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