Horrid Massacre in Virginia

April 2nd, 2009

Nat Turner's Rebellion

Nat Turner

This image is a print of a woodcut summarizing the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia. It was created in 1831 and it is unknown who the creator of the image is. It is housed in the library of congress rare book and special collections department. The link for its information page gives its exact location in the library, as well as where it came from, here

The Library of Congress says that it was originally an illustration in Authentic and impartial narrative of the tragical scene which was witnessed in Southampton County. This account was published in New York in 1831. However, all of my web-searching leads me back to the image, but does not really clarify on its original function. Personally, I think it was a propaganda tool used to make out Turner’s rebellion to be worse than it was and to scare White slave owners and make them aware of the ‘blood thirsty’ nature of their slaves. Samuel Warner was the man who published this account of the slave uprising in Southampton County, which led to many innocent blacks being killed and slave owners tightening up their plantations and becoming more strict. ( http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6811/ )

The following excerpt is the full text of Warner’s publication to which this woodcut was a part of:

Horrid Massacre In consequence of the alarming increase of the Black population at the South, fears have been long entertained that it might one day be the unhappy lot of the whites, in that section, to witness scenes similar to those which but a few years since, nearly depopulated the once flourishing island of St. Domingo of its white inhabitants–but, these fears have never been realized even in a small degree, until the fatal morning of the 22d of August last, when it fell to the lot of the inhabitants of a thinly settled township of Southampton county (Virginia) to witness a scene horrid in the extreme!–when FIFTY FIVE innocent persons (mostly women and children) fell victims to the most inhuman barbarity. The melancholy and bloody event was as sudden and unexpected, as unprecedented for cruelty–for many months previous an artful black, known by the name of Nat Turner, (a slave of Mr. Edward Travis) who had been taught to read and write, and who hypocritically and the better to enable him to effect his nefarious design, assumed the character of a Preacher, and as such as sometimes permitted to visit and associate himself with many of the Plantation Negroes, for the purpose (as was by him artfully represented) of christianizing and to teach them the propriety of their remaining faithful and obedient to their masters; but, in reality, to persuade and to prepare them in the most sly and artful manner to become the instruments of their slaughter!–in this he too well succeeded, by representing to the poor deluded wretches the Blessings of Liberty, and the inhumanity and injustice of their being forced like brutes from the land of their nativity, and doomed without fault or crime to perpetual bondage, and by those who were not more entitled to their liberty than themselves!–and he too represented to them the happy effects which had attended the united efforts of their brethren in St. Domingo, and elsewhere, and encouraged them with the assurance that a similar effort on their part, could not fail to produce a similar effect, and not only restore them to liberty but would produce them wealth and ease!… Yet we cannot hold those entirely blameless, who first brought them from their native plains–who robbed them of their domestic joys–who tore them from their weeping children and dearest connections, and doomed them in this “Land of Liberty” to a state of cruel bondage!… To remove this stain from the American people the energies of justice, the life of virtue, and the sacred obligations of principle must be brought into operation. We have already said that all men are born equal–that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, LIBERTY and the pursuit of happiness. But do we mean by the term ALL MEN, to be understood those of a white complexion only, and that nature has denied, or the Creator withheld, from those of other shades, the rights which have been contended for?… The colonization scheme of which we have heard at Washington, was opened to the public with feeling and pathetic acknowledgments that Africans were men and that from us they had a right to look for justice. Hence it cannot be denied, they are literally and in fact included in our bill of rights, nor can we be exonerated from the charge of tyranny until by our solemn act we place them in full possession of those rights which are claimed for ourselves, and which are consistent with the principles of our excellent government. While we believe it to have been the object and compatible with the views of the framers of our constitution, to “form a perfect union, establish justice and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” we cannot admit that they ever intended to entail upon the sons of Africa the chains of perpetual slavery!–and we rejoice that we have it in our power to say that the reputation of the New-England States (as well as that of New-York, New-Jersey and Pennsylvania) is no longer tarnished with this foul stain–her humane and Philanthropic sons have wisely burst asunder the chains of bondage and set the captive free!

The excerpt can be seen here, http://www.gilderlehrman.org/search/disp…

It depicts the insurrection led by this famous slave that resulted in the deaths of many slave owners and their families. African Americans in the 1830’s seeing this image would be hit with a great amount of pride and emotion because it portrayed a slave standing up for himself and others rights to live a good life. While the image portrays Turner and the rebellious slaves in a very barbaric manor, I feel it captures the mood of the rebellion very accurately. From all accounts I have heard of the rebellion it was a very bloody and ruthless event. The image is entitled “Horrid Massacre in Virginia” and it is definitely not attempting to portray the event in any positive light, and it is a white man’s representation of the event, clearly because it is serving to point out the ruthless barbarity of the slaves and set them aside as inhuman.

The significance of my choosing a woodcutting for the image, when there were many other choices, is that it is something that has been lost in time. There are not really any more woodcut images in today’s world as everything has been digitized and we depend on cameras now instead of artist renditions, which takes away some of the flaws having to do with bias and interpretations which provides us with greater

Crazy Horse

March 19th, 2009

  This photoprint is of an illustration from Frank Leslie’s Newspaper, October 12, 1877.  It is a depiction of Chief Crazy Horse’s funeral procession passing through camp Sheridan on the way to the grave on September 5, 1877. He had been stabbed by one of  the reservation officers when he resisted arrest; his hands were bound behind his back. In an excerpt from “American Indian Biographies” it is  reported that Crazy Horse’s parents alone took his body into the hills and buried him in a place only known to them.  However, other accounts claim that he is buried near Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  This print shows an extensive funeral procession and seems to be made up of women. However, the Library of Congress website describes the figures in the print as both men and women. 

Crazy Horse was an Native American icon.  His charismatic leadership yielded him many followers.  He refused to sign treaties and remained on his land to protect it even after other tribes had relocated on reservations or fled to Canada.  He eventually surrendered to General Crook in Nebraska and went to live at the Red Cloud Agency.  Rumors that he was going to escape forced his arrest and subsequent death.

Leslie has chosen to depict the funeral of Crazy Horse with messianic overtones.  Though it may have been the custom, his body is wrapped and the presence of female characters surrounding the body resembles the crucifixion of Christ leading up to the events at the tomb. Over time, it has been revealed that Native American spirituality has been strongly influenced by Christianity.

Frank Leslie was born Henry Carter in Ispwich, England. He was an illustrator and moved to the U. S. in 1848.  He is famous for his illustrations of the Civil War as well as several Native American prints.  On the back of this print “Indians-Dakota Biography-Crazy Horse Funeral” is written. Repository: Western History/Genealogy Depart, Denver Public Library, 10 W. 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, CO 80204


 Library of Congress. “Indians-Dakota-Biography-Crazy Horse Funeral.” http://memory.loc.gov. (accessed March 17, 2009).

Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Vol. 3. Tarrytown: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1997.

Markowitz, Harvey, and Barrett Carole, eds. American Indian Biographies. Pasadena: Salem Press, 2005.

Frank Leslie Civil War Illustrations. http://www.frankleslie.com. (accessed March 15, 2009).