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History of Nat Turner's Rebellion or Nat Turner's Revolt

Updated on July 11, 2013

“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


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."

--Nat Turner


The Revolt

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?

See results

The Aftermath

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.


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    • weestro profile imageAUTHOR

      Pete Fanning 

      4 years ago from Virginia

      Great points Levertis, thanks for reading!

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      4 years ago from Southern Clime

      Wow! Yes, I remember reading about Nat Turner's revolt some years ago. Those who caught and killed Turner would have done the same thing he did if they had been enslaved. The proof lies in their retaliation. They killed innocent Blacks. So, they had the same mind as Nat when angered and were as bloody as he.

      "Many slaves with no ties to Turner were tortured and killed, as slaveowners attempted to quell any future revolts."

      I cannot judge Nat, and I cannot judge the ones who killed him and the innocent ones. I will say that the massacre created more awareness and helped to shed light on the ugliness of slavery. Slavery began and ended with bloodshed, and the bloody hands had skins of many colors. If the American forefathers had known what brutal slavery would do to American history, I believe that the Constitution would have been written with ALL men in mind. I say "brutal slavery" because I believe that is the prime reason slavery is a diehard event in America. Physical America has survived all of its ugly past, and has enough good, past and present, to outweigh the bad. Smart American citizens know how to count the losses, be thankful for the survivors, and move forward to victory! I am a survivor because I am here, and so is every other American.

      This is an interesting hub, Weestro. Thanks for sharing!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      My stepson's history book had 4 paragraphs about the Vietnam War. He wrote a report about things he learned from his father about it. He was in Vietnam for four tours. His teacher gave him a C because he did not have factual information. He did, she didn't. Even the teachers do not know the truth about that time. They have been fed the kool-aid and believed it.

    • weestro profile imageAUTHOR

      Pete Fanning 

      5 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks Becky, I couldn't agree more. This wasn't taught to us 20 years ago but I've always found it fascinating.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Beautifully researched and written. Interesting story of a man that I had never heard of. So much is omitted from the History books in schools and so much is being omitted yearly. Hard to learn from our mistakes when we are not told the story of them. Thanks for educating us.


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