BRADFORD-L ArchivesArchiver > BRADFORD > 2008-05 > 1211893097
Subject: [Bradford] The Story of the Murder of Robert Bradford
Date: Tue, 27 May 2008 12:58:17 -0000
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This maybe of interest to the Fauquier County Virginia Bradford DNA Project members. This Robert Bradford married Eliza S. Hart. He is the son of Capt. John Bradford and Elizabeth Blackwell.
Rebels on the Plantation
By John Hope Franklin
Oxford University Press
Dissidents in the Conscript Army
On 17 August 1840, the day of a great Whig political convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Jake, a slave owned by an old and respected farmer, Robert Bradford, refused to go to work. Like other blacks in the neighborhood, he wanted to go to the convention, listen to the speeches, and attend the celebrations. The overseer informed Bradford that Jake was "in an ugly mood" and asked him what to do. Bradford said he would speak with Jake and see if he could calm him down. Bradford was unable to placate the black man and ordered his overseer to tie him up for a whipping. Jake quickly drew a knife. "Whether he aimed to cut the rope or the Overseer no one knew," a Nashville slave recalled, "but he made a wild thrust which killed Mr. Bradford on the spot."
Jake absconded into the woods. Nine days later a notice appeared in the Nashville Whig: a thirty-year-old slave named Jake, a raw-boned, quick-spoken man of "bright complexion," weighing about 160 or 170 pounds, had murdered old man Bradford. When he escaped he was dressed in white homespun "linsey pantaloons, and roundabouts." A short time later, Governor James K. Polk offered a reward for the slave's apprehension. Despite concerted efforts by constables, justices of the peace, and local citizens, Jake remained at large for a number of months. Finally, however, he was captured, tried, convicted, and hanged. Few lamented his passing, but the death of the esteemed Bradford was universally mourned by whites in the community.
Murders such as the one on the Bradford farm in 1840 were rare under the slave regime, but the incident revealed undercurrents that were quite common. Like Jake, other slaves were frustrated, alienated, defiant, sometimes violent; indeed, Jake's anger and hostility represented a far greater proportion of the slave population than might be suspected. Echoing the words of others, one Maryland slave master described his female slave as "turbulent, disobedient and impudent beyond endurance," and worse, when excited by passion "is perfectly deranged."
To examine the discontent of enslaved and illiterate people is not without its hazards, not the least of which is that the most reliable and objective sources-in our case county court records and newspaper advertisements-are nearly always written by whites. But careful use of this evidence and other sources reveals the depth of hostility many slaves felt toward their owners and overseers.
The evidence shows that slaves engaged in a remarkable variety of acts to demonstrate their discontent. Many openly defied the system. Although historians have examined slave resistance from a number of vantage points-ranging from finding solace in a "black community" to outright revolt-the tensions, conflicts, and often violent confrontations between master and servant, or overseer and slave, have received less attention. They, nevertheless, deserve close study if one is to understand fully the problem of managing slaves in a rural or urban setting.
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