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The Nat Turner Rebellion was a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County Virginia from August 21-23. It was led by Nat Turner. 65 people were killed including 51 white people before it was put down. Turner was found three months later and executed.
Nat Turner spent his whole life as a slave. He taught himself to read and write. He was deeply religious.He had been owned by a series of owners all in Southampton Country of Virginia. Turner began to believe he was seeing visions from god including one vision that he should begin a slave revolt. He began acquiring weapons.,mostly knives and axes. Turner gathered 70 slaves and free blacks and began his revolt on August 21, 1831. The rebels travled from house to house freeing slaves and killing all the white people they encountered. They spared the homes of poor whites. The state militia was called in and a force twice the size of Truners defeated the rebels not before over 50 whites had been killed. Turner initially escaped. All who participated in the slave revolt were killed as were at least 100 innocent blacks.Turner was finally captured in November and then hung.
After the rebellion fear gripped white areas of the South that another rebellion could happen. Laws were passed to make it illegal to teach slaves to read and write, and their travel was severely restricted.
Nat Turner executed in Virginia
Nat Turner, the leader of a bloody revolt of enslaved people in Southampton County, Virginia, is hanged in Jerusalem, the county seat.
Turner, an enslaved man and educated minister, believed that he was chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery. On August 21, 1831, he initiated his uprising by slaughtering Joseph Travis, his owner, and Travis’ family. With seven followers, Turner set off across the countryside, hoping to rally hundreds of enslaved people to join his insurrection. Turner planned to capture the county armory at Jerusalem, Virginia, and then march 30 miles to Dismal Swamp, where his rebels would be able to elude their pursuers.
During the next two days and nights, Turner and 75 followers rampaged through Southampton County, killing about 60 white people. Locals resisted the rebels, and then the state militia𠅌onsisting of some 3,000 men𠅌rushed the rebellion. Only a few miles from Jerusalem, Turner and all his followers were dispersed, captured, or killed. In the aftermath of the rebellion, scores of African Americans were lynched, though many of them had not participated in the revolt. Turner himself was not captured until the end of October, and after confessing without regret to his role in the bloodshed, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. On November 11, he was hanged in Jerusalem.
This Day In History: Nat Turner Leader Of A Slave Revolt Is Hanged (1831)
On this date in history Nat Turner, the leader of a bloody slave revolt in , Virginia, was executed. He was publicly executed in Jerusalem, the county seat of Southampton County.
Turner was a remarkable man who was personally brave and charismatic. Turner had a great influence over both slaves and white people and he claimed to have received visions from God. He was something of a rarity, in that he was well-educated for a slave and was also a Minister. One day he had a religious experience and believed that God had called him to lead his fellow African-Americans&rsquo out of slavery. After planning his revolt and recruiting some supporters he launched his revolt on August the 21st 1831. He started his revolt by killing his owner Joseph Travis and his family.
One day he had a religious experience and believed that God had called him to lead his fellow African-Americans&rsquo out of slavery. After planning his revolt and recruiting some supporters he launched his revolt on August the 21st 1831. He started his revolt by killing his owner Joseph Travis and his family. At first, he had only seven followers who were armed with some old muskets. His plan was simple he hoped to encourage other slaves to revolt and to attack their masters. Turner and his followers hoped to attack and seize the county armory in Jerusalem. They hoped to seize the firearms to equip as many slaves as possible in the county so that they could resist any attempts to repress the revolt. After seizing guns and gun powder Turner proposed to march over a dozen miles to the area known as the Dismal Swamp. In this remote and inhospitable area, the slaves could resist the white slave owners and any other forces that tried to return them their masters and slavery.
Contemporary account of Nat Turner Rebellion
Turner gathered together some 75 slaves who left their master. They went on a rampage throughout the countryside and in total, they killed several dozen white people. The governor called out the all-white militia to end the insurrection of Turner and the other slaves. The rebellion was soon crushed when the militia caught up with the slaves and dispersed them easily. During the brief insurrection, many African-Americans were murdered on the spot even if they had nothing to do with the rebellion.
Turner and some of his followers managed to escape and they went on the run and escaped the militia for several weeks. Turner was captured in October and was put on trial. He claimed that his rebellion was sanctioned by God and the Bible. Turner freely admitted his role in the uprising and he did not express any regret.
Nat Turner&rsquos rebellion was the largest single slave revolt in the history of America. It caused a near panic in the slave-owning states in the south and it led to a wave of new laws, aimed at preventing another outbreak. Among these was legislation forbidding the assembly and education of slaves. They were also forbidden to move or travel without the permission of their masters. These laws managed to prevent any major slave uprising until the American Civil War
On This Day in 1831, a Bloody Uprising in the Virginia Countryside
On this day in 1831, Nat Turner began what would turn out to be the deadliest slave rebellion in American history. Over the course of 48 hours, Turner and a group of rebel slaves killed more than 50 whites in Southhampton, Virginia.
In August 1861, thirty years after the uprising and in the heat of the Civil War, The Atlantic published the following detailed account of Nat Turner's slave rebellion. The author, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, was an ardent abolitionist and soon-to-be colonel of the Union's first black regiment. He told Nat Turner's story with empathy and understanding, emphasizing the reasons why the rebel slaves felt justified in committing mass murder. While many Southerners argued that white planters treated slaves well, Nat Turner's rebellion suggested a different story. Writing just four months after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, it's likely that Higginson aimed to inspire readers to take a stand against slavery, and join the Union cause.
