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American Negro Slavery
Slave Crime
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell


The negroes were in a strange land, coercively subjected to laws and customs far different from those of their ancestral country; and by being enslaved and set off into a separate lowly caste they were largely deprived of that incentive to conformity which under normal conditions the hope of individual advancement so strongly gives. It was quite to be expected that their conduct in general would be widely different from that of the whites who were citizens and proprietors. The natural amenability of the blacks, however, had been a decisive factor in their initial enslavement, and the reckoning which their captors and rulers made of this was on the whole well founded. Their lawbreaking had few distinctive characteristics, and gave no special concern to the public except as regards rape and revolt.

Records of offenses by slaves are scant because on the one hand they were commonly tried by somewhat informal courts whose records are scattered and often lost, and on the other hand they were generally given sentences of whipping, death or deportation, which kept their names out of the penitentiary lists. One errs, however, in assuming a dearth of serious infractions on their part and explaining it by saying, "under a strict slave régime there can scarcely be such a thing as crime";[1] for investigation reveals crime in abundance. A fairly typical record in the premises is that of Baldwin County, Georgia, in which the following trials of slaves for felonies between 1812 and 1832 are recounted: in 1812 Major was convicted of rape and sentenced to be hanged. In 1815 Fannie Micklejohn, charged with the murder of an infant was acquitted; and Tom, convicted of murdering a fellow slave was sentenced to branding on each cheek with the letter M and to thirty-nine lashes on his bare back on each of three successive days, after which he was to be discharged. In 1816 John, a slave of William McGeehee, convicted of the theft of a $100 bill was sentenced to whipping in similar fashion. In 1818 Aleck was found guilty of an assault with intent to murder, and received sentence of fifty lashes on three days in succession. In 1819 Rodney was capitally sentenced for arson. In 1821 Peter, charged with murdering a slave, was convicted of manslaughter and ordered to be branded with M on the right cheek and to be given the customary three times thirty-nine lashes; and Edmund, charged with involuntary manslaughter, was dismissed on the ground that the court had no cognizance of such offense. In 1822 Davis was convicted of assault upon a white person with intent to kill, but his sentence is not recorded. In or about the same year John, a slave of William Robertson, convicted of burglary but recommended to mercy, was sentenced to be branded with T on the right cheek and to receive three times thirty-nine lashes; and on the same day the same slave was sentenced to death for assault upon a white man with intent to kill. In 1825 John Ponder's George when convicted of burglary was recommended by the jury to the mercy of the court but received sentence of death nevertheless; and Stephen was sentenced likewise for murderous assault upon a white man. In 1826 Elleck, charged with assault with intent of murder and rape, was convicted on the first part of the charge only, but received sentence of death. In 1828 Elizabeth Smith's George was acquitted of larceny from the house; and next year Caroline was likewise acquitted on a charge of maiming a white person. Finally, in 1832 Martin, upon pleading guilty to a charge of murderous assault, was given a whipping sentence of the customary thirty-nine lashes on three successive days.[2]
[Footnote 1: W.E.B. DuBois, in the Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science, XVIII, 132.]

[Footnote 2: "Record of the Proceedings of the Inferior Court of Baldwin County on the Trials of Slaves charged with capital Offences." MS. in the court house at Milledgeville. The record is summarized in Ac American Historical Association Report for 1903, I, 462-464, and in Plantation and Frontier, II, 123-125.]
A few negro felonies, indeed, resulted directly from the pressure of slave circumstance. A gruesome instance occurred in 1864 in the same county as the foregoing. A young slave woman, Becky by name, had given pregnancy as the reason for a continued slackness in her work. Her master became skeptical and gave notice that she was to be examined and might expect the whip in case her excuse were not substantiated. Two days afterward a negro midwife announced that Becky's baby had been born; but at the same time a neighboring planter began search for a child nine months old which was missing from his quarter. This child was found in Becky's cabin, with its two teeth pulled and the tip of its navel cut off. It died; and Becky, charged with murder but convicted only of manslaughter, was sentenced to receive two hundred lashes in instalments of twenty-five at intervals of four days.[3] Some other deeds done by slaves were crimes only because the law declared them to be such when committed by persons of that class. The striking of white persons and the administering of medicine to them are examples. But in general the felonies for which they were convicted were of sorts which the law described as criminal regardless of the status of the perpetrators.
[Footnote 3: Confederate Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Mch. 1, 1864.]
In a West Indian colony and in a Northern state glimpses of the volume of criminality, though not of its quality, may be drawn from the fact that in the years from 1792 to 1802 the Jamaican government deported 271 slave convicts at a cost of £15,538 for the compensation of their masters,[4] and that in 1816 some forty such were deported from New York to New Orleans, much to the disquiet of the Louisiana authorities.[5] As for the South, state-wide statistical views with any approach to adequacy are available for two commonwealths only. That of Louisiana is due to the fact that the laws and courts there gave sentences of imprisonment with considerable impartiality to malefactors of both races and conditions. In its penitentiary report at the end of 1860, for example, the list of inmates comprised 96 slaves along with 236 whites and 11 free colored. All the slaves but fourteen were males, and all but thirteen were serving life terms.[6] Classed by crimes, 12 of them had been sentenced for arson, 3 for burglary or housebreaking, 28 for murder, 4 for manslaughter, 4 for poisoning, 5 for attempts to poison, 7 for assault with intent to kill, 2 for stabbing, 3 for shooting, 20 for striking or wounding a white person, 1 for wounding a child, 4 for attempts to rape, and 3 for insurrection.[7] This catalogue is notable for its omissions as well as for its content. While there were four white inmates of the prison who stood convicted of rape, there were no negroes who had accomplished that crime. Likewise as compared with 52 whites and 4 free negroes serving terms for larceny, there were no slave prisoners in that category. Doubtless on the one hand the negro rapists had been promptly put to death, and on the other hand the slaves committing mere theft had been let off with whippings. Furthermore there were no slaves committed for counterfeiting or forgery, horse stealing, slave stealing or aiding slaves to escape.
[Footnote 4: Royal Gazette (Kingston, Jamaica), Jan. 29, 1803.]

[Footnote 5: Message of Governor Claiborne in the Journal of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 3d legislature, 1st session, p, 22. For this note I am indebted to Mr. V.A. Moody.]

[Footnote 6: Under an act of 1854, effective at this time, the owner of any slave executed or imprisoned was to receive indemnity from the state to the extent of two-thirds of the slave's appraised value.]

[Footnote 7: Report of the Board of Control of the Louisiana Penitentiary, January, 1861 (Baton Rouge, 1861). Among the 22 pardoned in 1860 were 2 slaves who had been sentenced for murder, 2 for arson, and 1 for assault with intent to kill.]
The uniquely full view which may be had of the trend of serious crimes among the Virginia slaves is due to the preservation of vouchers filed in pursuance of a law of that state which for many decades required appraisal and payment by the public for all slaves capitally convicted and sentenced to death or deportation. The file extends virtually from 1780 to 1864, except for a gap of three years in the late 1850's.[8] The volume of crime rose gradually decade by decade to a maximum of 242 in the 1820's, and tended to decline slowly thereafter. The gross number of convictions was 1,418, all but 91 of which were of males. For arson there were 90 slaves convicted, including 29 women. For burglary there were 257, with but one woman among them. The highway robbers numbered 15, the horse thieves 20, and the thieves of other sorts falling within the purview of the vouchers 24, with no women in these categories. It would be interesting to know how the slaves who stole horses expected to keep them undiscovered, but this the vouchers fail to tell.
[Footnote 8: The MS. vouchers are among the archives in the Virginia State Library. They have been statistically analyzed by the present writer, substantially as here follows, in the American Historical Review, XX, 336-340.]
For murder there were 346, discriminated as having been committed upon the master 56, the mistress 11, the overseer 11; upon other white persons 120; upon free negroes 7; upon slaves 85, including 12 children all of whom were killed by their own mothers; and upon persons not described 60. Of the murderers 307 were men and 39 women. For poisoning and attempts to poison, including the administering of ground glass, 40 men and 16 women were convicted, and there were also convictions of one man and one woman for administering medicine to white persons. For miscellaneous assault there were 111 sentences recorded, all but eight of which were laid upon male offenders and only two of which were described as having been directed against colored victims.

