’clock last evening). He is sent by the Mayor of Petersburg, Mr. Wallace, to the Governor. He writes for arms—these have been accordingly dispatched. He speaks of Col. [Colonel] Trezevant’s letter—and refers the Governor to Mr. Blunt, the Express, for the accounts in circulation in Petersburg.—The rumours are that seven of the blacks began with destroying a widow and family in Southampton—but the accounts of their force, designs, etc., are so vague and confused that we shall not undertake to give the “form and pressure.” It was reported that they were on their way to Belfield, in the county of Greensville, not so many miles from the borders of North Carolina. This point would locate the insurrection in the Southwest portion of the county of Southampton.
A passenger who arrived last night in the Steamboat Richmond, heard no accounts of this affair at Norfolk—nor from any of the passengers who were taken up at the several point on the river.
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.
From Henry Irving Tragle, The Southampton Slave Revolt of 1831: A Compilation of Source Material (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1971), pp. 36-38.