A Mortal Fear of Slave Insurrections
Even before Nat Turner’s massacre of innocent women and children in Virginia, white Southerners lived in mortal fear of a Santo Domingue-type race war in their own towns. As a defensive measure in response to fanatic abolitionists fanning the flames of race war (those abolitionists overlooked their own section’s slave-trade responsibility for bringing Africa slaves to these shores), the South would further restrict slave and free black liberties. One must question how this situation developed and those responsible for the large slave population in the South; it was a British colonial system that needed slave-labor to prosper; and New England slave-traders sought profits in human flesh. The South was left to deal with the consequences.
Cape Fear Historical Institute
A Mortal Fear of Slave Insurrections:
"Hon. Kemp P. Battle in his centennial address, "Early History of Raleigh," page 44, says of insurrections:
"It is impossible for us to imagine what terror rumors of insurrections among slaves caused our ancestors. They created a wild panic in which reason and sense had no part. We find such rumors common in the early part of the century. The most notable was in June, 1802 when the discovery that one (slave) Frank Sumner had embodied a company of thirteen men under his leadership as captain, threw the whole country from Tar River to the Atlantic into consternation. Volunteer companies were organized for patrolling and arresting suspected persons. Martial law reigned supreme. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended in practice, though not by law, as to the Negro race. At the time one hundred men were locked up in Martin County jail. Captain Frank Sumner for his ill-timed ambition was promptly hung by judgment of a special court, and his deluded followers were glad to escape–one with the loss of his ears, one with branding, the rest with flogging.
When Nat Turner’s massacre of fifty-five persons occurred in Southampton, Virginia, in 1831, the whole of Raleigh was placed under arms. The able-bodied were divided into four companies, each to patrol the streets every fourth night. The old men were organized as Silver Grays. The fortress was the Presbyterian Church, and it was agreed that whenever the State House bell should sound the women and children were to hasten to its protecting walls.
At last one night O’Rourke’s blacksmith shop took fire. It was night, says my informant, whose hair is frosted now; but he remembers as vividly as if it were yesterday, the women with disheveled hair and in their night clothes running for life through the streets. It was no laughing matter to them. One of our most venerable and intelligent old ladies (and she is an uncommonly brave woman), although she disbelieved the stories, yet when she heard the loud clangor of the bells at midnight, drew her children around her, determined to beg the enemy to kill them first so that she might see them safe in death rather than be the first to die, leaving them to brutality and torture. But her son, then a mere boy, brandished his deceased father’s sword and prepared to defend the household. I hope he will pardon me for mentioning an act so much to his credit. It was our Raleigh poet–James Fontleroy Taylor.
The Negroes were frightened more than the whites. They fled and hid under houses, in garden shrubbery, lay between corn rows, anywhere for safety. There never was a time when the colored people of Raleigh would have risen against our people. It is greatly to the credit of both races that notwithstanding party animosity and sudden emancipation, the kindly personal feeling between the whites and their old servants has never been interrupted."
Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians, John H. Wheeler, www.docsouth.unc.edu)