For rape there were 73 convictions, and for attempts at rape 32. This total of 105 cases was quite evenly distributed in the tale of years; but the territorial distribution was notably less in the long settled Tidewater district than in the newer Piedmont and Shenandoah. The trend of slave crime of most other sorts, however, ran squarely counter to this; and its notably heavier prevalence in the lowlands gives countenance to the contemporary Southern belief that the presence of numerous free negroes among them increased the criminal proclivities of the slaves. In at least two cases the victims of rape were white children; and in two others, if one be included in which the conviction was strangely of mere "suspicion of rape," they were free mulatto women. That no slave women were mentioned among the victims is of course far from proving that these were never violated, for such offenses appear to have been left largely to the private cognizance of the masters.[9] A Delaware instance of the sort attained record through an offer of reward for the capture of a slave who had run away after being punished.
[Footnote 9: Elkton (Md.) Press, July 19, 1828, advertisement, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 122.]
For insurrection or conspiracy 91 slaves were convicted, 36 of them in Henrico County in 1800 for participation in Gabriel's revolt, 17 in 1831, mainly in Southampton County as followers of Nat Turner, and the rest mostly scattering. Among miscellaneous and unclassified cases there was one slave convicted of forgery, another of causing the printing of anti-slavery writings, and 301 sentenced without definite specification of their crimes. Among the vouchers furthermore are incidental records of the killing of a slave in 1788 who had been proclaimed an outlaw, and of the purchase and manumission by the commonwealth of Tom and Pharaoh in 1801 for services connected with the suppression of Gabriel's revolt.

As to punishments, the vouchers of the eighteenth century are largely silent, though one of them contains the only unusual sentence to be found in the whole file. This directed that the head of a slave who had murdered a fellow slave be cut off and stuck on a pole at the forks of the road. In the nineteenth century only about one-third of the vouchers record execution. The rest give record of transportation whether under the original sentences or upon commutation by the governor, except for the cases which from 1859 to 1863 were more numerous than any others where the commutations were to labor on the public works.

The statistics of rape in Virginia, and the Georgia cases already given, refute the oft-asserted Southern tradition that negroes never violated white women before slavery was abolished. Other scattering examples may be drawn from contemporary newspapers. One of these occurred at Worcester, Massachusetts in 1768.[10] Upon conviction the negro was condemned to death, although a white man at the same time found guilty of an attempt at rape was sentenced merely to sit upon the gallows. In Georgia the governor issued a proclamation in 1811 offering reward for the capture of Jess, a slave who had ravished the wife of a citizen of Jones County;[11] and in 1844 a jury in Habersham County, after testimony by the victim and others, found a slave named Dave guilty of rape upon Hester An Dobbs, "a free white female in the peace of God and state of Georgia," and the criminal was duly hanged by the sheriff.[12] In Alabama in 1827 a negro was convicted of rape at Tuscaloosa,[13] and another in Washington County confessed after capture that while a runaway he had met Miss Winnie Caller, taken her from her horse, dragged her into the woods and butchered her "with circumstances too horrible to relate";[14] and at Mobile in 1849 a slave named Ben was sentenced to death for an attempt at rape upon a white woman.[15] In Rapides Parish, Louisiana, in 1842, a young girl was dragged into the woods, beaten and violated. Her injuries caused her death next day. The criminal had been caught when the report went to press.[16]
[Footnote 10: Boston Chronicle, Sept. 26, 1768, confirmed by a contemporary broadside: "The Life and Dying Speech of Arthur, a Negro Man who was executed at Worcester, October 20, 1786, for a rape committed on the body of one Deborah Metcalfe" (Boston, 1768).]

[Footnote 11: Augusta Chronicle, Mch. 29, 1811.]

[Footnote 12: American Historical Association Report for 1904, pp. 579, 580.]

[Footnote 13: Charleston Observer, Nov. 24, 1827.]

[Footnote 14: Ibid., Nov. 10, 1827.]

[Footnote 15: New Orleans Delta, June 23, 1849.]

[Footnote 16: New Orleans Bee, Sept. 27, 1842, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 121, 122.]
Other examples will show that lynchings were not altogether lacking in those days in sequel to such crimes. Near the village of Gallatin, Mississippi, in 1843, two slave men entered a farmer's house in his absence and after having gotten liquor from his wife by threats, "they forcibly took from her arms the infant babe and rudely throwing it upon the floor, they threw her down, and while one of them accomplished the fiendish design of a ravisher the other, pointing the muzzle of a loaded gun at her head, said he would blow out her brains if she resisted or made any noise." The miscreants then loaded a horse with plunder from the house and made off, but they were shortly caught by pursuing citizens and hanged. The local editor said on his own score when recounting the episode: "We have ever been and now are opposed to any kind of punishment being administered under the statutes of Judge Lynch; but ... a due regard for candor and the preservation of all that is held most sacred and all that is most dear to man in the domestic circles of life impels us to acknowledge the fact that if the perpetrators of this excessively revolting crime had been burned alive, as was at first decreed, their fate would have been too good for such diabolical and inhuman wretches."[17]
[Footnote 17: Gallatin, Miss., Signal, Feb. 27, 1843, reprinted in the Louisiana Courier (New Orleans), Mch. 1, 1843.]
An editorial in the Sentinel of Columbus, Georgia, described and discussed a local occurrence of August 12, 1851,[18] in a different tone:
[Footnote 18: Columbus Sentinel, reprinted in the Augusta Chronicle, Aug. 17, 1851. This item, which is notable in more than one regard, was kindly furnished by Prof. R.P. Brooks of the University of Georgia.]
"Our community has just been made to witness the most high-handed and humiliating act of violence that it has ever been our duty to chronicle.... At the May term of the Superior Court a negro man was tried and condemned on the charge of having attempted to commit rape upon a little white girl in this county. His trial was a fair one, his counsel was the best our bar afforded, his jury was one of the most intelligent that sat upon the criminal side of our court, and on patient and honest hearing he was found guilty and sentenced to be hung on Tuesday, the 12th inst. This, by the way, was the second conviction. The negro had been tried and convicted before, but his counsel had moved and obtained a new trial, which we have seen resulted like the first in a conviction.

"Notwithstanding his conviction, it was believed by some that the negro was innocent. Those who believed him innocent, in a spirit of mercy, undertook a short time since to procure his pardon; and a petition to that effect was circulated among our citizens and, we believe, very numerously signed. This we think was a great error.... It is dangerous for the people to undertake to meddle with the majesty of the jury trial; and strange as it may sound to some people, we regard the unfortunate denouement of this case as but the extreme exemplification of the very principle which actuated those who originated this petition. Each proceeded from a spirit of discontent with the decisions of the authorized tribunals; the difference being that in the one case peaceful means were used for the accomplishment of mistaken mercy, and in the other violence was resorted to for the attainment of mistaken justice.

"The petition was sent to Governor Towns, and on Monday evening last the messenger returned with a full and free pardon to the criminal. In the meantime the people had begun to flock in from the country to witness the execution; and when it was announced that a pardon had been received, the excitement which immediately pervaded the streets was indescribable. Monday night passed without any important demonstration. Tuesday morning the crowd in the streets increased, and the excitement with it. A large and excited multitude gathered early in the morning at the market house, and after numerous violent harangues a leader was chosen, and resolutions passed to the effect that the mob should demand the prisoner at four o'clock in the afternoon, and if he should not be given up he was to be taken by force and executed. After this decision the mob dispersed, and early in the afternoon, upon the ringing of the market bell, it reassembled and proceeded to the jail. The sheriff of the county of course refused to surrender the negro, when he was overpowered, the prison doors broken open, and the unfortunate culprit dragged forth and hung.

"These are the facts, briefly and we believe accurately, stated. We do not feel now inclined to comment upon them. We leave them to the public, praying in behalf of our injured community all the charity which can be extended to an act so outraging, so unpardonable."

