Tumult and silence at Second Creek : an inquiry into a Civil War slave conspiracy Winthrop D. Jordan Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 1993 Hardcover. 1st ed., later printing. xvii, 391 p. : maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 359-367) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
In the spring and summer of 1861, a group of slaves in Adams County, Mississippi, conspired to overthrow and murder their owners. The conspiracy was discovered, the plotters were arrested and tried, and hanged. By November the affair was over.
In 1971, Winthrop D. Jordan came upon a document upon which this book is based – a record of the testimony of some of the accused slaves as they were interrogated by a committee of planters determined to ferret out what was going on. This discovery led him on a twenty-year search for additional information about the aborted rebellion. Because no official report or even newspaper account existed, the search for evidence became a feat of historical detection.
Jordan gathered information from every possible source – the private letters and diaries of members of the families involved and of people who recorded the rumors that swept the Natchez area in the unsettled months following the beginning of the war; letters from Confederate soldiers concerned about the events back home; the journal of a Union officer who heard of the plot; records of the postwar Southern Claims Commission; census documents; plantation papers; even gravestones.
What has emerged from this odyssey of research is a re-creation of what Winthrop conjectures may have happened in one of the last slave rebellions in the United States. It is a twisted portrait of the Natchez region at the very beginning of the Civil War, when Adams County was one of the wealthiest communities in the nation and a few powerful families interconnected by marriage and business controlled most of it – something that Jordan finds unacceptable.
In piecing together the fragments of extant information about the conspiracy, Jordan has produced a picture of the what be believes the plantation slave community in southwestern Mississippi in 1861 was like – its composition and distribution; the degree of mobility permitted slaves; the ways information was passed around slave quarters and from plantation to plantation; the possibilities for communication with town slaves, free blacks, and white abolitionists. Jordan also explores the treatment of blacks by their owners, the kinds of resentments the slaves harbored, the sacrifices they were willing to make to protect or avenge abused family members, and the various ways in which they viewed freedom. There are of course no real primary sources that can be considered evidence in the strictest sense so what you have is something on the order of Gone With The Wind edited by Mother Jones.
Tumult and Silence at Second Creek is proclaimed a major work by one of the most distinguished scholars of slavery and race relations. His exhausting conjectures and resourceful creation of documentation from both dubious and spurious sources is compounded by his analysis of it all make the facts fit the story in this extended essay on the nature of historical evidence and inference. His other book – White Over Black – has been acclaimed by the same people for the same reasons and the only informative thing about either work is that at least White Over Black is honest in revealing, through its title, his predispositions and biases.