The Defamation of Spencer and Alfred

Sprouse’s account failed to tell the story of the resistance from the perspective of the boys. Instead, she focused on telling the story from the accounts of the slave patrollers and members of the Mason family, such as George Mason of Hollin Hall and Richard C Mason. The patrollers told their side of the story from the belief that the boys attacked them with the intent to dangerously injure them. Richard C Mason gave a description of how the patrollers looked after the attack, saying they had extreme vomiting which could be said was caused by a severe concussion. George Mason of Hollin Hall went as far as to say that the boys were “turbulent and outrageous in their behavior” (Sprouse, 2004). In the same account, Mason went on to state that the patrollers were “the most respectable men of the neighborhood…they all came from good families and character…industrious, honest, and worthy” (Sprouse, 2004) as he was the one that appointed them to be patrollers. Even though the Mason family and patrollers had this racist mentality towards the characters of Spencer and Alfred, there were people within the community that thought differently from them. A petition was signed to commute the sentence of execution placed over the boys' lives since people believed that Spencer's and Alfred's characters didn't align with the verdict they received since they viewed them as individuals that have good characters. They also believed that the injuries weren't life-threatening for them to be executed. The petition written by the community held as an alternative narrative to the traditional narrative that the white men had towards enslaved Black people in this situation. By them offering that narrative, it added to the humanity of Spencer and Alfred and other Black people that was stripped away from them on numerous occasions.


The differing language to describe the boys and the patrollers stems from a traditional narrative of white supremacy. The patrollers were the white men put into authority meaning that not only did they have the authority to do their job but they had the unspoken authority to rule over Black bodies. As this event took place in 1840 it followed the revolt led by Nat Turner in Southampton, Virginia. The revolt of that kind, which resulted in a great number of white people dying, caused fear to spread amongst white people in different areas of Virginia, harvesting the white supremacist idea that Black people are animalistic and need to be tamed. To combat this fear, slave patrollers came into the picture. Fairfax County hired white men as patrollers, such as the ones involved in this account, to surveillance Black bodies gathering where they were supposed to and to ensure that they had passed from their enslavers stating where they were able to go. The combination of fear and desire to control Black bodies resulted in the defamation of Spencer’s and Alfred’s character by the patrollers and the Mason family. They believed that Spencer and Alfred weren’t respecting the structures placed in society when it came to the relationship between white men and enslaved people.


As Spencer and Alfred were viewed as savages, on the other hand, they were viewed as commodities. According to the Virginia Black Laws, if an enslaved person was found guilty of a capital crime and was sentenced to jail, their enslaver had to be compensated the amount the enslaved person was worth. In the case of being found guilty of the insurrection and sentenced to death by execution, it was legally required that the state compensate Spencer’s and Alfred’s enslaver, Dennis Johnston. Spencer was worth $900 (roughly $31,250 today) and Alfred was worth $850 (roughly $29,500). Despite the negative language used to describe the boys’ characters, the substantial amount of money they were worth shows that they were highly valuable to Dennis Johnston. Their value could’ve been high due to their gender and age as enslaved males were considered highly valuable because of their capability to do work. This is something Richard C. Mason and George Mason of Hollin Hall understand as they were enslavers themselves. With this underlying understanding of Spencer and Alfred possibly having decent behavior, the Mason family used the language they did to have control over the fate of enslaved Black boys. 


Tosin Olanrewaju

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