A similar occurrence in Sumter County, Alabama, in 1855 was reported with no expression of regret. A negro who had raped and murdered a young girl there was brought before the superior court in regular session. "When the case was called for trial a motion for change of venue to the county of Greene was granted. This so exasperated the citizens of Sumter (many of whom were in favor of summary punishment in the outset) that a large number of them collected on the 23d. ult., took him out of prison, chained him to a stake on the very spot where the murder was committed, and in the presence of two or three thousand negroes and a large number of white people,[19] burned him alive." This mention of negroes in attendance is in sharp contrast with their palpable absence on similar occasions in later decades. They were present, of course, as at legal executions, by the command of their masters to receive a lesson of deterrence. The wisdom of this policy, however, had already been gravely questioned. A Louisiana editor, for example, had written in comment upon a local hanging: "The practice of sending slaves to witness the execution of their fellows as a terror to them has many advocates, but we are inclined to doubt its efficacy. We took particular pains to notice on this occasion the effects which this horrid spectacle would produce on their minds, and our observation taught us that while a very few turned with loathing from the scene, a large majority manifested that levity and curiosity superinduced by witnessing a monkey show."[20]
[Footnote 19: Southern Banner (Athens, Ga.), June 21, 1855.]

[Footnote 20: Caddo Gazette, quoted in the New Orleans Bee, April 5, 1845.]
For another case of lynching, which occurred in White County, Tennessee, in 1858, there is available merely the court record of a suit brought by the owners of the slave to recover pecuniary damages from those who had lynched him. It is incidentally recited, with strong reprehension by the court, that the negro was in legal custody under a charge of rape and murder when certain citizens, part of whom had signed a written agreement to "stand by each other," broke into the jail and hanged the prisoner.[21]
[Footnote 21: Head's Tennessee Reports, I, 336. For lynchings prompted by other crimes than rape see below, p. 474, footnote 60.]
In general the slaveholding South learned of crimes by individual negroes with considerable equanimity. It was the news or suspicion of concerted action by them which alone caused widespread alarm and uneasiness. That actual deeds of rebellion by small groups were fairly common is suggested by the numerous slaves convicted of murdering their masters and overseers in Virginia, as well as by chance items from other quarters. Thus in 1797 a planter in Screven County, Georgia, who had recently bought a batch of newly imported Africans was set upon and killed by them, and his wife's escape was made possible only by the loyalty of two other slaves.[22] Likewise in Bullitt County, Kentucky, in 1844, when a Mr. Stewart threatened one of his slaves, that one and two others turned upon him and beat him to death;[23] and in Arkansas in 1845 an overseer who was attacked under similar circumstances saved his life only with the aid of several neighbors and through the use of powder and ball.[24] Such episodes were likely to grow as the reports of them flew over the countryside. For instance in 1856 when an unruly slave on a plantation shortly below New Orleans upon being threatened with punishment seized an axe and was thereupon shot by his overseer, the rumor of an insurrection quickly ran to and through the city.[25]
[Footnote 22: Columbian Museum and Savannah Advertiser (Savannah, Ga.), Feb. 24, 1797.]

[Footnote 23: Paducah Kentuckian, quoted in the New Orleans Bee, Apr. 3, 1844.]

[Footnote 24: New Orleans Bee, Aug. 1, 1845, citing the Arkansas Southern Shield.]

[Footnote 25: New Orleans Daily Tropic, Feb. 16, 1846.]
If all such rumors as this, many of which had equally slight basis, were assembled, the catalogue would reach formidable dimensions. A large number doubtless escaped record, for the newspapers esteemed them "a delicate subject to touch";[26] and many of those which were recorded, we may be sure, have not come to the investigator's notice. A survey of the revolts and conspiracies and the rumors of such must nevertheless be attempted; for their influence upon public thought and policy, at least from time to time, was powerful.
[Footnote 26: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 23, 1856, editorial.]
Early revolts were of course mainly in the West Indies, for these were long the chief plantation colonies. No more than twenty years after the first blacks were brought to Hispaniola a score of Joloff negroes on the plantation of Diego Columbus rose in 1622 and were joined by a like number from other estates, to carry death and desolation in their path until they were all cut down or captured.[27] In the English islands precedents of conspiracy were set before the blacks became appreciably numerous. A plot among the white indentured servants in Barbados in 1634 was betrayed and the ringleader executed;[28] and another on a larger scale in 1649 had a similar end.[29] Incoming negroes appear not to have taken a similar course until 1675 when a plot among them was betrayed by one of their number. The governor promptly appointed captains to raise companies, as a contemporary wrote,[30] "for repressing the rebels, which accordingly was done, and abundance taken and apprehended and since put to death, and the rest kept in a more stricter manner." This quietude continued only until 1692 when three negroes were seized on charge of conspiracy. One of these, on promise of pardon, admitted the existence of the plot and his own participation therein. The two others were condemned "to be hung in chains on a gibbet till they were starved to death, and their bodies to be burned." These endured the torture "for four days without making any confession, but then gave in and promised to confess on promise of life. One was accordingly taken down on the day following. The other did not survive." The tale as then gathered told that the slaves already pledged were enough to form six regiments, and that arrangements were on foot for the seizure of the forts and arsenal through bribery among their custodians. The governor when reporting these disclosures expressed the hope that the severe punishment of the leaders, together with a new act offering freedom as reward to future informers, would make the colony secure.[31] There seems to have been no actual revolt of serious dimensions in Barbados except in 1816 when the blacks rose in great mass and burned more than sixty plantations, as well as killing all the whites they could catch, before troops arrived from neighboring islands and suppressed them.[32]
[Footnote 27: J.A. Saco, Esclavitud en el Nuevo Mondo (Barcelona, 1879), pp. 131-133.]

[Footnote 28: Maryland Historical Society Fund Publications, XXXV.]

[Footnote 29: Richard Ligon, History of Barbados (London, 1657).]

[Footnote 30: Charles Lincoln ed., Narratives of the Indian Wars, 1675-1699 (New York, 1913), pp. 71, 72.]

[Footnote 31: Calendar of State Papers, America and West Indies, 1689-1692, pp. 732-734.]

[Footnote 32: Louisiana Gazette (New Orleans), June 17, 1816.]
In Jamaica a small outbreak in 1677[33] was followed by another, in Clarendon Parish, in 1690. When these latter insurgents were routed by the whites, part of them, largely Coromantees it appears, fled to the nearby mountain fastnesses where, under the chieftainship of Cudjoe, they became securely established as a community of marooned freemen. Welcoming runaway slaves and living partly from depredations, they made themselves so troublesome to the countryside that in 1733 the colonial government built forts at the mouths of the Clarendon defiles and sent expeditions against the Maroon villages. Cudjoe thereupon shifted his tribe to a new and better buttressed vale in Trelawney Parish, whither after five years more spent in forays and reprisals the Jamaican authorities sent overtures for peace. The resulting treaty, signed in 1738, gave recognition to the Maroons, assigned them lands and rights of hunting, travel and trade, pledged them to render up runaway slaves and criminals in future, and provided for the residence of an agent of the island government among the Maroons as their superintendent. Under these terms peace prevailed for more than half a century, while the Maroon population increased from 600 to 1400 souls. At length Major James, to whom these blacks were warmly attached, was replaced as superintendent by Captain Craskell whom they disliked and shortly expelled. Tumults and forays now ensued, in 1795, the effect of which upon the sentiment of the whites was made stronger by the calamitous occurrences in San Domingo. Negotiations for a fresh accommodation fell through, whereupon a conquest was undertaken by a joint force of British troops, Jamaican militia and free colored auxiliaries. The prowess of the Maroons and the ruggedness of their district held all these at bay, however, until a body of Spanish hunters with trained dogs was brought in from Cuba. The Maroons, conquered more by fright than by force, now surrendered, whereupon they were transported first to Nova Scotia and thence at the end of the century to the British protectorate in Sierra Leone.[34] Other Jamaican troubles of some note were a revolt in St. Mary's Parish in 1765,[35] and a more general one in 1832 in which property of an estimated value of $1,800,000 was destroyed before the rebellion was put down at a cost of some $700,000 more.[36] There were troubles likewise in various other colonies, as with insurgents in Antigua in 1701[37] and[38] 1736 and Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1752;[39] with maroons in Grenada in 1765,[40] Dominica in 1785[41] and Demarara in[42] 1794; and with conspirators in Cuba in 1825[43] and St. Croix[44] and Porto Rico in 1848.[45]
[Footnote 33: Calendar of State Papers, America and West Indies, 1689-1692, p. 101.]

[Footnote 34: R.C. Dallas, History of the Maroons (London, 1803).]

[Footnote 35: Gentleman's Magazine, XXXVI, 135.]

[Footnote 36: Niles' Register, XLIV, 124.]

[Footnote 37: Calendar of State Papers, America and West Indies, 1701, pp. 721, 722.]

