Author: Daniel W. Crofts


John Brown (ca. 1830–after 1900)

John Brown represented Southampton County at the Convention of 1867–1868, called to rewrite Virginia’s constitution. Brown was born enslaved, and before Emancipation his wife and children were sold and taken to Mississippi. How and why he entered politics after the American Civil War (1861–1865) is unknown, but he inspired a remarkable voter turnout during elections for the convention. White moderates who had been Whigs before the war sought African American support for the convention balloting. In an astonishing display of group cohesion, almost 98 percent of registered black men appeared at the polls on October 22, 1867. Brown received all 1,242 black voters to defeat his two white opponents. The turnout and support for Brown was a remarkable event in the county where Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831 took place. Brown’s political career did not continue after the convention. He likely never learned to read or write and died sometime between 1900 and 1910.


Archibald Atkinson (1792–1872)

Archibald Atkinson was a member of the House of Delegates (1815–1817, 1828–1831), the Senate of Virginia (1839–1843), and the U.S. House of Representatives (1843–1849). Born in Isle of Wight County, he practiced law after seeing brief action during the War of 1812. In politics, Atkinson was an ardent proslavery Democrat who supported territorial expansion in Oregon and Texas and the right to expand slavery into the territories won during the Mexican War (1846–1848). In a valedictory speech to Congress in 1849 he defended slavery as a moral good for African Americans. He served as the mayor of Smithfield from 1852 to 1855 and then left politics to farm. He died in 1872.