"Masters Determined to be Masters": The 1821 Insurrectionary Scare in Eastern North Carolina.

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Title: "Masters Determined to be Masters": The 1821 Insurrectionary Scare in Eastern North Carolina.
Author: Kaiser, John James
Advisors: Dr. James Crisp, Committee Chair
Dr. Joseph Caddell, Committee Member
Dr. Susanna Lee, Committee Member
Abstract: This thesis seeks to explain how the militia and patrols worked together in a flexible system designed to suppress both real and potential slave unrest. As the summer of 1821 neared its end, depredations committed by runaway slaves caused widespread alarm throughout Eastern North Carolina. Their depredations resulted in an insurrectionary scare that grew to include eight counties in Eastern North Carolina. Although documentation is sparse, there remains a trail of communications between militia officers and Governor Jesse Franklin detailing the scare from its inception. In addition, numerous militia officers wrote the Governor and General Assembly to justify their actions during and after the scare. These letters and petitions provide the story of the 1821 insurrectionary scare. Furthermore, this thesis will place the insurrectionary scare within the context of circumstances prevalent in Eastern North Carolina in 1821. These circumstances included an outbreak of yellow fever, extreme weather, harsh political bickering (both local and national), and a large (and increasing) slave population combined with White flight to the South and West. This thesis begins with the discussion of an unfortunate occurrence on Street's Bridge that left several militiamen and citizens wounded. Their presence on the bridge was part of a system designed to ensure the subjugation of the local slave population. However, in a highly ironic twist of fate, these two groups of men (citizen and militia) encountered one another on Street's Bridge. The exchange of fire that resulted caused several casualties on both sides. Both groups shot at men they mistook for runaway slaves' a mistake rooted in both deeply held fears and a severe lack of martial discipline. Expanding outward, I propose an answer to the question of how militia and patrols worked together to suppress slave rebelliousness by examining the respective organizations in their actions, duties, and membership. Comparing patrol appointments and militia lists with county tax lists and census data allow for a better understanding of the men who served in these organizations. While overlapping in some respects, for the most part the militia and patrols served different roles and recruited different members. The roles of the respective organizations were consistent with their membership. The militia, composed primarily of nonslaveholding whites, served in a role that kept them restrained by their officers, while the patrols, composed mainly of slaveholders, performed duties that required greater autonomy and interaction with individual slaves. This thesis concludes with an examination of the militia response throughout Eastern North Carolina and the aftermath of the scare. Reviewing the records of the militia's response provides some answers to what factors triggered white fears that depredations by outlying slaves were more a nuisance. Furthermore, the response of militia officers to what might appear a failure by conventional military standards provides insight into the militia's role as a force best used to inspire fear— more so through its image than its actions. The culmination of this scare came long after the last militiaman had returned home from serving his state. In perhaps the most important change to come from the insurrectionary scare, the legislature shifted responsibility for militia payments from the General Assembly to the County Courts. The shift helped to ensure that militia members could expect a more willing hand to control the purse strings that governed their pay. This change proved highly providential to future militia call-outs, since the former system allowed statewide political infighting in the legislature to prevent militiamen who served in 1821 from receiving state payment for their service.
Date: 2006-12-12
Degree: MA
Discipline: History
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/2639

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