[Footnote 38: South Carolina Gazette (Charleston), Jan. 29, 1837.]

[Footnote 39: Gentleman's Magazine, XXII, 477.]

[Footnote 40: Ibid., XXXV, 533.]

[Footnote 41: Charleston, S.C., Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Jan. 26, 1786.]

[Footnote 42: Henry Bolinbroke, Voyage to the Demerary (Philadelphia, 1813), pp. 200-203.]

[Footnote 43: Louisiana Gazette, Oct. 12, 1825.]

[Footnote 44: New Orleans Bee, Aug. 7, 1848.]

[Footnote 45: Ibid., Aug. 16 and Dec. 15, 1848.]
Everything else of such nature, however, was eclipsed by the prodigious upheaval in San Domingo consequent upon the French Revolution. Under the flag of France the western end of that island had been converted in the course of the eighteenth century from a nest of buccaneers into the most thriving of plantation colonies. By 1788 it contained some 28,000 white settlers, 22,000 free negroes and mulattoes, and 405,000 slaves. It had nearly eight hundred sugar estates, many of them on a huge scale. The soil was so fertile and the climate so favorable that on many fields the sugar-cane would grow perennially from the same roots almost without end. Exports of coffee and cotton were considerable, of sugar and molasses enormous; and the volume was still rapidly swelling by reason of the great annual importations of African slaves. The colony was by far the most valued of the French overseas possessions.

Some of the whites were descendants of the original freebooters, and retained the temperament of their forbears; others were immigrant fortune seekers. The white women were less than half as numerous as the men, and black or yellow concubines were common substitutes for wives. The colony was the French equivalent of Jamaica, but more prosperous and more self-willed and self-indulgent. Its whites were impatient of outside control, and resolute that the slaves be ruled with iron hand and that the colored freemen be kept passive.

A plentiful discontent with bureaucracy and commercial restraint under the old régime caused the planters to welcome the early news of reform projects in France and to demand representation in the coming States General. But the rapid progress of radical republicanism in that assembly threw most of these into a royalist reaction, though the poorer whites tended still to endorse the Revolution. But now the agitations of the Amis des Noirs at Paris dismayed all the white islanders, while on the other hand the National Assembly's "Declaration of the Rights of Man," together with its decrees granting political equality in somewhat ambiguous form to free persons of color, prompted risings in 1791 among the colored freemen in the northern part of the colony and among the slaves in the center and south. When reports of these reached Paris, the new Legislative Assembly revoked the former measures by a decree of September 24, 1791, transferring all control over negro status to the colonial assemblies. Upon receiving news of this the mulattoes and blacks, with the courage of despair, spread ruin in every district. The whites, driven into the few fortified places, begged succor from France; but the Jacobins, who were now in control at Paris, had a programme of their own. By a decree of April 4, 1792, the Legislative Assembly granted full political equality to colored freemen and provided for the dispatch of Republican commissioners to establish the new régime. The administration of the colony by these functionaries was a travesty. Most of the surviving whites emigrated to Cuba and the American continent, carrying such of their slaves as they could command. The free colored people, who at first welcomed the commissioners, unexpectedly turned against them because of a decree of August 29, 1793, abolishing slavery.

At this juncture Great Britain, then at war with the French Republic, intervened by sending an army to capture the colony. Most of the colored freemen and the remaining whites rallied to the flag of these invaders; but the slaves, now commanded by the famous Toussaint L'Ouverture, resisted them effectually, while yellow fever decimated their ranks and paralyzed their energies. By 1795 the two colored elements, the mulattoes who had improvised a government on a slaveholding basis in the south, and the negroes who dominated the north, each had the other alone as an active enemy; and by the close of the century the mulattoes were either destroyed or driven into exile; and Toussaint, while still acknowledging a nominal allegiance to France, was virtual monarch of San Domingo. The peace of Amiens at length permitted Bonaparte to send an army against the "Black Napoleon." Toussaint soon capitulated, and in violation of the amnesty granted him was sent to his death in a French dungeon. But pestilence again aided the blacks, and the war was still raging when the breach of the peace in Europe brought a British squadron to blockade and capture the remnant of the French army. The new black leader, Dessalines, now proclaimed the colony's independence, renaming it Hayti, and in 1804 he crowned himself emperor. In the following year any further conflict with the local whites was obviated by the systematic massacre of their small residue. In the other French islands the developments, while on a much smaller scale, were analogous.[46]
[Footnote 46: T. Lothrop Stoddard, The French Revolution in San Domingo (Boston, 1914).]
In the Northern colonies the only signal disturbances were those of 1712 and 1741 at New York, both of which were more notable for the frenzy of the public than for the formidableness of the menace. Anxiety had been recurrent among the whites, particularly since the founding of a mission school by Elias Neau in 1704 as an agent of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The plot was brewed by some Coromantee and Paw Paw negroes who had procured the services of a conjuror to make them invulnerable; and it may have been joined by several Spanish or Portuguese Indians or mestizoes who had been captured at sea and unwarrantably, as they contended, reduced to slavery. The rebels to the number of twenty-three provided themselves with guns, hatchets, knives and swords, and chose the dark of the moon in the small hours of an April night to set a house afire and slaughter the citizens as they flocked thither. But their gunfire caused the governor to send soldiers from the Battery with such speed that only nine whites had been killed and several others wounded when the plotters were routed. Six of these killed themselves to escape capture; but when the woods were beaten and the town searched next day and an emergency court sat upon the cases, more captives were capitally sentenced than the whole conspiracy had comprised. The prosecuting officer, indeed, hounded one of the prisoners through three trials, to win a final conviction after two acquittals. The maxim that no one may twice be put in jeopardy for the same offense evidently did not apply to slaves in that colony. Of those convicted one was broken on the wheel, another hanged alive in chains; nineteen more were executed on the gallows or at the stake, one of these being sentenced "to be burned with a slow fire, that he may continue in torment for eight or ten hours and continue burning in said fire until he be dead and consumed to ashes"; and several others were saved only by the royal governor's reprieve and the queen's eventual pardon. Such animosity was exhibited by the citizens toward the "catechetical school" that for some time its teacher hardly dared show himself on the streets. The furor gradually subsided, however, and Mr. Neau continued his work for a dozen years longer, and others carried it on after his death.[47]
[Footnote 47: E.B. O'Callaghan ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, V, 341, 342, 346, 356, 357, 371; New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, XXI, 162, 163; New Orleans Daily Delta, April 1, 1849; J.A. Doyle, English Colonies in America (New York, 1907), V, pp. 258, 259.]
The commotion of 1741 was a panic among the whites of high and low degree, prompted in sequel to a robbery and a series of fires by the disclosures of Mary Burton, a young white servant concerning her master John Hughson, and the confessions of Margaret Kerry, a young white woman of many aliases but most commonly called Peggy, who was an inmate of Hughson's disreputable house and a prostitute to negro slaves. When Mary testified under duress that Hughson was not only a habitual recipient of stolen goods from the negroes but was the head of a conspiracy among them which had already effected the burning of many houses and was planning a general revolt, the supreme court of the colony began a labor of some six months' duration in bringing the alleged plot to light and punishing the alleged plotters.[48] Hughson and his wife and the infamous Peggy were promptly hanged, and likewise John Ury who was convicted of being a Catholic priest as well as a conspirator; and twenty-nine negroes were sent with similar speed either to the gallows or the stake, while eighty others were deported. Some of the slaves made confessions after conviction in the hope of saving their lives; and these, dubious as they were, furnished the chief corroborations of detail which the increasingly fluent testimony of Mary Burton received. Some of the confessions, however, were of no avail to those who made them. Quack and Cuffee, for example, terror-stricken at the stake, made somewhat stereotyped revelations; but the desire of the officials to stay the execution with a view to definite reprieve was thwarted by their fear of tumult by the throng of resentful spectators. After a staggering number of sentences had been executed the star witness raised doubts against herself by her endless implications, "for as matters were then likely to turn out there was no guessing where or when there would be an end of impeachments."[49] At length she named as cognizant of the plot several persons "of known credit, fortune and reputations, and of religious principles superior to a suspicion of being concerned in such detestable practices; at which the judges were very much astonished."[50] This farcical extreme at length persuaded even the obsessed magistrates to stop the tragic proceedings.
[Footnote 48: Daniel Horsmanden, one of the magistrates who sat in these trials, published in 1744 the Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy formed by some white people in conjunction with negro and other slaves for burning the city of New York in America, and murdering the Inhabitants; and this, reprinted under the title, The New York Conspiracy, or a History of the Negro Plot (New York, 1810), is the chief source of knowledge in the premises. See also the contemporary letters of Lieutenant-Governor Clarke in E.B. O'Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York, VI, 186, 197, 198, 201-203.]

