23 August 2016

A Back Road in Virginia

This past weekend I took a ride off the beaten path in southern Southampton County, Virginia. Technically, I was about halfway between Courtland (formerly named Jerusalem, the county seat of Southampton County) and Newsoms but neither is incorporated so I can say I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I drove the entire length of this road:




Blackhead Signpost road isn't very long and isn't named after a facial blemish. Al Brophy of the UNC Law School describes the history of the road's name this way:
In Southampton County, the scene of the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion, there is a move afoot to rename “Blackhead Signpost Road.” The road takes its name from a rebel whose severed head was placed on a pole as a warning to others. One of the first historians of the rebellion, writing in 1900, said that the signpost was “ever afterwards painted black as a warning against any future outrage.”
Brophy provides some additional detail that was new to me: 
It is likely that the slave involved was Alfred, a blacksmith owned by Levi Waller, whose wife and children were murdered in the rebellion. According to a petition Waller filed with the Virginia legislature asking for compensation, Alfred was first caught by a small band of the local militia. They disabled him “by cutting the longer tendon just above the heel in each leg” and left him there by the side of the road as they went in search of other rebels. Then a group of mounted militia from Greensville County came along. They tied Alfred to a tree and shot him, because they “deemed that his immediate execution would operate as a beneficial example to the other Insurgents — many of whom were still in arms and unsubdued.” 
The official signpost describing the rebellion lead by Nat Turner is a few miles distant. 
There is, of course, much more to be said about the event that greatly frightened Southern slaveholders. You can read a more detailed account here.

A couple of points of interest. First, Nat Turner could read, and he read the Bible. The effect of excluding enslaved persons from churches, however, left him with no guidance on the application of the text which, coupled with his ecstatic visions, lead him to believe deliverance from slavery could be accomplished by killing slave owners. Second, the response of the Virginia legislature was to make illegal teaching slaves to read. Hardly a testimony to the Christian faith claimed by the elites of the commonwealth.

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