Grant sought for 1831 tour

Published 8:46 am Friday, November 27, 2009

COURTLAND—Southampton County officials and historians share a vision for the future — one where carloads of tourists and busloads of students trek across the county to see the sites associated with Nat Turner and the rebellion he led in August 1831.

On Monday the Southampton County Board of Supervisors took a step toward making that vision a reality. By a symbolic show of hands, they voted unanimously to ask the Transportation Board of Virginia establish a project to aid in the interpretation of the Southampton Insurrection of 1831.

“I look forward to the interpretation of this event,” Boykins-Branchville District Supervisor Carl Faison said just before the vote. “It’s something that I think the county has overlooked for a long time. It is a potential source of income, and it’s also a segment of our history that we have closed our eyes to. It really needs to be drawn out and (given) the proper interpretation.”

The project seeks to acquire up to $400,000 in federal enhancement funds, which would be used for signs, literature and navigation tools to direct tourists on a circuitous route around the county to see sites from the rebellion. If successful, the Southampton County Historical Society would need to match at least $100,000 of the project’s cost.

“This is one of the most powerful pieces of history in Virginia,” said historian, preservationist and author John Quarstein. “The seeds of abolitionism are created thanks to the horrible yet meaningful rebellion that Nat Turner led.”

Quarstein said the historical society’s goals were to continue with preservation and restoration efforts of the Rebecca Vaughan House, which with the neighboring Museum of Southampton History would someday serve as a base for both a 6-hour driving tour around the county to see rebellion sites and a walking tour of Courtland.

“Our goal is to make it a very viable trail,” Quarstein said. “We want people to be able to enjoy the pastoral landscape of Southampton County while also understanding about the hard events of August 1831, and how they would build up toward the American Civil War and eventually the concepts of freedom that are shared by all.”

He added that fifth-grade, eighth-grade and 11th-grade students are all required to know about the rebellion through the state’s Standards of Learning testing.

“Students and citizens of Virginia will want to learn more about this,” Quarstein said. “The investment we’re making is not only preserving a house and talking about a piece of history, but we’re also looking at taking that history and making it a viable part of our community’s education as well as our economic well being.”

The route of the driving tour is still in the early planning stages, but is expected to center primarily in the southwestern part of the county — especially south of U.S. Route 58 and west of Virginia Route 35 — and include the Cross Keys area.

Meanwhile a walking tour of Courtland would include the courthouse, Mahone’s Tavern, the Rochelle-Prince House and the sites where Turner was jailed and executed.

Quarstein said the historical society had already raised more than $140,000 for the project from several donors and had other grant initiatives pending.

“It’s a very infamous event that we need to bring closure to,” said Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronald West. “I think we miss way too much of our history. If Southampton County can present this to the nation, the state and the local area, amen to it.”

Board Chairman Dallas Jones, who represents the Drewryville District, concurred.

“It’s long overdue,” said Jones. “It’s also something we can do to get some tourists to come into Southampton County. I hope it will come to pass.”