Saturday, March 5, 2016

"A Virginian Beaten by His Own Slave"

A colleague at work this week shared an interesting local history story that made national news in March 1861. And although it originally ran in the nearby Petersburg Express on March 19, this particular version appeared in the New York Times on March 22, 1861. Doing a quick internet search showed me that the article also made it as far west as Sacramento, California. The internet search also quickly made it apparent that this story is not unknown today. A couple of other blogs in recent years have discussed it. But, since it happened in the county where I currently live, and involves what was a rather unusual occurrence, I thought I'd share it here, too, in its entirety as it ran in the New York Times.

--The Petersburgh [sic] Express of teh 19th gives the following particulars of a savage assault made upon Mr. F[endal] MALLORY SUTHERLAND, of Mulberry Inn, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, on Friday last, by one of his own servants:

'Mr. SUTHERLAND was out on his plantation superinending the clearing of a patch of new gound, and directed NED, a robust fellow, to lift a log to a pile of burning brush. The negro replied that he would not do it, which Mr. SUTHERLAND interpreted to mean that the negro did not feel able to lift the log, and stooped to do so himself. While stooping, NED seized a big stick, and striking his master a powerful blow over the back, felled him to the earth. He then repeated his blows until the stick was broken in many pieces, and Mr. SUTHERLAND lay apparently lifeless. Thinking he had accomplished his purpose, he started off, and had proceeded about fifty yards when he saw his master attempt to rise. Seizing another stick, he returned and striking Mr. SUTHERLAND another severe blow across the face, mashed his nose flat to the face, and then continued to beat him across the arms, breast and legs, until the flesh was pummeled to the consistency of jelly. Some small negroes were present when the beating commenced, but they were mere children, and dreaded the ferocity of NED as though he had been a tiger, and were therefore prevented from offering assistance. As soon as they could get to the house the intelligence was communicated to some of the neighbors, and all turned out en masse to hunt us the fiend, some three or four going to the assistance of Mr. SUTHERLAND, and conveying him to his residence. Upon reaching the house he manifested indications of returning of consciousness, and at last accounts, Sunday, was alive, though in a very precarious condition.

The search of the neighbors for NED proved unavailing, but the account of the outrage reached this city [Peterburg], and on Sunday night Mr. GEORGE ALSOP, who knew the scoundrel, succeeded in arresting him at the depot of the South-Side Railroad in this city, and lodged him in jail. He will be transferred to the County of Dinwiddie for trial."

Fendal M. Sutherland appears in the 1860 census as a thirty-eight year old farmer. He owned $6,000 in real estate and $13,700 in personal property. Living with Sutherland was his wife, Emerlina P., age thirty-seven, and their three sons and one daughter. Sutherland, as one might imagine, also appears in the "Slave Schedules." Sutherland owned thirteen slaves who ranged in ages from fifty to three years old. These enslaved individuals were all described as black, except one mulatto. Interestingly, Sutherland was listed having one of his slaves as a fugitive. Sutherland's slaves lived in two dwellings.

Unfortunately the news article provides no context for this act of violence. One is left to ponder why Ned beat Sutherland so severely. Was there a specific precipitating factor? Or, was Ned just generally fed up with having little to no say in his life. Had Sutherland previously treated Ned poorly? Was there an ill history between the two men?

I also wonder what fate Ned met. I must admit I was surprised to hear that he was jailed and not lynched for the beating. Was he truly tried? Was he hanged? Was he sentenced to be sold out of state? Perhaps the answer is out there waiting to be uncovered. History mystery #4,080.

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