[Footnote 49: Ibid., pp. 96-100.]

[Footnote 50: Ibid., pp. 370-372.]
In New Jersey in 1734 a slave at Raritan when jailed for drunkenness and insolence professed to reveal a plot for insurrection, whereupon he and a fellow slave were capitally convicted. One of them escaped before execution, but the other was hanged.[51] In Pennsylvania as late as 1803 a negro plot at York was detected after nearly a dozen houses had been burnt and half as many attempts had been made to cause a general conflagration. Many negroes were arrested; others outside made preparations to release them by force; and for several days a reign of terror prevailed. Upon the restoration of quiet, twenty of the prisoners were punished for arson.[52]
[Footnote 51: MS. transcript in the New York Public Library from the New York Gazette, Mch. 18, 1734.]

[Footnote 52: E.R. Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania, pp. 152, 153.]
In the Southern colonies there were no outbreaks in the seventeenth century and but two discoveries of plots, it seems, both in Virginia. The first of these, 1663, in which indented white servants and negro slaves in Gloucester County were said to be jointly involved, was betrayed by one of the servants. The colonial assembly showed its gratification not only by freeing the informer and giving him five thousand pounds of tobacco but by resolving in commemoration of "so transcendant a favour as the preserving all we have from so utter ruin," "that the 13th. of September be annually kept holy, being the day those villains intended to put the plot in execution."[53] The other plot, of slaves alone, in the "Northern Neck" of the colony in 1687, appears to have been of no more than local concern.[54] The punishments meted out on either occasion are unknown.
[Footnote 53: Hening, Virginia Statutes at Large, II, 204.]

[Footnote 54: J.C. Ballagh, History of Slavery in Virginia (Baltimore, 1902), p. 79.]
The eighteenth century, with its multiplication of slaves, saw somewhat more frequent plots in its early decades. The discovery of one in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, in 1709 brought thirty-nine lashes to each of three slaves and fifty lashes to a free negro found to be cognizant, and presumably more drastic punishments to two other slaves who were held as ringleaders to await the governor's order. Still another slave who at least for the time being escaped the clutches of the law was proclaimed an outlaw.[55] The discovery of another plot in Gloucester and Middlesex Counties of the same colony in 1723 prompted the assembly to provide for the deportation to the West Indies of seven slave participants.[56]
[Footnote 55: Calendar of Virginia State Papers, I, 129, 130.]

[Footnote 56: Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1712-1726, p. 36.]
In South Carolina, although depredations by runaways gave acute uneasiness in 1711 and thereabouts, no conspiracy was discovered until 1720 when some of the participants were burnt, some hanged and some banished.[57] Matters were then quiet again until 1739 when on a September Sunday a score of Angola blacks with one Jonny as their leader broke open a store, supplied themselves with arms, and laid their course at once for Florida where they had been told by Spanish emissaries welcome and liberty awaited them. Marching to the beat of drums, slaughtering with ease the whites they came upon, and drawing black recruits to several times their initial number, on the Pon Pon road that day the rebels covered ten prosperous miles. But when at evening they halted to celebrate their exploits with dancing and plundered rum they were set upon by the whites whom couriers had collected. Several were killed in the onslaught, and a few more were captured on the spot. Most of the rest fled back to their cabins, but a squad of ten made their way thirty miles farther on the route to Florida and sold their lives in battle when overtaken. Of those captured on the field or in their quarters some were shot but none were tortured. The toll of lives lost numbered twenty-one whites and forty-four[58] blacks.
[Footnote 57: Letter of June 24, 1720, among the MS. transcripts in the state capitol at Columbia of documents in the British Public Record Office.]

[Footnote 58: Gentleman's Magazine, X, 127; South Carolina Historical Society Collections, II, 270; Alexander Hewatt, Historical Account of South Carolina and Georgia (London, 1779), II, 72, 73. Joshua Coffin in his Account of Some of the Principal Slave Insurrections (New York, 1860) listed a revolt at Savannah, Ga., in 1728. But Savannah was not founded until 1733, and it contained virtually no negroes prior to 1750.]
Following this and the New York panic of two years later, there was remarkable quiet in race relations in general for a full half century. It was not indeed until the spread of the amazing news from San Domingo and the influx thence of white refugees and their slaves that a new series of disturbances began on the continent. At Norfolk in 1792 some negroes were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy but were promptly discharged for lack of evidence;[59] and close by at Portsmouth in the next year there were such savage clashes between the newly come French blacks and those of the Virginia stock that citizens were alarmed for their own safety.[60] In Louisiana an uprising on the plantation of Julien Poydras in Pointe Coupée Parish in 1796 brought the execution of a dozen or two negroes and sentences to prison of several whites convicted as their accomplices;[61] and as late as 1811 an outbreak in St. Charles and St. James Parishes was traced in part to San Domingo slaves.[62]
[Footnote 59: Calendar of Virginia State Papers, V, 540, 541, 546.]

[Footnote 60: Ibid., VI, 490, letter of a citizen who had just found four strange negroes hanging from the branches of a tree near his door.]

[Footnote 61: C.C. Robin, Voyages (Paris, 1806), II, 244 ff.; E.P. Puckett, "Free Negroes in Louisiana" (MS.).]

[Footnote 62: M Puckett, op. cit. Le Moniteur de la Louisiane (New Orleans), Feb. 11, 1811, has mention of the manumission of a mulatto slave at this time on the ground of his recent valiant defence of his master's house against attacking insurgents.]
Gabriel's rising in the vicinity of Richmond, however, eclipsed all other such events on the continent in this period. Although this affair was of prodigious current interest its details were largely obscured by the secrecy maintained by the court and the legislature in their dealings with it. Reports in the newspapers of the time were copious enough but were vague except as to the capture of the leading participants; and the reminiscent journalism of after years was romantic to the point of absurdity. It is fairly clear, however, that Gabriel and other slaves on Thomas H. Prosser's plantation, which lay several miles distant from Richmond, began to brew the conspiracy as early as June, 1800, and enlisted some hundreds of confederates, perhaps more than a thousand, before September 1, the date fixed for its maturity. Many of these were doubtless residents of Richmond, and some it was said lived as far away as Norfolk. The few muskets procured were supplemented by cutlasses made from scythe blades and by plantation implements of other sorts; but the plan of onslaught contemplated a speedy increase of this armament. From a rendezvous six miles from Richmond eleven hundred men in three columns under designated officers were to march upon the city simultaneously, one to seize the penitentiary which then served also as the state arsenal, another to take the powder magazine in another quarter of the town, and the third to begin a general slaughter with such weapons as were already at hand.

Things progressed with very little hitch until the very eve of the day set. But then two things occurred, either of which happening alone would probably have foiled the project. On the one hand a slave on Moseley Sheppard's plantation informed his master of the plot; on the other hand there fell such a deluge of rain that the swelling of the streams kept most of the conspirators from reaching the rendezvous. Meanwhile couriers had roused the city, and the rebels assembled could only disperse. Scores of them were taken, including eventually Gabriel himself who eluded pursuit for several weeks and sailed to Norfolk as a stowaway. The magistrates, of course, had busy sessions, but the number of death sentences was less than might have been expected. Those executed comprised Gabriel and five other Prosser slaves along with nineteen more belonging to other masters; and ten others, in scattered ownership, were deported. To provide for a more general riddance of suspected negroes the legislature made secret overtures to the federal government looking to the creation of a territorial reservation to receive such colonists; but for the time being this came to naught. The legislature furthermore created a permanent guard for the capitol, and it liberated at the state's expense Tom and Pharaoh, slaves of the Sheppard family, as reward for their services in helping to foil the plot.[63]
[Footnote 63: T.W. Higginson, "Gabriel's Defeat," in the Atlantic Monthly, X, 337-345, reprinted in the same author's Travellers and Outlaws (Boston, 1889), pp. 185-214; J.C. Ballagh, History of Slavery in Virginia, p. 92; J.H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia, p. 65; MS. vouchers in the Virginia State Library recording public payments for convicted slaves.]
Set on edge by Gabriel's exploit, citizens far and wide were abnormally alert for some time thereafter; and perhaps the slaves here and there were unusually restive. Whether the one or the other of these conditions was most responsible, revelations and rumors were for several years conspicuously numerous. In 1802 there were capital convictions of fourteen insurgent or conspiring slaves in six scattered counties of Virginia;[64] and panicky reports of uprisings were sent out from Hartford and Bertie Counties, North Carolina.[65] In July, 1804, the mayor of Savannah received from Augusta "information highly important to the safety, peace and security" of his town, and issued appropriate orders to the local militia.[66] Among rumors flying about South Carolina in this period, one on a December day in 1805 telling of risings above and below Columbia led to the planting of cannon before the state house there and to the instruction of the night patrols to seize every negro found at large. An over-zealous patrolman thereupon shot a slave who was peacefully following his own master, and was indicted next day for murder. The peaceful passing of the night brought a subsidence of the panic with the coming of day.[67]
[Footnote 64: Vouchers as above.]

