Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My 7th Great Grandfather Robert Bittle (abt 1720-abt 1795) Was on a Slave Patrol in Southampton County, Virginia

Google Books often provides a limited preview to recently published books, like the one I came across today while searching for my Bittle ancestors in 18th century Southampton County, Virginia, "Lethal Imagination: Violence and Brutality in American History," edited by Michael A. Bellesiles (also available on Amazon).

From page 73:
From these patrol-created files we can learn much about the pattern of violence that slaves experienced in colonial Virginia at the hands of whites who were not necessarily their owners.  The earliest extant notes recording patrol activity come from Southampton County in 1754.  Three patrol groups submitted extensive accounts in that year, listing the days and times they rode and giving details of the slaves they captured. A comparison of the names of patrollers with the names of the plantations visited suggests that the three patrol groups worked as distinct units in different parts of the county and submitted separate reports of their activities.  Multiple patrol groups would have been a necessity in the large and growing counties of Virginia.  Even though Southampton had more white residents than slaves by the mid-1750s, the fact that whites outnumbered blacks did not ease the fears of many Virginia colonists; attempted slave revolts in 1729 and 1730, and rumors of insurrections later in the 1730s must have frightened many whites.  The knowledge that runaway slaves had repeatedly and southern margins of Virginia must have been unsettling, and that knowledge provided a strong rationale for the activities and payment of county slave patrols. 13 
The details in patrolling journals vary dramatically, depending upon the individual recordkeeper, but broad similarities can be found in all.  Colonial Virginia slave patrols typically rode in groups of four or five, and their journals commence by listing the individuals' names.  "John Brantly & Philip Bran[t]ly & Will[ia]m Grimmer & William Joyner Junr have Rode in the patrole servis the 28th of Septem[ber]" runs a standard patrol entry. 14 
Virtually every patrol report gives specifics about the number of hours worked, with a few presenting precise information about the exact number of hours worked by each man in the group.  In Southampton, John Seuter, Jacob Turner, Simon Harris, Robert Bittle and William Kirby worked precisely 50, 32, 126, 108, and 126 hours, respectively, in an eight-month span.  The patrol reports usually carry the signature of the militia captain, justice of the peace, or court clerk who vouched that the work had been completed faithfully.  Patrols most often worked from sundown to sunup, during the "Negro's day" -- when slaves left their cabins to attend meetings or to travel after their workday ended.  As they patrolled, they encountered both slave men and women.  After an evening's work in October 1754, patroller Bennet Hilsman wrote, "We Patrolers did ketch a negroe man slave belonging to Joshua Barnes & a Negro woman slave and Childe...and she was a Runaway she said."  
Where is the "Dislike" button?  This is one of those things that I don't enjoy finding out, that my ancestor was a member of a slave patrol, in an area later rocked by the Nat Turner Slave rebellion over 70 years later, no less.

This information doesn't surprise me, though, given what I already knew about the area during that time, and my people there either owned slaves or were overseers.

Using the "Search Inside This Book" at Amazon I discovered that footnote 14 was taken from "Patrol returns and lists, 1754-1861, Free Negroes, Slaves and Indians records, Southampton County, LV."

This lead me to the Library of Virginia's website, and A Guide To The Southampton County (VA.) Free Negro and Slave Records, 1754-1860, a non-digitized collection of 3 boxes taken from the Southampton County Circuit Court.

This is a good reminder that most stuff is not online!  I just lucked out that a researcher published the records in their work.

Robert Bittle was an ancestor of my 4th great grandfather, Benjamin "B. R." Biddle.  The William Kirby mentioned in the same sentence in the quote is most likely Robert Bittle's brother-in-law.

© 2017 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.

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