I've been blogging a bunch of late about my paper on the Nat Turner trials. The paper is largely concerned with the trials in the wake of the rebellion and what they say about the nature of slavery-era jurisprudence. I've been long interested in the aftermath of the rebellion, when the Virginia legislature debated what to do about slavery. Then in the wake of those debates William and Mary Professor Thomas Roderick Dew emerged with his Review of the Debates in the Virginia Legislature, which was an important proslavery pamphlet. In fact the first chatper of University, Court, and Slave is called "The Rebel and the Professor." I use Nat Turner and Thomas Dew to set the entire book in motion.
This began as a short paper on what I thought I would call "micro-trials" (borrowing from from Kaimi Wenger's phrase micro-reparations) -- trials that lasted a short time for which the outcome was fore-ordained. But I soon realized that there were more complexities to the trials than I -- or most other people who'd looked at them -- had thought. Some of the slaves were charged only with conspiracy rather than murder or insurrection. There is a lot of evidence about who the witnesses were in the trials (even if not much on what they said); more people were found not guilty in Southampton than I'd expected at first. Though in the neighboring county of Sussex, where there was no overt rebellion, the court was extremely harsh on defendants. The defense lawyers, particularly James Strange French, appeared of increasing importance in this story, as did some of the judges. And to tell the story of the trials I realized that I needed to go back and tell something of the story of the rebellion. There, too, there was more evidence to harvest than I'd expected. I was super-excited by slave-owners' petitions to the Virginia legislature for their slaves who were killed during and immediately after the rebellion. Those petitions contained evidence of the circumstances of the killings, the extent of them, and also the arguments that the petitioners thought might appeal to the legislature. The appeal was to the legislature to bear the cost so that individual slave-owners would not have to.
Anyway, here's my abstract: