“Old Bill” Suggests—
In this day of new social theories, it might be well to remember that premature agitation, even if the theory is right, can lead to tragedy. A good example is Nat Turner’s insurrection a century or more ago.
Southampton county, Virginia, was drowning in the hot sunshine of the summer of 1831. It was a kindly county, where Negro slaves were sleek, well cared for, and not overworked. Wrong as the system was, they were actually happy and pretty well off.
One of these slaves, a Baptist preacher of great influence among the Negroes, had claimed from childhood to see visions and hear voices. Apparently worked upon by the abolitionist propaganda then current in the north, he told a few companions that a voice from heaven had announced “the last shall be first.”
An eclipse of the sun, the preceding February, and peculiar atmospheric conditions on Aug. 13, convinced him the hour was at hand. On Aug. 21, 1831, with seven companions, he invaded the home of his master, Joseph Travis, murdered the entire family, and after securing guns, horses and liquor began visiting other houses, sparing no one.
By next day his followers, increased to sixty and drunk with fanaticism, were leaving a trail of horror across the countryside. About noon they met a few dozen white men, hurriedly gathered to defend their homes. Turner’s followers broke and scattered. They were captured later and nineteen of them were hanged. Altogether, they had killed thirteen men, eighteen women and twenty-four children.
The northern abolitionists who sent out the original propaganda had set back their own cause, created a barrier in the south, and added one more straw to the fuel that flamed in the civil war. Turner had ruined himself and his friends (he was hanged first of all) and had set back the cause of the Negro by twenty years. There was no possible way in which those murders could have brought freedom, or anything but disaster.
The fellow who claims to “hear voices” may be inspired or may be merely nutty. The latter is more frequent. The people who propagandize for causes they do not clearly understand are not nutty at all. They are, with deliberate criminal carelessness, playing with matches in a powder factory.
ROYAL F. MUNGER.