It’s probably time to continue with our look at John Brown. We’ve looked at the way two different North Carolina newspapers covered the Raid. Let’s look at the way that others within the state reacted.
One common echo was that men and women from the North needed to be “watched” closely. The Washington Dispatch (NC) believed that Yankee schoolmasters, booksellers, and vendors should be watched, questioned, and examined. They believed that every Northerner should be assumed to be an abolitionist agent, and the burden of proof of innocence was placed on the visitor. The Raleigh Register believed that every stranger coming into a Southern state should be considered “as prima facie an incendiary” and must supply evidence to the contrary. Only the editor of the Carolina Watchman believed spoke against this suspicion “not only on account of its tendency to aggravate that state of unrest which nearly precedes violence, “but because it was “apt to lead to indiscrimination and wrong.”
The words that flowed off the North Carolina press were more than rhetoric. In November 1859, two book peddlers from Connecticut were arrested and charged with “tampering” with slaves. They were taken before the superior court, but were later released and returned to the North. Others were likewise forced to leave the state, as reported in local newspapers. Since some of the prominent abolitionists were ministers, local preachers who were from the North came under special scrutiny. (This topic probably deserves a post on its own.)
There were additional measures taken. One was a proposed bill to remove “free negroes” from the state. The bill did not pass. While some newspaper editors advocated the removal of “free negroes,” others, like Holden, came to their defense, at least partially. Holden did advocate that “no addition to their number” be permitted. “We would advise nothing in relation to this unfortunate race of a harsh or unjust character.”
One further result of John Brown’s Raid was the reorganization of the state’s militia. I also think that this deserves a separate post, but we will hit the basics. North Carolina has had a militia system since the 1600s. At times, the system worked, and at other times, it did not. In the 1850s, each county had a militia regiment, and the state had brigades and divisions. The militia was required to drill once a year, but the system was largely defunct (even that is a generous statement). There was a large public outcry regarding the reorganization of the militia following John Brown’s Raid. While the state did act, it was slow. In some places, such as Mecklenburg County, and in Wilmington, volunteer militia companies were organized. Some of these volunteer companies became the first companies to enlist in state service following Governor Ellis’s call for troops.