Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kentucky Woman on 1856 Slave Insurrection Scare, Part 2

Hopkinsville and Christian County, Kentucky slaveholder Ellen Wallace continued her thoughts on the potential dangers that she associated with news of a slave insurrection in her area in December 1856.

On December 13, Wallace wrote that her husband went to their farm in the county and that it had been raining all that day. On his return home she stated, "The accounts he brings back are truly awful. all the negroes in the neighborhood implicated[.] The leading negro in each family was to kill their owners wives and children the young girls to be made wives of. no exaggeration of imagination or language can equal reality. Such are the confessions. all agreeing in the same thing though examined apart[.] what heart rending scenes would have been enacted had their scheme been put in execution. The time had not yet arrived when their plan was to be put in effect. Christmas was the time set apart.. The punishments inflicted to extract information are terrible. But the occasion requires it and there is no alternative." It is thought provoking that Wallace wrote about the "punishments inflicted" in order gain confessions. Is it possible that the slaves confessed in order to stop the tortures inflicted upon them? She says they were questioned separately but had the same information. Is it possible that the slaves knew the information through their informal "grapevine" network, rather than being a part of the plan?

That evening she turned her thoughts to other concerns briefly by saying that she "did not attend Sabbath school" that morning, but quickly came back to the most pressing news. "we have heard no news today yet I have strong suspicious of one of our maids Coraline[.] I may do her injustice but I think her in the plot heart and soul." Was Wallace being paranoid or insightful? "Our negroes on the plantation it is said are implicated to what extent we have yet to learn the poor creatures have no doubt been instigated to such dreadful intentions by friends in the shape of white men." It never ceases to amaze me that slaveholders could switch at the drop of a hat from being fearful of the dangers slaves could bring to them, but in the next second call them "poor creatures." Similarly, slaveholders so misunderstood their chattels' ability to be agents of insurrection without the prompting of a white instigator-as if being a slave was not reason enough to rise up and strike for liberty. They believed that slaves were too ignorant to construct and carry out a detailed plan without the help of white friends.

On December 17, Ellen wrote her slave "Elijah has been implicated. is before the committee. I don't know what they will do with him. I hope he will be cleared. I doubt his innocence [?] he is fond of bad association. I was in great passion with my maid Coraline also this morning. The negroes have got to such a pitch of impudence that farther forbearance is degrading to the whites and a serious disadvantage to the servant." Two days later Wallace mentioned that the neighborhood was still in alarm and that the safety committees were still making investigations. Her slaves Elijah and William confessed during an interrogation that back in November a black preacher had taken up an offering in order to buy arms and ammunition. These meetings were held during times that overseers and masters were not present. She said "I hear of executions [of slaves] every day or two." She ended the day's entry by explaining that she is seriously thinking of finding another cook as her's [Coraline] was not obeying and "neither was she brisk or handy."

 These slave insurrections and rumors of uprisings turned the slaveholders' world upside down. They didn't know who they could trust or if they would awake in the morning. It must have been an extremely stressful situation for both master and slave and I am sure brought out the worst in both. 

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