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History of Nat Turner's Rebellion or Nat Turner's Revolt
“And my father and mother strengthened me in this my first impression, saying in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose, which they had always thought from certain marks on my head and breast”
Nat Turner's Rebellion
On the night of August 21, 1831 Southampton County, Virginia, Nathanial "Nat" Turner led a bloody two day assault, killing households of white slaveowners and their families. The attack resulted in the brutal deaths of 60 white men, women, and childeren, and led to countless reactionary killings of blacks in Virginia and North Carolina.
The extreme nature of the revolt forced the debate of slavery's role in America and whether it was sustainable. In the south it resulted in the stricter laws and protocols for blacks by nervous slaveholders. Upper south slaves were migrated to the deeper south, as the shock of Turner's revolt set in across the region.
- Nat Turner was born on October 2nd, 1800 in Southhampton County, Virginia
- The revolt took place on August 21st, 1831.
- Turner is discovered in hiding on October 30 1831
- Turner makes his confessions to attorney Thomas C. Gray on November 1, 1831
- Nat Turner was hanged on November 11th 1831
Nat Turner The Slave
Born as a slave to Benjamin Turner on October 2, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia, Turner learned to read and write at a young age. A fervent christian, Turner studied the teachings of the bible, becoming deeply devoted to his religion in relation to slavery.
After successfully escaping at the age of 21, Turner returned to bondage after seeing what he described as visions from God that he was destined to lead his people to freedom.
In 1830, Turner was moved in to the plantation of Joseph Travis, who had married the widow of Thomas Moore. Turner would later describe Travis as a kind master.
Turner became a preacher among the slaves, and continued to see the visions and signs of nature he interpreted as signals from above. On Febuary 11, 1831 Turner witnessed a solar eclipse and understood it as his sign to act.
"I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first... And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work, and until the first sign appeared I should conceal it from the knowledge of men; and on the appearance of the sign... I should arise and prepare myself and slay my enemies with their own weapons."
After a feast and prayer, Turner and a small band of seven slaves set out for the Travis home. Armed with hatchets and axes, the insurgents killed all five of its occupants in the dark, securing money, guns, horses, and liquor before setting forth on the nearby plantations, slaying all in their wake. With each attack, the rebellion recruited more slaves to its cause, swelling to nearly 75 men at one point.
Turner hoped to inspire more slaves to join, but as word began to spread of the insurrection, militia was dispatched and quickly squashed the revolt. Before their capture, Turner's rebels had killed almost 60 white men, women, and children. Turner managed to escape capture for six weeks, but eventually was caught and found guilty of conspiring to rebel and making insurrectiion. He was sentenced to death and hanged on November 11th in Jerusalem, Virginia. His corpse was skinned and hacked into pieces and taken by onlookers as souvenirs.
Many slaves with no ties to Turner were tortured and killed, as slaveowners attempted to quell any future revolts. In Virginia, laws were passed banning the teaching of blacks, free or slave, to read or write. Other southern states followed, and slaves were no longer free to worship without the supervision of whites.
Hero or Villian?
Nat Turner led one of the most notorious slave revolts in our nation’s history. Considered a prophet by some and a terrorist by others, Nat Turner's controversial uprising is still a subject of debate today.
It’s been said that his revolt may have even accelerated the Civil War, which took place less than 30 years afterwards.. Other’s have argued that his killing of women and children was inhumane and unjust.
Excerpt From T. Thomas Fortune's Nat Turner
The blow he struck shook slavery’s throne;
His cause was just, e’en skeptics own;
And round his lowly grave soon swarmed
Freedom’s brave hosts for freedom arm’d.
That host was swollen by Nat’s kin
To fight for Freedom, Freedom win,
Upon the soil that spurned his cry;
“I will be free, or I will die!”
Nat Turner Was?
Turner's rebellion alarmed and awakened both abolitionist and slave owners alike with its extreme violence. Mobs and militias formed, leading to the torturous deaths of blacks in the south. For slaveowners it was a nightmare, many had believed their slaves were content and submissive. Nat Turner's rebellion was a terrifying exposal of the truth behind these pretensions.
Over time, Turner's rebellion has been seen as more of a heroic act, and a precursor to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Historical writer James H. Harris stated that Turner's rebellion "marked the turning point in the black struggle for liberation" and that "only a cataclysmic act could convince the architects of a violent social order that violence begets violence."
Nat Turner was many things. He was a slave, a preacher, a revolutionary, and a murderer. His revolt was as polarizing as it was shocking and forced America, both north and south, to look at the ugly truth of human bondage.