North Carolinaâ€™s Newspaperâ€™s response to Nat Turnerâ€™s Rebellion
Nat Turner began his rebellion in Southampton, Virginia on August 22, 1831, and was soon put down by a white militia the next day. The report of the rebellion took some time to reach the North Carolina newspapers, but by early September the news was out. At first, news about the rebellion was quite unclear and confusing. The North Carolina Star reported all the “rumors” and non-authentic accounts that they had. The reported number of whites killed ranged from 40 to 80, but the paper added, “Such stories are always greatly exaggerated” (The North Carolina Star, 1 September 1831). The paper labeled the incident unworthy to be called an insurrection, because it was originally thought that the African Americans involved were only run-away slaves. The slaves involved were not portrayed as freedom fighters, but as robbers and people only trying to commit mischief. Nat Turner was only rumored to be the leader and was thought to be an African American from North Carolina. The first reports could not fathom that slaves collectively rose up against their masters for freedom. The paper found that they could only be run-away slaves resorting to robbery because they had left the loving care of their master. The Raleigh Register’s report, which was released the same day of the North Carolina Star, presented their information on the insurrection with much more certainty. They reported that Nat Turner, a slave and a preacher, convinced fifty slaves to revolt by manipulating the Bible to support his insurrection plan; these slaves were blood thirsty and greedy to kill over sixty whites. The paper reported that the leaders “were shot and their heads placed upon stakes in the public road”(The Raleigh Register, 1 September 1831). It insisted that the danger was over, and the example made of the leaders should deter other slaves from rebellion. The initial reports of the rebellion show signs of the patriarchal view of slavery still existing. People could not and did not want to believe that slaves had the ability or the desire to overthrow their masters. Papers later in the week were more much more willing to except that it was in fact a slave insurrection, but searched for reasons as to why the rebellion occurred. The Carolina Observer in Fayetteville, N.C. reported a number of different reasons for why Turner rebelled. They accused Turner of being intoxicated and angry for not being able to marry another slave. They also accused the law for allowing Turner to be taught how to “read and write and permitted to go about preaching in the country.” (The Carolina Observer, 7 September 1831). The Carolina Observer commented the next week on the number of the African American slaves accused of being involved in the rebellion, and how they were treated. The paper stated, “It is with pain we speak of another feature of the Southampton Rebellion; for we have been most unwilling to have our sympathies for the sufferers diminished or affected by their misconduct. We allude to the slaughter of many blacks without trial, and under circumstances of great barbarity” (The Carolina Observer, 14 September 1831). The paper acknowledges that it was wrong for the slaves to go without trial, but that their actions deserve no sympathy. Reports about the Nat Turner rebellion created mass fear throughout North Carolina as supposed reports of other insurrections appeared across the eastern part of the state.