One constant fear in the slave society of the antebellum south was that of a slave insurrection. From 1800 to 1802, Gabriel’s Rebellion, also known as the Easter Rebellion, caused apprehension throughout the Albemarle Sound region. The coastal area of North Carolina from New Hanover to Tyrrell County experienced panic in the 1820’s as a result of roving bands of maroons, escaped slaves and/or free persons of color. In 1831 the aftermath of the Nat Turner Rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia spread alarm from Northampton County, North Carolina to the counties bordering South Carolina. Viewing such revolts a real threat to their society, white North Carolinians began to guard against the possibility of insurrection by assigning patrollers to each county.
In October 1860, societal fears became reality when white laborers on the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal coaxed some slaves into running away to the swamps of southeastern Virginia. The canal system tied southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina economically and socially. Slave owners in both regions soon learned of the plan and notified the patrollers who captured or killed the participants. Those captured faced trial; however, the trial yielded mixed results with both convictions and acquittals.
Although the trial determined the fate of the individuals involved, Currituck residents took action to reduce the future threat of insurrections by petitioning the General Assembly in Raleigh to enslave free blacks. The insurrection and resulting repercussions revealed underlying pressures and social concerns on the antebellum North Carolina home front. This sequence of events, documented in newspapers, court minutes, and petitions, underscored antebellum societal tensions.
- “Excitement in the Adjoining Counties” from The Daily Herald [Wilmington newspaper], Oct. 10, 1860
- “Insurrectionary Designs in Norfolk County and Princess Anne” from The Southerner [Tarboro newspaper], Oct. 13, 1860
- “Insurrection in Currituck” from The Daily Progress [New Bern newspaper], Oct. 18, 1860
- Currituck Superior Court Minutes, Jan. 14, 1861 [referencing 1860 slave insurrection]
- Currituck County Court minutes, Feb. 1, 1861 [referencing 1860 slave insurrection]
- Petition to the North Carolina General Assembly from Currituck County citizens, 1861 [referencing 1860 slave insurrection]