Powhatan Bouldin (1830–1907)


Powhatan Bouldin was a Democratic journalist who covered the Danville Riot of 1883. The son of a congressman, Bouldin served in a series of Charlotte County public offices before purchasing a local Danville newspaper in 1865. He ran the weekly Danville Times until illness forced his retirement in 1894. The most notable event during his journalistic career was the Danville Riot, which resulted in the deaths of four African Americans. As editor of the Danville Times, Bouldin helped shape the pro-Democratic spin on the violence that spurred the downfall of local Readjuster Party officeholders in Danville and helped rally white supremacist Democrats to reclaim political power throughout Virginia.

Bouldin was born on May 24, 1830, in Charlotte County, the son of James Wood Bouldin, a member of the House of Representatives, and his third wife, Almeria Read Kennon Bouldin. He was educated at private schools and entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1848 but withdrew after nineteen months. Bouldin returned to Charlotte Court House to practice law. He served as deputy sheriff and in 1852 as commonwealth’s attorney. On March 9, 1855, Bouldin married Ella Fuqua. They had four sons and two daughters.

Bouldin left his law practice to enlist in the Confederate cavalry on May 15, 1861, but poor eyesight led to his discharge that December. He moved to Danville shortly after the war. In the autumn of 1865 Bouldin bought the Danville Appeal. He changed its name to the Danville Times and edited the paper as a Democratic weekly until about 1894, when severe illness forced him to discontinue it. In 1877 the paper had a weekly circulation of more than 900, and in 1885 Bouldin boasted of its extensive circulation in both Virginia and North Carolina. Too few copies of the Danville Times are extant to document or thoroughly describe his editorial career.

Illustrated Sketch Book of Danville, Virginia; Its Manufactures and Commerce

At the time of his death the Danville Register praised Bouldin for a service he had rendered to the city and the Democratic Party, “which ever afterwards caused him to be held in grateful remembrance.” The obituary was almost certainly recalling the period of local Readjuster rule from 1882 to 1883 that terminated with the so-called Danville Riot of November 3, 1883, during which four blacks were killed. The episode put an end to Readjuster political power in Danville and served as a campaign rallying point that restored white Democrats to power in Virginia and led to the downfall of the Readjusters throughout the state. By the turn of the century many white writers regarded the Readjusters’ biracial coalition as anathema, erroneously portrayed the period of Readjuster rule as part of Reconstruction (which had ended in Virginia in January 1870), and characterized the brief period when four African Americans sat on Danville’s twelve-member city council as a period of “Negro domination.” An account of the riot incorporating this interpretation filled seventeen pages of Edward Pollock’s 1885 Sketch Book of Danville, a book promoting the city as a business center.

The precise nature of Bouldin’s service to the white Democratic Party is unclear, but he served as one of three secretaries of the so-called Committee of Forty, put together after the riot to justify the viewpoint of local Democrats. As editor of the Danville Times Bouldin presumably both spread the word that the riot had been nothing more than a deplorable street fight that got out of hand and successfully worked for the downfall of the local Readjusters and the rise to power of white supremacist Democrats.

Home Reminiscences of John Randolph of Roanoke

Bouldin also wrote two books. Home Reminiscences of John Randolph of Roanoke (1878) depicts Charlotte County’s most famous son, as recalled by Randolph’s neighbors and acquaintances, including Bouldin’s father. Old Trunk or Sketches of Colonial Days (1888) uses the contents of a trunk discovered by the author’s aged aunt to illuminate his ancestors and the colonial customs of Charlotte County. Both volumes belong to a popular genre of local history that celebrated the customs and local notables of a better and bygone era.

Bouldin died at the residence of his son-in-law in Danville on March 8, 1907, and was buried in Green Hill Cemetery in that city.

Major Works

  • Home Reminiscences of John Randolph of Roanoke (1878)
  • Old Trunk or Sketches of Colonial Days (1888)

May 24, 1830
Powhatan Bouldin is born in Charlotte County, the son of James Wood Bouldin and his third wife, Almeria Read Kennon Bouldin.
Powhatan Bouldin enters the Virginia Military Institute but withdraws after nineteen months.
Powhatan Bouldin serves as commonwealth's attorney of Charlotte County.
March 9, 1855
Powhatan Bouldin marries Ella Fuqua.
May 15, 1861
Powhatan Bouldin enlists in the Confederate cavalry.
December 1861
Powhatan Bouldin is discharged from the Confederate cavalry due to poor eyesight.
Autumn 1865
Powhatan Bouldin purchases the Danville Appeal and changes the name to the Danville Times, editing the paper as a Democratic weekly.
November 3, 1883
Racial and political tensions erupt in an election-eve street fight in Danville that leaves at least one white and four black men dead.
Illness forces Powhatan Bouldin to discontinue publication of the Danville Times, the Democratic weekly newspaper he has edited since 1865.
March 8, 1907
Powhatan Bouldin dies at the residence of his son-in-law in Danville. He is buried at Green Hill Cemetery in Danville.
  • Ailsworth, Timothy S. et al. Charlotte County, Rich Indeed: A History from Prehistoric Times through the Civil War. Charlotte County, Virginia: Charlotte County Board of Supervisors, 1979.
  • Calhoun, Walter T. “The Danville Riot and Its Repercussions on the Virginia Election of 1883.” In Studies in the History of the South, 1875–1922, edited by Joseph F. Steelman et al., 25–51. Greenville, North Carolina: East Carolina College, 1966.
  • Dailey, Jane. “Deference and Violence in the Postbellum Urban South: Manners and Massacres in Danville, Virginia.” Journal of Southern History 63, no. 3 (August, 1997): 553–590.
  • Mainwaring, W. Thomas and Gary Grant. “Bouldin, Powhatan.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 120–121. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
APA Citation:
Mainwaring, W., Grant, Gary & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Powhatan Bouldin (1830–1907). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/bouldin-powhatan-1830-1907.
MLA Citation:
Mainwaring, W., Gary Grant, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Powhatan Bouldin (1830–1907)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 13 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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