[Footnote 65: Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, June 26, 1802.]

[Footnote 66: Thomas Gamble, Jr., History of the City Government of Savannah [Savannah, 1900], p. 68.]

[Footnote 67: "Diary of Edward Hooker," in the American Historical Association Report for 1896, pp. 881, 882.]
In Virginia, again, there were disturbing rumors at one place or another every year or two from 1809 to 1814,[68] but no occurrence of tangible character until the Boxley plot of 1816 in Spottsylvania and Louisa Counties. George Boxley, the white proprietor of a country store, was a visionary somewhat of John Brown's type. Participating in the religious gatherings of the negroes and telling them that a little white bird had brought him a holy message to deliver his fellowmen from bondage, he enlisted many blacks in his project for insurrection. But before the plot was ripe it was betrayed by a slave woman, and several negroes were arrested. Boxley thereupon marched with a dozen followers on a Quixotic errand of release, but on the road the blacks fell away, and he, after some time in hiding, surrendered himself. Six of the negroes after conviction were hanged and a like number transported; but Boxley himself broke jail and escaped.[69]
[Footnote 68: Calendar of Virginia State Papers, X, 62, 63, 97, 368.]

[Footnote 69: Ibid., X, 433-436; Louisiana Gazette (New Orleans), Apr. 18 and 24 (Reprinting a report from the Virginia Herald of Mch. 9), and July 12, 1816; MS. Vouchers in the Virginia State Library recording public payments for convicted slaves.]
In the lower South a plot at Camden, South Carolina, in 1816[70] and another at Augusta, Georgia,[71] three years afterward had like plans of setting houses afire at night and then attacking other quarters of the respective towns when the white men had left their homes defenceless. Both plots were betrayed, and several participants in each were executed. These conspiracies were eclipsed in turn by the elaborate Vesey plot at Charleston in 1822, which, for the variety of the negro types involved, the methods of persuasion used by the leading spirits and the sobriety of the whites on the occasion is one of the most notable of such episodes on record.
[Footnote 70: [Edwin C. Holland], A Refutation of the Calumnies circulated against the Southern and Western States, with historical notes of insurrections (Charleston, 1822), pp. 75-77; H.T. Cook, Life and Legacy of David R. Williams, p. 131; H.M. Henry, Police Control of the Slave in South Carolina, pp. 151, 152.]

[Footnote 71: News item from Augusta in the Louisiana Courier (New Orleans), June 15, 1819.]
Denmark Vesey, brought from Africa in his youth, had bought his freedom with part of a $1500 prize drawn by him in a lottery, and was in this period an independent artisan. Harboring a deep resentment against the whites, however, he began to plan his plot some four years before its maturity. He familiarized himself with the Bible account of the deliverance of the children of Israel, and collected pamphlet and newspaper material on anti-slavery sentiment in England and the North and on occurrences in San Domingo, with all of which on fit occasions he regaled the blacks with whom he came into touch. Arguments based on such data brought concurrence of negroes of the more intelligent sort, prominent among whom were certain functionaries of the African Church who were already nursing grievances on the score of the suppression of their ecclesiastical project by the Charleston authorities.[72] The chief minister of that church, Morris Brown, however, was carefully left out of the conspiracy. In appealing to the more ignorant and superstitious element, on the other hand, the services of Gullah Jack, so called because of his Angola origin, were enlisted, for as a recognized conjuror he could bewitch the recalcitrant and bestow charmed crabs' claws upon those joining the plot to make them invulnerable. In the spring of 1822 things were put in train for the outbreak. The Angolas, the Eboes and the Carolina-born were separately organized under appropriate commanders; arrangements were made looking to the support of the plantation slaves within marching distance of the city; and letters were even sent by the negro cook on a vessel bound for San Domingo with view apparently both to getting assistance from that island and to securing a haven there in case the revolt should prove only successful enough to permit the seizure of the ships in Charleston harbor. Meanwhile the coachmen and draymen in the plot were told off to mobilize the horses in their charge, pikes were manufactured, the hardware stores and other shops containing arms were listed for special attention, and plans were laid for the capture of the city's two arsenals as the first stroke in the revolt. This was scheduled for midnight on Sunday, June 16.
[Footnote 72: See above, p. 421.]
On May 30 George, the body-servant of Mr. Wilson, told his master that Mr. Paul's William had invited him to join a society which was to make a stroke for freedom. William upon being seized and questioned by the city council made something of a confession incriminating two other slaves, Mingo Harth and Peter Poyas; but these were so staunch in their denials that they were discharged, with confidential slaves appointed to watch them. William was held for a week of solitary confinement, at the end of which he revealed the extensive character of the plot and the date set for its maturity. The city guard was thereupon strengthened; but the lapse of several days in quiet was about to make the authorities incredulous, when another citizen brought them word from another slave of information precisely like that which had first set them on the qui vive. This caused the local militia to be called out to stiffen the patrol. Then as soon as the appointed Sunday night had passed, which brought no outbreak, the city council created a special court as by law provided, comprising two magistrates together with five citizens carefully selected for their substantial character and distinguished position. These were William Drayton, Nathaniel Heyward, James R. Pringle, James Legaré and Robert J. Turnbull. More sagacious and responsible men could certainly not have been found. A committee of vigilance was also appointed to assist the court.

This court having first made its own rules that no negro was to be tried except in the presence of his master or attorney, that everyone on trial should be heard in his own defense, and that no one should be capitally sentenced on the bare testimony of a single witness, proceeded to the trial of Peter Poyas, Denmark Vesey and others against whom charges had then been lodged. By eavesdropping those who were now convicted and confronting them with their own words, confessions were procured implicating many others who in turn were put on trial, including Gullah Jack whose necromancy could not save him. In all 130 negroes were arrested, including nine colored freemen. Of the whole number, twenty-five were discharged by the committee of vigilance and 27 others by the court. Nine more were acquitted with recommendations with which their masters readily complied, that they be transported. Of those convicted, 34 were deported by public authority and 35 were hanged. In addition four white men indicted for complicity, comprising a German peddler, a Scotchman, a Spaniard and a Charlestonian,[73] were tried by a regular court having jurisdiction over whites and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to twelve months.
[Footnote 73: An Account of the late intended Insurrection among a portion of the Blacks of this City. Published by the Authority of the Corporation of Charleston (Charleston, 1822); Lionel H. Kennedy and Thomas Parker (the presiding magistrates of the special court), An Official Report of the Trials of sundry Negroes charged with an attempt to raise an insurrection, with a report of the trials of four white persons on indictments for attempting to excite the slaves to insurrection (Charleston, 1822); T.D. Jervey, Robert Y. Hayne and His Times (New York, 1909), pp. 130-136.]
A number of Charleston citizens promptly memorialized the state assembly recommending that all free negroes be expelled, that the penalties applicable to whites conspiring with negroes be made more severe, and that the control over the blacks be generally stiffened.[74] The legislature complied except as to the proposal for expulsion. Charlestonians also organized an association for the prevention of negro disturbances; but by 1825 the public seems to have begun to lose its ardor in the premises.[75]
[Footnote 74: Memorial of the Citizens of Charleston to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina (Charleston, 1822), reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 103-116.]

