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Suspicion of Abolitionists


As they contemplated the revolt, some white southerners asked themselves what had motivated Southampton slaves to rebel; for many, the answer was northern abolitionists, stirring up trouble among the normally contented slaves of the southern states. White southerners saw evidence to support this view in the copies of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator and David Walker’s Appeal that they were horrified to find circulating in their midst.


White Americans from the North and the South often explicitly distinguished abolitionists from the majority of white northerners. They were confident that most northern whites would happily aid southern whites in quelling slave rebellion and would join with them in condemning antislavery “fanatics.”

Overall, when white southerners placed responsibility for the Southampton rebellion on men like Garrison and Walker, they actually increased publicity for the nascent antislavery movement in the North. Southern slaveholders’ vehement diatribes against northern activists also fueled slaveholders’ growing mistrust of abolitionists, contributing to a sectional rift that would eventually split the nation apart.


National Intellligencer, September 15, 1831

New York Daily Sentinel, September 17, 1831

Governor John Floyd to J. C. Harris, September 27, 1831

Richmond Enquirer, September 27, 1831

New York Morning Courier and Enquirer, Oct 3, 1831

Letter, Benjamin Faneuil Hunt to Harrison Gray Otis, Mayor of Boston, October 4, 1831

Charleston Mercury, October 11, 1831

US Senator Robert Y. Hayne to Mayor Harrison Gray Otis, October 14, 1831

Mrs. Lewis to Mayor Otis, October 17, 1831

Niles Register, October 29, 1831

Governor John Floyd to Governor James Hamilton Jr., November 19, 1831

Background image:

Oct. 1, 1831 copy of The Liberator with Gov. Floyd's handwritten comments. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

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