House linked to Turner rebellion is set for restoration

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2008

COURTLAND—With the 180th anniversary of the Nat Turner slave insurrection approaching, the Southampton County Historical Society is moving forward with plans to restore the house where the last whites were killed during the uprising.

A historical consultant and architects have been hired, and a local committee continues the work that aims at opening the relocated house for tours in time for the anniversary in 2011.

&uot;As far as I’m concerned, the earlier (we open it), the better,&uot; said Lynda Updike, president of the historical society.

Restoring the Rebecca Vaughan house represents just a portion of the society’s larger plan, she said Monday.

The group also plans to open the Museum of Southampton History on adjacent property and to add Courtland’s Turner-related sites to a walking tour that already exists in the town.

Members also plan to work with historian John Quarstein to develop a driving tour of other sites associated with Turner’s rebellion and other historical events in Southampton and Franklin.

But the Vaughan house restoration will be the most visible result of the more than $800,000 society members expect to spend.

A committee from the historical society awaits a report from The Livas Group, which was hired to research and plan the necessary work on the house in which Rebecca Vaughan was killed as she knelt to pray in an upstairs room.

But Updike said she expects work will be needed to make the building accessible to the influx of history buffs that is anticipated once the house is opened for tours.

Updike said she is unsure how much of the building will be open to the public, but noted that the society foresees at least one room downstairs being furnished in a style similar to how it would have appeared in 1831, when Turner led a group of slaves on a two-day rampage through parts of Southampton County.

Turner and a group of slaves that grew to more than 40 men began their bloody revolt on Aug. 21 of that year, when, in the early morning hours, they killed Turner’s master, Joseph Travis, and his entire family as they lay sleeping.

Gathering confederates as the moved from farmhouse to farmhouse, killing the occupants with axes, guns and clubs, the insurrectionists continued their murder spree through the following day, when their march toward Jerusalem was interrupted by a militia.

The mob scattered, and its members were caught and punished in the following days. Turner, himself, was captured on Oct. 30. He was tried and convicted for the crimes Nov. 5 and was hanged six days later.

In all, 55 black people were executed by the state for their involvement in the killings. More than 200 subsequently were murdered by white mobs.

In the years to come, several different families lived in the Vaughan house. Updike said they all complained that they were unable to remove Rebecca’s bloodstains from the upstairs floor.

Vandals finally took care of the bloodstained planks, and Updike said there is no longer any direct evidence of the murders within the house. In fact, it no longer sits on the site where the murders took place, having been moved to the grounds of the Southampton Farm & Forestry Museum in 2004 when the property owner decided it would either be moved or demolished.

Built between 1794 and 1800, the house is now on the state and national registers of historic places, because of both its history and its architecture, Updike said. She noted that there are &uot;architectural details that are indigenous just to southeastern Virginia,&uot; including trim around the doors and floor joists labeled with Roman numerals.

Placement on those registries means there will be significant oversight of the historical society as it spends the grant money it is raising to restore the house, Updike said. And with local, state and federal money supporting the project, there is likely to be broad interest in the project as it comes to fruition.

Nowhere, however, is that interest greater than in Southampton County, where the historical society describes the Turner’s revolt as &uot;a compelling, emotional story connecting Southampton County to Virginia’s slavery heritage and the American Civil War.&uot;

As it stated in a recent grant application: &uot;The Rebecca Vaughan House provides Southampton County and the Commonwealth of Virginia with a unique opportunity to effectively present the history of slave revolts, slavery and abolitionism through the events of the 1831 Nat Turner rebellion.&uot;