In Southampton County as a whole, slaves made up nearly half of the total population (48%). Most slaves (67.5%) in St. Luke’s Parish—the immediate neighborhood where the revolt took place—lived on farms with thirty or fewer slaves. The main crops in Southampton County were corn, cotton, and tobacco. Potatoes, plantains, peanuts, and wheat were grown in smaller quantities. Southampton County was known for its bacon, its brandy, and its cider. Enslaved people raised hogs and worked in the peach and apple orchards that proliferated throughout the county.
Black residents, free and slave, made up 59% of the county’s population in 1830. Blacks outnumbered whites by a ratio of nearly 3 to 2. That did not mean, however, that African Americans in Southampton had much control over their lives. Visitors and residents testified to the harsh conditions under which slaves, in particular, lived. Occasionally, the enslaved lashed out against whites with violence or tried to escape their situation by running away.
Testimony can be found in sources from the 1820s and 1830s about the ways slaveholders treated slaves in southeastern Virginia prior to 1831. Evidence also exists, in the form of runaway advertisements and court cases, about the ways slaves resisted that treatment. Taken together, these sources add up to a picture of what it was like to be among the enslaved in and around Southampton County during the years leading up to the rebellion.
Treatment of Slaves