To Smith Snead 1792


On May 5, 1792, the Northampton County militia lieutenant, Smith Snead, received a letter signed by six local residents assuring him that that a variety of circumstances made it clear that a revolt was impending and urging him to get arms.  Accordingly, he wrote the same day to governor Henry Lee for “one hundred weight of powder and four hundred of Lead.”[1]A letter-dated Petersburg, Virginia, May 17, 1792, reports that:

Several alarming accounts have been received in town, of a very dangerous Insurrection among the Negroes in the Eastern shore of Virginia; --Reports state, That about two weeks ago, the Negroes in that part of the State, to the amount of about 900, assembled in different parts, armed with muskets, spears, clubs &c and committed several outrages upon the inhabitants.  A favorite servant of Colonel Savage, who had joined them, met his master on the road, took his horse and some money from him, and treated him in an insolent manner.  Celeb, a Negro, the property of Mr. Simkins, was to command long lived with him in the capacity of overseer.  A barrel of musket balls, about 300 spears, some guns, powder, provisions, &c have already been discovered and taken; the spears, it is said, were made by a Negro blacksmith on the Eastern shore.  A considerable number of the slaves have been taken up, and it is expected will be hanged.[2]


According to Herbert Aptheker, in American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), that it appears from a letter lately discovered in Norfolk from one of the “Negroes” on the Eastern shore that they had concerted a plan with the “Negroes” from Norfolk and Portsmouth to commit some violent outrages in and about those towns.  Six hundred of them were to cross the bay, at a certain time in the night, they meant to blow up the magazine in Norfolk, and massacre the inhabitants.

[1] C.V.S.P., pp. 534-35.

[2] Published in The Boston Gazette and the Country Journal, June 18, 1792.