Sep 28, 2023 - Sale 2646

Sale 2646 - Lot 276

Price Realized: $ 4,750
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 1,500 - $ 2,500
(VIRGINIA.) The Heroine of Virginia, Slaying the Villain who Threatened the Violation of her Chastity. Engraving, 9 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches, 6 1/2 x 8 inches plate size; folds and wear in outer margins; moderate toning. No place, December 1813

Additional Details

A racially charged depiction of a woman preparing to kill a man with an axe.

The incident depicted here was first reported in the Richmond Enquirer of 14 December 1813, and elaborated upon two days later. They reported that in Hanover County about 12 miles north of Richmond, a soldier named Bowles was called up for War of 1812 militia service in Norfolk, VA. His wife and infant were left alone. One evening, an enslaved man belonging to the neighboring Boatwright plantation came to her door in a state of intoxication, announcing his plans to rape her. She demanded that he wash his feet first and poured some water into a noggin for him. As he leaned over to clean himself, "she seized an axe which lay on a table near the door, and . . . whirled the axe with such tremendous effect upon his skull, that he fell dead from his seat." She then fled to the man's owner, who replied that "he was sorry to have lost such a fellow; but that so far from blaming her, he commended the spirit which she had exhibited in the defence of her virtue." The mayor of Richmond soon published a commendation of her heroism, and requested the discharge of the woman's husband from militia duty.

The story circulated widely and was republished in at least nine other newspapers over the next two months, from Mississippi to Vermont. This engraving was produced to capitalize on the story's popularity. We have found no further corroboration of the story, but the 1810 census shows a Hezekiah Bowles living next to a Benjamin Boatwright in Hanover County.

No other examples of this engraving have been traced in institutions or at auction; a crude folk-art rendering of the engraving appeared at auction in 1978 and again in 2018, where it brought $3321.