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Robert Montgomery Bird's diary, August 27, 1831


Born in Delaware in 1806, popular playwright Robert Montgomery Bird lived most of his life in Philadelphia. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1827, he began writing poetry and dramas. His first play, The Gladiator, opened on September 26, 1831, while Nat Turner was still in hiding.


Written before the Southampton rebellion occurred, The Gladiator coincidentally told the story of a slave revolt that had taken place in Rome in 73 B.C. When Bird began a personal diary on August 27, 1831, five days after the revolt in Southampton began, he mentioned the rebellion and recorded some of his thoughts about slave revolt in the United States.





August 27, 1831


[p. 15]

. . . If The Gladiator were produced in a slave state, the managers, players, and perhaps myself into the bargain, would be rewarded with the Penitentiary ! Happy States ! At this present moment there are 6 or 800 armed negroes marching through Southampton County, Virginia, murdering, ravishing, and burning those whom the Grace of God has made their owners – 70 killed, principally women and children. If they had but a Spartacus among them – to organize the half million of [p. 16] Virginia, the hundreds of thousands of the states, and lead them on in the Crusade of Massacre, what a blessed example might they not give to the world of the excellence of slavery ! what a field of interest to the playwriters [sic] of posterity! Some day we shall have it, and future generations will perhaps remember the horrors of Haiti as a farce compared with the tragedies of our own happy land !  The vis et amor sceleratus habend will be repaid, violence with violence, and avarice with blood. I had sooner live among bedbugs than negroes.



From Richard Harris, “A Young Dramatist’s Diary: The Secret Records of R. M. Bird, University of Pennsylvania Library Chronicle 25 (Winter 1959): 8-24.


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