[Footnote 75: Address of the association, in the Charleston City Gazette, Aug. 5, 1825.]
The next salient occurrence in the series was the outbreak which brought fame to Nat Turner and the devoted Virginia county of Southampton. Nat, a slave who by the custom of the country had acquired the surname of his first master, was the foreman of a small plantation, a Baptist exhorter capable of reading the Bible, and a pronounced mystic. For some years, as he told afterward when in custody, he had heard voices from the heavens commanding him to carry on the work of Christ to make the last to be first and the first last; and he took the sun's eclipse in February, 1831, as a sign that the time was come. He then enlisted a few of his fellows in his project, but proceeded to spend his leisure for several months in prayer and brooding instead of in mundane preparation. When at length on Sunday night, August 21, he began his revolt he had but a petty squad of companions, with merely a hatchet and a broad-axe as weapons, and no definite plan of campaign. First murdering his master's household and seizing some additional equipment, he took the road and repeated the process at whatever farmhouses he came upon. Several more negroes joined the squad as it proceeded, though in at least one instance a slave resisted them in defense of his master's family at the cost of his own life. The absence of many whites from the neighborhood by reason of their attendance at a camp-meeting across the nearby North Carolina line reduced the number of victims, and on the other hand made the rally of the citizens less expeditious and formidable when the alarm had been spread. By sunrise the rebels numbered fifteen, part of whom were mounted, and their outfit comprised a few firearms. Throughout the morning they continued their somewhat aimless roving, slaughtering such white households as they reached, enlisting recruits by persuasion or coercion, and heightening their courage by draughts upon the apple-brandy in which the county, by virtue of its many orchards and stills, abounded. By noon there were some sixty in the straggling ranks, but when shortly afterward they met a squad of eighteen rallying whites, armed like themselves mainly with fowling pieces with birdshot ammunition, they fled at the first fire, and all but a score dispersed. The courage of these whites, however, was so outweighed by their caution that Nat and his fellows were able to continue their marauding course in a new direction, gradually swelling their numbers to forty again. That night, however, a false alarm stampeded their bivouac and again dispersed all the faint-hearted. Nat with his remaining squad then attacked a homestead just before daybreak on Tuesday, but upon repulse by the five white men and boys with several slave auxiliaries who were guarding it they retreated only to meet a militia force which completed the dispersal. All were promptly killed or taken except Nat who secreted himself near his late master's home until his capture was accomplished six weeks afterward. The whites slain by the rebels numbered ten men, fourteen women and thirty-one children.

The militia in scouring the countryside were prompted by the panic and its vindictive reaction to shoot down a certain number of innocent blacks along with the guilty and to make display of some of their severed heads. The magistrates were less impulsive. They promptly organized a court comprising all the justices of the peace in the county and assigned attorneys for the defense of the prisoners while the public prosecutor performed his appointed task. Forty-seven negroes all told were brought before the court. As to the five free blacks included in this number the magistrates, who had only preliminary jurisdiction in their cases, discharged one and remanded four for trial by a higher court. Of the slaves four, and perhaps a fifth regarding whom the record is blank, were discharged without trial, and thirteen more were acquitted. Of those convicted seven were sentenced to deportation, and seventeen with the ringleader among them, to death by hanging. In addition there were several slaves convicted of complicity in neighboring counties.[76]
[Footnote 76: W.S. Drewry, Slave Insurrections in Virginia, 1830-1865 (Washington, 1900), recounts this revolt in great detail, and gives a bibliography. The vouchers in the Virginia archives record only eleven executions and four deportations of Southampton slaves in this period. It may be that the rest of those convicted were pardoned.]
This extraordinary event, occurring as it did after a century's lapse since last an appreciable number of whites on the continent had lost their lives in such an outbreak, set nerves on edge throughout the South, and promptly brought an unusually bountiful crop of local rumors. In North Carolina early in September it was reported at Raleigh that the blacks of Wilmington had burnt the town and slaughtered the whites, and that several thousand of them were marching upon Raleigh itself.[77] This and similarly alarming rumors from Edenton were followed at once by authentic news telling merely that conspiracies had been discovered in Duplin and Sampson Counties and also in the neighborhood of Edenton, with several convictions resulting in each locality.[78]
[Footnote 77: News item dated Warrenton, N.C., Sept. 15, 1831, in the New Orleans Mercantile Advertiser, Oct. 4, 1831.]

[Footnote 78: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Oct. 6, 1831, citing the Fayetteville, N.C. Observer of Sept. 14; Niles' Register, XLI, 266.]
At Milledgeville, the village capital of Georgia where in the preceding year the newspapers and the town authorities had been fluttered by the discovery of incendiary pamphlets in a citizen's possession,[79] a rumor spread on October 4, 1831, that a large number of slaves had risen a dozen miles away and were marching upon the town to seize the weapons in the state arsenal there. Three slaves within the town, and a free mulatto preacher as well, were seized on suspicion of conspiracy but were promptly discharged for lack of evidence, and the city council soon had occasion, because there had been "considerable danger in the late excitement ... by persons carrying arms that were intoxicated" to order the marshal and patrols to take weapons away from irresponsible persons and enforce the ordinance against the firing of guns in the streets.[80] Upon the first coming of the alarm the governor had appointed Captain J.A. Cuthbert, editor of the Federal Union, to the military command of the town; and Cuthbert, uniformed and armed to the teeth, dashed about the town all day on his charger, distributing weapons and stationing guards. Upon the passing of the baseless panic Seaton Grantland, customarily cool and sardonic, ridiculed Cuthbert in the Southern Recorder of which he was editor. Cuthbert retorted in his own columns that Grantland's conduct in the emergency had proved him a skulking coward.[81] No blood was shed, even among the editors.
[Footnote 79: Federal Union, Aug. 7, 1830; American Historical Association Report for 1904, I. 469.]

[Footnote 80: American Historical Association Report for 1904, pp. 469, 470.]

[Footnote 81: Federal Union, Oct. 6 and 13 and Dec. 1, 1831.]
There were doubtless episodes of such a sort in many other localities.[82] It was evidently to this period that the reminiscences afterward collected by Olmsted applied. "'Where I used to live,'" a backwoodsman formerly of Alabama told the traveller, "'I remember when I was a boy--must ha' been about twenty years ago--folks was dreadful frightened about the niggers. I remember they built pens in the woods where they could hide, and Christmas time they went and got into the pens, 'fraid the niggers was risin'.' 'I remember the same time where we were in South Carolina,' said his wife, 'we had all our things put up in bags, so we could tote 'em if we heerd they was comin' our way.'"[83]
[Footnote 82: The discovery of a plot at Shelbyville, Tennessee, was reported at the end of 1832. Niles' Register, XLI, 340.]

[Footnote 83: F.L. Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country (New York, 1863), p. 203.]
Another sort of sequel to the Southampton revolt was of course a plenitude of public discussion and of repressive legislation. In Virginia a flood of memorials poured upon the legislature. Petitions signed by 1,188 citizens in twelve counties asked for provision for the expulsion of colored freemen; others with 398 signatures from six counties proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution empowering Congress to aid Virginia to rid herself of all the blacks; others from two colonization societies and 366 citizens in four counties proposed the removal first of the free negroes and then of slaves to be emancipated by private or public procedure; 27 men of Buckingham and Loudon Counties and others in Albemarle, together with the Society of Friends in Hanover and 347 women, prayed for the abolition of slavery, some on the post nati plan and others without specification of details.[84] The House of Delegates responded by devoting most of its session of that winter to an extraordinarily outspoken and wide-ranging debate on the many phases of the negro problem, reflecting and elaborating all the sentiments expressed in the petitions together with others more or less original with the members themselves. The Richmond press reported the debate in great detail, and many of the speeches were given a pamphlet circulation in addition.[85] The only tangible outcome there and elsewhere, however, was in the form of added legal restrictions upon the colored population, slave and free. But when the fright and fervor of the year had passed, conditions normal to the community returned. On the one hand the warnings of wiseacres impressed upon the would-be problem solvers the maxim of the golden quality of silence, particularly while the attacks of the Northern abolitionists upon the general Southern régime were so active. On the other hand the new severities of the law were promptly relegated, as the old ones had been, to the limbo of things laid away, like pistols, for emergency use, out of sight and out of mind in the daily routine of peaceful industry.
[Footnote 84: The Letter of Appomattox to the People of Virginia: Exhibiting a connected view of the recent proceedings in the House of Delegates on the subject of the abolition of slavery and a succinct account of the doctrines broached by the friends of abolition in debate, and the mischievous tendency of those proceedings and doctrines (Richmond, 1832). These letters were first published in the Richmond Enquirer, February 4, 1832 et seqq.]

