In the wake of Nat Turner – further encouragement to the American Colonization Society?

Posted on August 1, 2015 by


I find what follows to be worthy of introduction into the discussion about the American Colonization Society. How did the Nat Turner Rebellion impact the efforts of the ACS? Perhaps more importantly, what did the discussions of 1831/32 mean to Virginians by 1861?

You’ll note that I link freely to Encyclopedia Virginia… a rich resource well worth your perusing when it comes to various topics pertaining to the Commonwealth’s history. In addition to the block quotes (which are only portions from the larger quotes… for which I provided links), I’ve also added small blocks of information (in brackets… “[ ])” from one of the Encyclopedia’s articles (I’ll provide a link to it at the end of this post] which helps to add meaning… context… to the quotes.

So… for your consideration:

Petition of the Women of Fluvanna County (Nov. 24, 1831):

Can we calmly anticipate the condition of the Southern States, at that period, should no remedy be devised to arrest the progressive miseries attendant on slavery? We shudder for the fate of our female descendants, while we endeavor to stifle the too importunate apprehensions of our own bosoms. It will be their province, as it is ours, to impose the salutary restraints of domestic discipline, and, in the absence of their lawful directors, to maintain temporary sway over the household. Can this post of duty be safely filled by a helpless female, amid the impediments arising from the increasing evils of slavery?

Inhabitants of Fauquier County (Dec. 7, 1831):

The undersigned inhabitants of the County of Fauquier respectfully declare that they believe the time has arrived when it is highly expedient that the General Government should possess the power to raise and appropriate money to transport free persons of Color to the coast of Africa, and also, the power to purchase slaves and transport them likewise

Citizens of Culpeper County (Dec. 9, 1831) [Petitioners from Culpeper County claimed that slaves were monopolizing the trades]:

Your memorialists, citizens of the County of Culpepper, ad[vanced] by a deep sense of the necessity that exists to prevent as practicable the migration of the laboring class of the whole population of Virginia, and believing the subject to be one as vital importance to the peace, happiness, and prosperity of the state generally, they deem it worthy of the consideration of your honorable body, your memorialists have in common with these fellow citizens, deeply lamented the tragical occurrence which has been acted by a portion of the black population of Virginia, which circumstances has as your memorialists [verily] believe engendered to a certain extent, restless and insurrectionary gullings with the slave throughout this Commonwealth, your memorialists reside in a remote part of the Commonwealth from the sense of the late disturbance, yet with the slaves amongst them, there is accidently an unfavorable impression made upon them, growing out of that occurrence, and other incidental causes, not the last of which is the unprecedented migration of the laboring class of our citizens this fall to the western states.

Petition from Citizens of Hanover County (December 11 and 14, 1831):

An evil has existed among us from almost the first settlement of the commonwealth of the heaviest and most serious character. It has grown with us and in every moment of our advance; it has more than kept pace with us; until at last, the alarming truth bursts from every lip, “That if we wish peace and happiness, quietude and prosperity, this fatal, paralyzing, destroying mischief must be removed.” Who requires to be informed to what we refer? Do not all know, it is the existing curse of slavery to whose mischiefs we allude? This is not the proper time or place for speaking abstractly on this serious subject, we are done with the past and should only look to, and act for the future. How, or by whose means, this heavy and alarming evil has been brought on the country may amuse the philanthropist and fill the pages of historians. It is for us to consider the character and extent of this evil, and to apply the most salutary, peaceful, safe, just, and efficacious means for its removal.

Petition from the Society of Friends, Charles City County (December 14, 1831) [The Society of Friends (Quakers) in Charles City County asked the House of Delegates to consider slavery “an evil in our Country[,] an evil which has been of long continuance, and is now of increasing magnitude.”]:

Under a view of the claims of justice and humanity on behalf of a deeply injured race, and the various responsibilities, which rest upon this Commonwealth in regard to their present condition, we submit for your consideration the propriety of passing an Act, declaring that all person born in the State after some period, to be fixed by law, shall be free, and also that the State of Virginia, provide some territory, or solicit the aid of the United States in providing one, for the formation of a Colony for people of color, and also to aid in removing such free persons as may be disposed [to] emigrate, and such slaves as may be given up for that purpose.

Petition from the Citizens of Buckingham County (December 16, 1831) [Buckingham County’s petition suggested emancipation, but not out of fealty to the principles underlying the Declaration of Independence; rather, the signers worried that the state’s black population was growing too fast and its white population not at all. This would leave the state unstable and at the mercy of slavery’s “menace.”]:

The Southampton massacre with the number of conspiracies, prove that our fears are well founded. If we are now exposed to these insurrections and butcheries whilst physical strength, and whilst numbers are on our side; what will be our situation at the expiration of forty or sixty years if some plan be not devised and executed that will prevent the rapid increase of their numbers? We see that the blacks east of the Blue Ridge increase much faster than the whites, notwithstanding the great numbers that are annually sold to the South. This difference must be greater still when we reflect that in a few years more the Southern states will cease to purchase our slaves.

When this event takes place, the larger slaveholders will be compelled to purchase the land of the non-slave holders, to find employment for their slaves, and the latter class will emigrate to the new states. We believe that it is necessary to take the subject into consideration and devise some plan that will quiet the fears of the people of the Commonwealth, or we shall lose numbers of our best citizens.

Petition from Inhabitants of Washington County (December 17, 1831):

The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Washington County respectfully represents—That in the opinion of your petitioners the time has arrived, when, it is not only proper, but has become the imperious duty of the General Assembly, to require the removal from the Commonwealth, of all the free people of color, except such as have been emancipated, for making known insurrections or attempts at insurrections. These people may not be more prone to engage insurrectionary movements that the slaves:—but they are generally a great nuisance in our society and their presence makes the slaves more discounted. All must have observed this.

