On 23 August 1831, Governor John Floyd received a hastily written note from the Southampton County postmaster stating “that an insurrection of the slaves in that county had taken place, that several families had been massacred and that it would take a considerable military force to put them down.” Fifty-seven whites died, many of them women and children, before a massive force of militiamen and armed volunteers could converge on the region and crush the rebellion. Angry white vigilantes killed hundreds of slaves and drove free persons of color into exile in the terror that followed.
Early newspaper reports identified the Southampton insurgents as a leaderless mob of runaway slaves that rose out of the Dismal Swamp to wreak havoc on unsuspecting white families. Military leaders and others on the scene soon identified the participants as enslaved people from local plantations. Reports of as many as 450 insurgents gave way to revised estimates of perhaps 60 armed men and boys, many of them coerced into joining. The confessions of prisoners and the interrogation of eyewitnesses pointed to a small group of ringleaders: a free man of color named Billy Artis, a celebrated slave known as “Gen. Nelson,” and a slave preacher by the name of Nat Turner. Attention focused on Turner; it was his “imagined spirit of prophecy” and his extraordinary powers of persuasion that … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the final batch of digital images of legislative petitions to the Virginia General Assembly, 1776-1865, is now available on Virginia Memory, the Library of Virginia’s digital collections website. The list of localities added includes present-day West Virginia and Kentucky counties and numerous localities classified as Lost Records Localities. With this addition, the number of legislative petitions available online number over 24,000.
Legislative petitions are one the few primary source documents that provide valuable insight concerning the plight of Native Americans during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In reading them, one will discover the depth of poverty and disease Native Americans experienced in Virginia. An example can be found in a petition filed in October 1786 by Simon and John Turner of Southampton County asking the General Assembly for an act appointing trustees to join them in the conveyance of land owned by the Nansemond Indian tribe located on the north side of the Nottoway River. They introduced themselves as the “only surviving men of the Nansemond Indians.” Proceeds from the sale would be used to bring relief from “bodily infirmities” and oppressive poverty for the last of the Nansemond tribe, the two petitioners and three women, who currently resided with their friend and neighbors in the Nottoway tribe. The … read more »