Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What Is A Blackhead Signpost?

The BlackHead Sign Post

"We learn that, the troops under the command of Gen. Brodnax, had slain upwards of 90 blacks, taken the leader in that section proper, cut off his head and limbs and hung them in different sections, to inspire a salutary terror among the slaves. The jails, too, we learn, are crowded with negroes taken up on suspicion; every one found in the attitude of resistance, or with arms in their hands, having been shot down without judge or jury."

That led to me to realize that one of the places I really wanted to see was the "Blackhead Signpost Road"--named after the place where a head of a rebel was placed, as a warning to others.  And after a while that site gave its name to the road.  I figured all I'd be able to see was the fields where this happened -- I didn't realize it was still called that -- so you can imagine my surprise when the intersection of Barrows Road (a lot of the action took place along Barrows Road) and the New Jerusalem-Cross Keys Road (now known as Meherrin Road) I saw a sign for the "Blackhead Signpost Road."   Haven't been that surprised in a mighty long time.  Check out the image on the left.  Talk about stepping back in time.

Nat Turner had been driven to these deeds by a series of religious visions, and he chose his target, the county seat of Jerusalem, Virginia, at least partly for its symbolic significance. Nevertheless, Turner and his allies must have known that their mission was futile. Within hours a white militia force assembled and hunted them down. Thirty slaves were convicted of being involved in the raid, and nineteen of them were executed. Nat Turner, himself, eluded capture for several months but was ultimately captured, tried, and executed.

A reaction to these events swept across Virginia. Rumors of suspected conspiracies and planned future attacks spread across the state. Over one hundred slaves may have been executed without a trial in the days and weeks that followed. The heads of fifteen of them were placed on poles along a local road that took the name “Blackhead Sign Post.” Nat Turner’s skeleton and his skull were passed around in the community for years after his death. One man claimed to own a purse made of Turner’s hide.

As the fear of future slave insurrections grew, the white community in the South pulled even closer together. Following Nat Turner’s attacks, the Virginia State Legislature in the last months of 1831 and through 1832 debated plans to end slavery by sending all the slaves out of the country. When this legislation failed to pass, Virginia and other slave states passed a series of laws restricting the activities of both slaves and free blacks. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write. They could no longer own a horse, or firearms, or buy liquor. Free blacks were no longer allowed to preach to slaves. Slave patrols were organized. Death was the penalty for an increasing number of crimes from insurrection to raping a white woman, to poisoning, to committing arson.

Prof. MARABLE: "Living Black History's" subtitle is "How Re-imagining the African-American Past Can Help Remake America's Racial Future." My goal was to awaken not just with--for black Americans, but for all Americans, a richer and deeper understanding of how we are connected with the racial conflicts of the past that are really at the heart of America's history, that Nat Turner's slave rebellion which occurred in 1831 in Virginia for the only sign of that rebellion that occurred for about two centuries was something called Blackhead Signpost Road, which was a street sign that existed not far from where the original rebellion was because it was a marker where a slave's severed skull had been placed at the head of a road by local whites as a warning to other slaves. And for two centuries, that name stood and, you know, we're disconnected from the name, but the act of violence itself echoes on in how we live our lives today in racially stratified ways.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice work in a few paragraphs. I used to live in Courtland, used to visit what houses were left standing, Catherine Whitehead's, Nathanial Francis', Richard Porter's and a few others I don't recall the names. There was one house near the blackhead sign post that was finally torn down in the late 70's but that had a fireplace and hearth intact but was stained from the blood of the children's heads being slammed against it. They were grabbed by their legs and and swung like an axe as their little heads exploded on the brick hearth. The mother and father were forced to watch and then they were killed.
    Catherine Whitehead was actually the only person murdered by Nat Turner using a dull sword and took many hits until she was actually dead. Her brother Richard was killed in their field as he worked. Will, who was one of Nat's henchmen, used a bladed axe to behead him where he stood in the field as Will passed him while riding his horse.
    Horror in a long of slavery in the south is in itself unthinkable. Horror of the abuse that slaves endured day in and day out must have been so horrible.
    Even more barbaric is the way the dead slaves corpse's were treated. They boiled down their bodies and fat to make soap as souvenirs. Either the sheriff or judge had the wallet from Nat's hide. There were lampshades, and other unthinkable souvenirs from the trials and covictions of the Nat turner gang.