George Boxley (ca. 1780–1865)
Boxley was born about 1780 in Spotsylvania County, the son of a farmer, Thomas Boxley. Very little is known about his family and early life. He farmed for a time, operated a general store, and owned a tannery in Fredericksburg. On March 27, 1805, he married Hannah Jenkins. They had at least seven children, perhaps as many as eleven. He paid taxes on from three to eight slaves between 1801 and 1816, but in the latter year he was described as being in “desperate circumstances.”
Boxley served as an ensign in the militia during the War of 1812. By some accounts he was passed over for promotion, and he reportedly also had political ambitions thwarted when he was forced to defer to a member of a more prominent family. During the second half of 1815 Boxley began to conspire against slavery. Few observers agreed about his motivations or even his deeds. Some people assumed that Boxley acted out of resentment for past slights, some that he had become an abolitionist, some that he had become demented, and some that religious delusions motivated him. He allegedly told people that God had spoken to him through a white bird and convinced him of the evils of slavery. Boxley spoke out against slavery and attempted to organize African Americans in Spotsylvania and the neighboring parts of Louisa and Orange counties. He may have been trying either to help slaves flee Virginia or to mount an armed campaign to free them, but before anything took place his activities were exposed by a female slave. Boxley turned himself in on February 27, 1816, and was charged with fomenting an insurrection.
At least twenty-seven slaves were arrested and charged with complicity in Boxley’s alleged uprising. In the largest prosecution for insurrection in Virginia between the discovery of Gabriel’s Conspiracy in 1800 and Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831, five slaves were executed, and six others were sentenced to be transported out of Virginia. Boxley was ordered tried for capital felony and stealing two slaves, but while he was awaiting trial his wife smuggled him a file with which he sawed his way out of the Spotsylvania County jail and escaped.
On November 13, 1816, Boxley executed a power of attorney in Washington County, Pennsylvania, that enabled him to sell his two tracts of Spotsylvania County land totaling 460 acres. During the next several years he moved from place to place in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. In 1818 the superior court in Spotsylvania County outlawed Boxley after he again failed to appear for trial, and on several occasions bounty hunters attempted to capture him and return him to Virginia. One took him prisoner, but Boxley’s friends rescued and released him.
In 1828 Boxley built a cabin north of Indianapolis, Indiana. A nearby town was called Boxleytown and later Boxley. He continued to speak out against slavery and also denounced banks, taxes, courts, and government generally. He may have assisted people escaping from slavery, and his zeal made him appear to fit the stereotype of the wild-eyed radical abolitionist, but he also taught at one of the first schools in Hamilton County, Indiana. Boxley died at his home on October 5, 1865, two months before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal anywhere in the United States. He was buried in Boxley.