[Footnote 85: The debate is summarized in Henry Wilson, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America (Boston, 1872), I, 190-207.]
In the remaining ante-bellum decades, though the actual outbreaks were negligible except for John Brown's raid, the discoveries, true or false, and the rumors, mostly unwarranted, were somewhat more frequent than before. Revelations in Madison County, Mississippi, in 1835 shortly before July 4, told of a conspiracy of whites and blacks scheduled for that day as a ramification of the general plot of the Murrell gang recently exposed.[86] A mass meeting thereupon appointed an investigating committee of thirteen citizens with power to apply capital punishment; and several whites together with ten or fifteen blacks were promptly put to death.[87]
[Footnote 86: See above, pp. 381, 382.]

[Footnote 87: The Liberator (Boston, Mass.), Aug. 8, 1835, quoting the Clinton, Miss., Gazette of July 11.]
Widespread rumors at the beginning of the following December that a general uprising was in preparation for the coming holiday season caused the summons of citizens in various Georgia counties to mass meetings which with one accord recommended special precautions by masters, patrols and militia, and appointed committees of vigilance. In this series the resolutions adopted in Washington County are notable especially for the tone of their preamble. Mentioning the method recently followed in Mississippi only to disapprove it, this preamble ran: "We would fain hope that the soil of Georgia may never be reddened or her people disgraced by the arbitrary shedding of human blood; for if the people allow themselves but one participation in such lawless proceedings, no human sagacity can foretell where the overwhelming deluge will be staid or what portions of our state may feel its desolating ruin. This course of protection unhinges every tie of social and civil society, dissolves those guards which the laws throw around property and life, and leaves every individual, no matter how innocent, at the sport of popular passion, the probable object of popular indignation, and liable to an ignominious death. Therefore we would recommend to our fellow-citizens that if any facts should be elicited implicating either white men or negroes in any insurrectionary or abolition movements, that they be apprehended and delivered over to the legal tribunals of the country for full and fair judicial trial."[88] At Clarksville, Tennessee, uneasiness among the citizens on the score of the negroes employed in the iron works thereabout was such that they procured a shipment of arms from the state capital in preparation for special guard at the Christmas season.[89]
[Footnote 88: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 11, 1835. At Darien on the Georgia coast Edwin C. Roberts, an Englishman by birth, was committed for trial in the following August for having told slaves they ought to be free and that half of the American people were in favor of their freedom. The local editor remarked when reporting the occurrence: "Mr. Roberts should thank his stars that he did not commence his crusade in some quarters where Judge Lynch presides. Here the majesty of the law is too highly respected to tolerate the jurisdiction of this despotic dignitary." Darien Telegraph, Aug. 30, quoted in the Federal Union, Sept. 6, 1836.]

[Footnote 89: MS. petition with endorsement noting the despatch of arms, in the state archives at Nashville.]
In various parts of Louisiana in this period there was a succession of plots discovered. The first of these, betrayed on Christmas Eve, 1835, involved two white men, one of them a plantation overseer, along with forty slaves or more. The whites were promptly hanged, and doubtless some of the blacks likewise.[90] The next, exposed in the fall of 1837, was in the neighborhood of Alexandria. Nine slaves and three free negroes were hanged in punishment,[91] and the negro Lewis who had betrayed the conspiracy was liberated at state expense and was voted $500 to provide for his security in some distant community.[92] The third was in Lafayette and St. Landry Parishes, betrayed in August, 1840, by a slave woman named Lecide who was freed by her master in reward. Nine negroes were hanged. Four white men who were implicated, but who could not be convicted under the laws which debarred slave testimony against whites, were severely flogged under a lynch-law sentence and ordered to leave the state.[93] Rumors of other plots were spread in West Feliciana Parish in the summer of 1841,[94] in several parishes opposite and above Natchez in the fall of 1842,[95] and at Donaldsonville at the beginning of 1843;[96] but each of these in turn was found to be virtually baseless. Meanwhile at Augusta, Georgia, several negroes were arrested in February, 1841, and at least one of them was sentenced to death. A petition was circulated for his respite as an inducement for confession; but other citizens, disquieted by the testimony already given, prepared a counter petition asking the governor to let the law take its course. The plot as described contemplated the seizure of the arsenal and the firing of the city in facilitation of massacre.[97]
[Footnote 90: Niles' Register, XLIX, 331.]

[Footnote 91: Ibid., LIII, 129.]

[Footnote 92: Louisiana, Acts of 1838, p. 118.]

[Footnote 93: Niles' Register, LXIX, 39, 88; E.P. Puckett, "Free Negroes in Louisiana" (MS.).]

[Footnote 94: New Orleans Bee, July 23, 29 and 31, 1841.]

[Footnote 95: Niles' Register, LXIII, 212.]

[Footnote 96: Louisiana Courier (New Orleans), Jan. 27 and Feb. 17, 1843.]

[Footnote 97: Letter of Mrs. S.A. Lamar, Augusta, Ga., Feb. 25, 1841, to John B. Lamar at Macon. MS. in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens, Ga.]
The rest of the 'forties and the first half of the 'fifties were a period of comparative quiet; but in 1855 there were rumors in Dorchester and Talbot Counties, Maryland,[98] and the autumn of 1856 brought widespread disturbances which the Southern whites did not fail to associate with the rise of the Republican Party. In the latter part of that year there were rumors afloat from Williamsburg, Virginia, and Montgomery County in the same state, from various quarters of Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas, from New Orleans, and from Atlanta and Cassville, Georgia.[99] A typical episode in the period was described by a schoolmaster from Michigan then sojourning in Mississippi. One night about Christmas of 1858 when the plantation homestead at which he was staying was filled with house guests, a courier came in the dead of night bringing news that the blacks in the eastern part of the county had risen in a furious band and were laying their murderous course in this direction. The head of the house after scanning the bulletin, calmly told his family and guests that they might get their guns and prepare for defense, but if they would excuse him he would retire again until the crisis came. The coolness of the host sent the guests back to bed except for one who stood sentry. "The negroes never came."[100]
[Footnote 98: J.R. Brackett, The Negro in Maryland, p. 97.]

[Footnote 99: Southern Watchman (Athens, Ga.), Dec. 18 and 25, 1856. Some details of the Texas disturbance, which brought death to several negroes, is given in documents printed in F.L. Olmsted, Journey through Texas, pp. 503. 504]

[Footnote 100: A. DePuy Van Buren, Jottings of a Sojourn in the South (Battle Creek, Mich., 1859), pp. 121, 122]
The shiver which John Brown's raid sent over the South was diminished by the failure of the blacks to join him, and it was largely overcome by the wave of fierce resentment against the abolitionists who, it was said, had at last shown their true colors. The final disturbance on the score of conspiracy among the negroes themselves was in the summer of 1860 at Dallas, Texas, where in the preceding year an abolitionist preacher had been whipped and driven away. Ten or more fires which occurred in one day and laid much of the town in ruins prompted the seizure of many blacks and the raising of a committee of safety. This committee reported to a public meeting on July 24 that three ringleaders in the plot were to be hanged that afternoon. Thereupon Judge Buford of the district court addressed the gathering. "He stated in the outset that in any ordinary case he would be as far from counselling mob law as any other man, but in the present instance the people had a clear right to take the law in their own hands. He counselled moderation, and insisted that the committee should execute the fewest number compatible with the public safety." [101]
[Footnote 101: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Aug. 21, 1860, quoting the Nashville Union.]
On the whole it is hardly possible to gauge precisely the degree of popular apprehension in the premises. John Randolph was doubtless more picturesque than accurate when he said, "the night bell never tolls for fire in Richmond that the mother does not hug the infant more closely to her bosom."[102] The general trend of public expressions laid emphasis upon the need of safeguards but showed confidence that no great disasters were to be feared. The revolts which occurred and the plots which were discovered were sufficiently serious to produce a very palpable disquiet from time to time, and the rumors were frequent enough to maintain a fairly constant undertone of uneasiness. The net effect of this was to restrain that progress of liberalism which the consideration of economic interest, the doctrines of human rights and the spirit of kindliness all tended to promote.
[Footnote 102: H.A. Garland, Life of John Randolph, I, 295.]


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