I can’t tell from Benjamin Labaree’s journal with total confidence, but the incident of the runaway slave and the miller in Trenton that I discussed in my last post may have been part of the white panic that spread across the North Carolina coast in the summer of 1821.
More than 80 years ago, one of North Carolina’s most respected historians, Guion Griffis Johnson, discussed the panic in her magnum opus, Ante-bellum North Carolina: A Social History.
Referring to the slave conspiracy of 1821, Johnson described runaway slaves taking “refuge in a swamp in Onslow County near a place called White Oaks on Trent River,” not far from Trenton.
She also discussed the terror that whites felt at the threat of a slave insurrection. She observed that the panic spread all the way from Wilmington to Little Washington, a distance of more than 100 miles.
In Onslow County, local authorities called out 200 militiamen for 26 days. White leaders in Carteret and Bladen counties also called out militia.
Johnson quotes Col. William L. Hill, of the Onslow militia.
Col. Hill wrote that the outlaw band of fugitive slaves was “filled with the most daring runaways, who well armed and equipped had long defied civil authority, and in open day had ravaged farms, burnt houses, and had ravished a number of females.”
What was factual in Col. Hill’s statement and what was reflective of rumor and hysteria is far from clear. Regardless, that was the world in which Benjamin Labaree lived when he was teaching in Trenton.