Summary of Camden Revolts



            In compliance with your request I send you a narrative of the projected conspiracy of the blacks in Camden, and its neighborhood, in the year—the professed design of which was to murder all the whites, and free themselves.  A long lapse of time has erased from my memory many of the particulars, but I am enabled to give you the following outline.

          About the middle of June, 1816, Col. Chestnut, a citizen of Camden, and an aide-de-camp for Gov. Williams, was informed by a favorite and confidential slave, that propositions of dangerous character had been to him, in relation to projected insurrection among the blacks—and that the time and place of rendezvous had been already appointed.  His master, placing the most unreserved confidence in his fidelity, directed him to attend the meetings of the conspirators, previous to the development of the plot, and, at the same time, to conduct himself with the most guarded discretion. . . . A communication was immediately had with Governor Williams, and Colonel Chestnut received the necessary instructions with regard to the defeat of the conspiracy.  These were communicated to none other than the town council; and such was the secrecy with which the whole affair was conducted, that on the morning of the 1st or 2nd of July, the young men chosen to arrest the ringleaders of the conspiracy were assembled under the pretense of a fox chase, and dispatched under the command of leaders, who were enjoined to the utmost secrecy.  They were perfectly ignorant of the nature of the service they were on, until the moment they were ordered to arrest the conspirators, most of whom were at work in the fields, many miles apart.  Their movement were so secret and simultaneous, that the arrest were made almost at the same instant of time, and with any intimation on the part of those respectively arrested, of the fate of their confederates.  The same caution was subsequently used, at their trial, to conceal the name of the informer who was likewise in custody.  The most satisfactory testimony, independent of that of the informer, and regulated by the most rigid rules of evidence sufficiently established their guilt; and the first gang who were executed died ignorant of the informer.  Hey all confessed their crimes, and the most intelligent of them acknowledged that they had anticipated immediate death in case of a discovery.  Two brothers engaged in this rebellion could read and write, and were hitherto of unexceptional characters.  They were religious, and had always been regarded in the light of faithful servants.  A few appeared to have been actuated solely by the instinct of the most brutal licentiousness, and by the lust of plunder, but most of them by wild and frantic ideas of the rights of man, and the misconceived injunctions and examples of Holy Write.

          The scheme had for its object the conflagration of a part of the town—the massacre of all the white male inhabitants, and the more brutal sacrifice of the female.  Their plan was entrusted to a few only, and they left its development and consummation to chance; relying on the presumed disposition to rebellion on the part of the blacks of every description.

          The night of the 4th of  July was appointed for the explosion—great anxiety had been exhibited among the younger and more ardent associates in the revolt, in the different meetings that were held, to precipitate the period of attack, and begin the work of desolation and slaughter some time before.  But the cautious and calculating judgment of the more cunning and elder, urged as reasons for deferring it, that there was a scarcity of provision—that the crops not yet made would be lost in the confusion that would ensue, and that famine would accomplish what force might not be able to effect.  They confidently relied also, upon the usual indulgences among us on a day celebrated as a great national jubilee; and it was finally determined, that the night of 4th of July should be appointed as the time for the re-enaction of the horrors of the Sicilian Vespers.  The different commands had been regularly assigned to particular leader, and all had been allotted, except that of commander-in-chief.  This was reserved for him who should first fore the gates of the arsenal.  To strengthen the possibility of success, the Negroes from the circumjacent country were invited, under various pretenses, to Camden that night  The fidelity of a favorite domestic, as I have already stated defeated their flagitious scheme, and consigned the ringleaders of the revolts to a premature and ignominious grave.  The legislature of the state purchased the freedom of the informer, and settled a pension upon him for life.

          Although many were known to have been concerned in insurrection none but the chiefs of the revolt were executed.  As well as I can recollect, the whole number hung was six.[1]


[1] The original transcripts have been lost.  This testimony and description of the insurrection is given by Francis G. Deliesseline, Esq., and was published by Edwin G. Holland in  A Refutation of the Calumnies Circulated Against the Southern and Western States, Respecting the Institution and Existence of Slavery Among Them.  Charleston, S.C. 1822.  I believe that the lost transcripts can be located in the Caroliniana Library item A-786 in Record of Trial of Slaves for Attempted Insurrection.  Mss. (July 3-17, 1816).