Well, Jason Mazzone and Brian Clarke made surprisingly quick work of my Murfreesboro building trivia questions. Nice work, gentlemen. Now it's time to talk a little about those two buildings -- the Hertford Academy and Rea's Store -- and why I was interested in them.
In the wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, which took place in Southampton, Virginia, in August 1831, panic swept Virginia. Local authorities re-established order through extra-legal violence, as well as trials of suspected rebels. Dozens (perhaps in the low dozens, but dozens) of suspected rebels were executed without trial in Southampton. Most of this happened, it seems, at the hands of local authorities -- or guards from neighboring counties, including the North Carolina counties of Northampton and Hertford. This is how Blackhead Sign Post Road got its name, after all.
The exact dimensions of the violence are difficult to determine, though I soon will talk about one measure of the lower bound of the extra-legal violence -- the petitions for reparations from the Virginia legislature for slaves who were killed without trial. And the violence -- and let's be frank, the fear of further rebellion -- reached into neighboring North Carolina. Here is part of a letter about a slave who was shot in Murfreesboro, North Carolina -- which is in far northern North Carolina. It says
Last Thursday there was a negro from Ahosky Ridge, heading his course towards Southampton, and undertook to pass through the Boro’ and when he had get as far through town as Mr. Maug’s office, there were about 8 or 10 shots fired at him by the Guard, they cut off his head, stuck it on a pole and planted the pole at the cross streets near old Mr. Rea’s store house; his body was thrown in the bottom, between Mr. Maug’s office and the academy.
Jason Mazzone pointed out that there's another letter that also provides some additional details on this event:
There was during the alarm here, a negro man taken out shot and beheaded. His master's residence [is] some fifteen miles south and west of this place [which doesn't quite fit with the Ahosky Ridge description in the other letter]. He had procured a forged pass and made a bold attempt to reach the neighborhood where the massacre was committeed in Southampton, having told a negro before he left home, there would be a war between the black and white people.
Thus, I was interested in seeing the Academy and Mr. Rea's store -- and also the office and the "bottom between Mr. Maug's office and the academy." I'd also been wanting to get up to Murfreesboro to see the antebellum building from the Chowan Female Institute. So on one of my drives back to Philadelphia I made a detour to Murfreesboro. It's a beautiful city, with a lot of pre-war homes that have been terrifically preserved. Well, well worth a visit.
The Academy, the office, and Mr. Rea's store are all still there. And you know what? So is the bottom. It's hard to get a good photograph of the bottom in the springtime, because it's so grown up. (Yeah, I get that it's impossible to get a sense of the depth of the bottom from the photograph I used to illustrate this post -- it's maybe 15 feet down. Of all the photographs I took of the bottom, none came out well.) And then, of course, the crossroads in front of Mr. Rea's store, at the corner of Williams and Fourth Street for those of you who're interested in mapping this. Sort of amazing that 180 years later one can still find the buildings referenced in the letter and that the land even retains the physical features, too. Well, I leave it to people better schooled in the paranormal than I (and also the people who live around there) to determine whether the bottom is metaphorically haunted or actually haunted. I will say that between the Academy and the bottom is a small cemetery.
When I first asked about the Academy I noted that it was remotely related to the rebellion. My neighbor Steven Garland pointed out that Solon Borland was educated at Hertford Academy and that he was later a leader of Murfreesboro's military response to the rebellion.
Update: As of July 18, my paper on "The Nat Turner Trials" is up on ssrn.