On this day in WNC History: On April 17, 1832, the Miners’ and Farmers’ Journal broke the news of a tense Burke County trial. Two enslaved men, Giles and Billy, stood accused of plotting an insurrection among the enslaved people working in gold mines in Rutherford and Burke counties.
The alleged plot began in September 1831, amid a wave of paranoia following Nat Turner’s revolt in Virginia. Rumors of outlandish plots spread like wildfire through the South and the state, including Duplin and Sampson counties in the east. In Burke and Rutherford counties, a sudden boom of gold mining, relying heavily on hired enslaved laborers, meant that many enslaved men worked in close proximity, with less direct supervision—the perfect environment for conspiring. Supposedly, an enslaved preacher named Fed had leaked the details of a coordinated raid on Morganton and Rutherfordton by these Black miners. Rumors abounded in Rutherfordton that 60-80 of these men had mustered along the Broad River and planned for a rebellion in October. While many prominent citizens grew paranoid, Isaac Avery, the largest enslaver in Burke County, felt the plot was a farce.
The case went to superior court in March, 1832. Fed turned on his alleged co-conspirators and testified against them as a state witness. His words were disallowed, not because of his status, but because of contradictions and inaccuracies in his allegations. Meanwhile, two white men were summoned to provide statements in support of the accused Giles and Billy. Surprisingly, the white jury—including Isaac Avery—found them not guilty and all three Black men were released from jail, much to the chagrin of Rutherfordton residents.