12 September 1829 – Seventeenth Entry

Today’s entry describes a recent uprising against a slave trader named Gorden, that had occurred nearly three weeks earlier. His partner Petit, and his wagon driver named Allen had been killed. Six slaves were to be hung for their murder. This is the same road that Campbell and thousands of other families are using to travel to Missouri. The incident would also make the newspapers as far away as Philadelphia ten days after the event.

Passed by the spot where two negro traders had been murdered by their chained slaves 2 or 3 weeks before. The torn fragments of their clothes were scattered about, the bushes beat down, the grass and leaves torn up, and other marks of a violent contest. Seven of the negroes are in jail and six of them will be hanged. We crossed a steep mountain, the dividing line between the Greenup and Lewis Counties, came down the valley of Montgomeries Creek and again came to the Ohio River. Traveled several miles down the river to Vanceburg, a small trifling village, on the Ohio River, of 14 houses. Saw a steamboat packet going the river, We encamped 1/2 mile above the town, near some salt furnaces which make about 100 bushels per day.*

The National Gazette – Philadelphia Pennsylvania, 2 September 1829

The National Gazette – Philadelphia Pennsylvania, 2 September 1829

Portsmouth, Ohio August 22 Affray and Murder! – A most shocking outrage was committed in Kentucky about eight miles from this place, on the 14th instant. A negro driver, by the name of Gordon, who had purchased in Maryland about sixty negroes, including all sexes and ages, was taking them, assisted by an associate named Allen, and the wagoner who conveyed the baggage, to the Mississippi. The men were handcuffed and chained together in the usual manner for driving these poor wretches, while the women and children were suffered to proceed without incumbrance. It appears that, by means of a file, the negroes, unobserved, had succeeded in separating the irons which bound their hands, in such a way as to be able to throw them off at any moment. – About eight o’clock in in the morning, while proceeding on the state road leading from Greenup to Vanceburg, two of them dropped their shackles and commenced a fight, when the wagoner Petit rushed in with his whip to compel them to desist. At this moment every negro was found perfectly at liberty; and one of them seizing a club, gave Petit a violent blow and laid him dead at his feet, and Allen, who had come to his assistance, met a similar fate, from the contents of a pistol fired by another of the gang. Gordon was then attacked, seized and held by one of the negroes, whilst another fired, twice at him with a pistol, the ball of which each time grazed his head, but not proving effectual, he was beaten with clubs and left for dead. They then commenced pillaging the wagon, and with an axe split open the trunk of Gordon, rifled it of the money, about $2,400; sixteen of the negroes then took to the woods. Gordon in the mean time, not being materially injured, was enabled by the assistance of one of the women, to mount his horse and flee; pursued, however, by one of the gang, on another horse, with a drawn pistol. Fortunately he escaped with his life, barely arriving at a plantation as the negro came in sight; who then turned about and retreated. The neighborhood was immediately rallied, and a hot pursuit given – which we understand has resulted in the capture of the whole gang, and the recovery of the greater part of the money. Seven of the negro men and one woman, it is said were engaged in the murders, and will be brought to trial at the next court in Greenupsburg.

Artist: Lewis Miller
Library of Congress

Campbell’s journal accurately describes an event where a slave trader named Petit and the wagon master were murdered. Of the sixty slaves that were being taken to the Mississippi, perhaps St. Louis, Missouri, apparently six men, with the help of one of the women had managed to break the handcuffs that chained them together. During their escape attempt, they had pursued Gordon, yet only injured him. They were caught soon after, and the six men that killed Petit and Allen were set to be hung by September 12th.

The enslaved population was often larger in numbers than the white population in some parts of Virginia. This knowledge made it easier, to feed the paranoia of slave owners that uprisings and revolts could happen at any instant. The value of one’s slaves rose and fell like the price of today’s gasoline, according to supply and demand. The enslaved were sold on an auction block at the County Seat, on Court days, and kept in the pen until enough were gathered to make the journey worthwhile. Traders moved their enslaved property like cattle, with the men handcuffed and chained shackles on their feet, with the women, children and babies following along. With a trader leading the march, a driver alongside, and a wagon with supplies bringing up the rear, sixty people could be marched from Maryland, Virginia or Kentucky quite easily…

Archer, Louisa, Sam, and over twenty other enslaved by the Alexanders, McCluers and Wilsons would silently pass this spot, while the families would most certainly discuss the recent events…


Northeastern Kentucky today
2019 Photo by Dorris Keeven-Franke
2019 Photo by Dorris Keeven-Franke

*This is the journal of William Campbell (1805-1849) leading four families from Lexington, in Rockbridge County, Virginia to St. Charles County Missouri, written in 1829. Among the enslaved is Archer Alexander, born in 1806. This journal is located in the collections of the Leyburn Library, Special Collections and Archives, located at the Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, and for which we are deeply indebted to Lisa McCown. Editor and author is Dorris Keeven-Franke.

The Journal continues on the 13th of September… https://archeralexander.wordpress.com/2020/09/13/13-september-1829/

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