Your petitioners are further of opinion that it is the duty of your honorable body to make provision for a gradual reduction of the number of slaves in the Commonwealth, by purchase and removal out of the limits of the United States. Your petitioners would be willing that the Constitution of the United States should be so amended, as to authorize that Government, with the assent of any State to assist in the great work of removal.

Loudoun County Anti-Slave Resolution (December 30, 1831) [Loudoun County’s petition proposed… after advocating gradual emancipation, called for “the removal of the entire colored population,” including those who had been free, from Virginia.]:

3rd Resolved, As the opinion of this meeting, that the only adequate remedy for the evil which these resolutions discuss is the gradual emancipation of the slaves of the Commonwealth, and the removal of the entire colored population; and farther, that, as much time will be required for the accomplishment of this great object, none ought to be lost by delay.

4th Resolved, As the opinion of this meeting that a gradual emancipation and removal of the Slaves of the Commonwealth is practicable, and upon this assumption, the continuation of slavery is forbidden by the true policy of Virginia, repugnant to her political theory and Christian professions, and an opprobrium to our ancient and renowned dominion.

Speech by Samuel McDowell Moore (of Rockbridge County) to the House of Delegates (January 11, 1832):

In conclusion, permit me again to express the hope that this House will not consent to discharge the Committee from the further consideration of the memorials referred to them until they have enquired into the practicability of removing the great and insupportable evil of slavery from our beloved country. It may be that they will advise the adoption by this House of the scheme of emancipation, presented in Committee some time ago by the gentleman from Berkeley (Mr. [Charles J.] Faulkner) [ahhh… Cenantua’s Blog has dabbled in Mr. Faulkner’s story on more than one occasion] or the scheme now presented by the gentleman from Albemarle (Mr. [Thomas Jefferson] Randolph) or some other scheme by which it may be provided, that all slaves after a certain period, shall, if not emancipated or removed before they attain a certain age, be seized and sold by the officers of the Commonwealth at public auction, to be carried out of the State, and the proceeds paid over to the former owner. Other schemes may be presented, and we should not despair as long as any hope remains, that any practicable plan for the removal of the slaves can be offered for our adoption.

Speech by James H. Gholson (of Brunswick County) to the House of Delegates (January 12, 1832): [Gholson responded with an appeal to the rights of property owners as delineated in the U.S. Constitution. Citing the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the government from taking private property for public use without just compensation]:

Sir, if the adoption of this measure does not close every avenue of escape, you need not hope to retain your population. They will go, Sir, and will carry with them all which they value or hold dear on earth—property, affections, and love of country. They will leave behind them no prayers for the welfare of Virginia—but heartfelt and deep-tones maledictions on a government which would have wrestled from them the hard earnings of honest labor and made them beggars. They will leave behind them, moreover, a deserted and desolate country—or it may be, should the prohibition of slavery become general, they will leave you a country, with superadded legacy, of a black population—a land which echoes to the voice of the slave alone. Then, indeed, Sir, will the dreams of fancy, have become facts, and the poetic fictions of the present day, have become matter of history—and then may be sung, with all the solemnities of reality, mournful requiems over the departed glory of a people, who in the brighter days of our history, were esteemed lovers of their country.

Petition from the Women of Augusta County (January 19, 1832) [Augusta County women decried “the bloody monster, which threatens us,” and urged the assembly to “remove it, ye protectors of our persons, ye guardians of our peace!”]:

What is a nation but a family on a large scale? Our fears teach us to reflect and reason, and our reflections and reasonings have taught us that the peace of our homes, the welfare of society, the prosperity of future generations call aloud and imperatively for some decisive and efficient measure—and that measure cannot, we believe be efficient, or of much benefit, if it have not, for its ultimate object, the extinction of slavery from amongst us. Without, therefore, entering upon a detail of facts and arguments, we implore you, by the urgency of our fears, by the love we bear you, as our fathers, and brothers, by our anxieties for the little ones around us, by our estimate of domestic weal, by present danger, by the prospects of the future, by our female virtues, by the patriotism which glows in our bosoms, by our prayers to Almighty God, not to let the powers with which you are invested lie dormant, but that you exert it for the deliverance of yourselves, of us, of the children of the land of future ages, from the direct curse that can befall a people.

Without interfering too much with the readers’ thinking, as all of these quotes are considered, I offer a couple observations. 1) Do you detect a different tone from voices in the eastern and western portions of the Commonwealth? (although, it’s no great surprise to read what the Society of Friends (Quakers) of Charles City County had to say, Hanover County actually surprised me). I think there can be no mistaking Gholson’s pro-slavery stance; 2) The language of Northampton petition clearly goes against what the ACS says about African-Americans (Northampton citing “inferiority of race”).

I guess I’m also left with a couple more questions.

In the course of 28 years, was all of this forgotten by Virginians? Had some changed their minds so much that they then (by 1861) wished to maintain slavery and surround themselves with the very thing that they found so revolting and dangerous? Certainly, I do think that some did… but others… well, at this point I think we need to begin to question the strength of the arguments that all those who supported the Confederacy, did so for the preservation of that institution. Even if their support of the Confederacy… and even armed service for the Confederacy… was, by default, supporting the preservation of slavery, I don’t think a mentality that existed in 1831/32 had been so easily abandoned.

Does this following statement not begin to make more sense?

They are in arms, but not for the same objects; they are moved to a common end, but by different and even inconsistent reasons.

I certainly believe so.

I encourage further reading, via Encyclopedia Virginia’s article (by Eric S. Root), The Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831–1832.