Near the southeastern border of Virginia, in Southampton County, there is a neighborhood known as "The Cross Keys." It lies fifteen miles from Jerusalem, the county-town or "court-house," seventy miles from Norfolk, and about as far from Richmond . Up to Sunday, the twenty-first of August, 1831, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other rural, lethargic, slipshod Virginia neighborhood, with the due allotment of mansion-houses and log-huts, tobacco-fields and "old-fields," horses, dogs, negroes, "poor white folks," so called, and other white folks, poor without being called so. One of these last was Joseph Travis, who had recently married the widow of one Putnam Moore, and had unfortunately wedded to himself her negroes also.
In the woods on the plantation of Joseph Travis, upon the Sunday just named, six slaves met at noon for what is called in the Northern States a picnic and in the Southern a barbecue. The bill of fare was to be simple: one brought a pig, and another some brandy, giving to the meeting an aspect so cheaply convivial that no one would have imagined it to be the final consummation of a conspiracy which had been for six months in preparation . The party had remained together from twelve to three o'clock, when a seventh man joined them,--a short, stout, powerfully built person, of dark mulatto complexion and strongly-marked African features, but with a face full of expression and resolution. This was Nat Turner.
He was at this time nearly thirty-one years old, having been born on the second of October, 1800. He had belonged originally to Benjamin Turner--whence his last name, slaves having usually no patronymic--had then been transferred to Putnam Moore, and then to his present owner. He had, by his own account, felt himself singled out from childhood for some great work . His moral faculties were very strong, so that white witnesses admitted that he had never been known to swear an oath, to drink a drop of spirits, or to commit a theft .
Eleven hours [this group] remained [at the barbecue], in anxious consultation: one can imagine those terrible dusky faces, beneath the funereal woods, and amid the flickering of pine-knot torches, preparing that stern revenge whose shuddering echoes should ring through the land so long. Two things were at last decided: to begin their work that night, and to begin it with a massacre so swift and irresistible as to create in a few days more terror than many battles, and so spare the need of future bloodshed .
Swift and stealthy as Indians, the black men passed from house to house,--not pausing, not hesitating, as their terrible work went on. In one thing they were humaner than Indians or than white men fighting against Indians,--there was no gratuitous outrage beyond the death-blow itself, no insult, no mutilation but in every house they entered, that blow fell on man, woman, and child,--nothing that had a white skin was spared. From every house they took arms and ammunition, and from a few, money on every plantation they found recruits: those dusky slaves, so obsequious to their master the day before, so prompt to sing and dance before his Northern visitors, were all swift to transform themselves into fiends of retribution now show them sword or musket and they grasped it, though it were an heirloom from Washington himself. The troop increased from house to house,--first to fifteen, then to forty, then to sixty. Some were armed with muskets, some with axes, some with scythes some came on their masters' horses. As the numbers increased, they could be divided, and the awful work was carried on more rapidly still. The plan then was for an advanced guard of horsemen to approach each house at a gallop, and surround it till the others came up. Meanwhile what agonies of terror must have taken place within, shared alike by innocent and by guilty! what memories of wrongs inflicted on those dusky creatures, by some,--what innocent participation, by others, in the penance! The outbreak lasted for but forty-eight hours but during that period fifty-five whites were slain, without the loss of a single slave.
One fear was needless, which to many a husband and father must have intensified the last struggle. These negroes had been systematically brutalized from childhood they had been allowed no legalized or permanent marriage they had beheld around them an habitual licentiousness, such as can scarcely exist except in a Slave State some of them had seen their wives and sisters habitually polluted by the husbands and the brothers of these fair white women who were now absolutely in their power. Yet I have looked through the Virginia newspapers of that time in vain for one charge of an indecent outrage on a woman against these triumphant and terrible slaves. Wherever they went, there went death, and that was all .
When the number of adherents had increased to fifty or sixty, Nat Turner judged it time to strike at the county-seat, Jerusalem. Thither a few white fugitives had already fled, and couriers might thence be dispatched for aid to Richmond and Petersburg, unless promptly intercepted. Besides, he could there find arms, ammunition, and money though they had already obtained, it is dubiously reported, from eight hundred to one thousand dollars. On the way it was necessary to pass the plantation of Mr. Parker, three miles from Jerusalem. Some of the men wished to stop here and enlist some of their friends. Nat Turner objected, as the delay might prove dangerous he yielded at last, and it proved fatal.
How Nat Turner Explained the Slave Rebellion He Led
I t was in August of 1831 that Nat Turner led a rebellion of Virginia slaves that left dozens of people dead, including small children. One-hundred and eighty-five years ago this week, in the early hours of Aug. 22, Turner and a some of his fellow slaves entered Turner’s master’s home, having decided that Turner “must spill the first blood” to start the rebellion, as Turner would later recount. Turner was soon captured and the uprising was suppressed. But in the weeks immediately afterward, Americans everywhere clamored to know something that may now seem obvious: Why had he done it? Nearly two centuries later, the legacy of that question is still evolving.
In November of 1831, shortly before to his execution, Turner gave a jailhouse confession, to attorney Thomas Gray, to answer the question. The story began, Turner said, in his childhood, when he had an experience that seemed to his family an indication of the powers of prophesy. Growing up believing that he was destined for great things, he eventually reached a turning point, as he recalled:
As I was praying one day at my plough, the spirit spoke to me, saying, &ldquoSeek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.&rdquo Question&mdashwhat do you mean by the Spirit. Ans. The Spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days&mdashand I was greatly astonished, and for two years prayed continually, whenever my duty would permit&mdashand then again I had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty. Several years rolled round, in which many events occurred to strengthen me in this my belief. At this time I reverted in my mind to the remarks made of me in my childhood, and the things that had been shewn me&mdashand as it had been said of me in my childhood by those by whom I had been taught to pray, both white and black, and in whom I had the greatest confidence, that I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any use to any one as a slave. Now finding I had arrived to man&rsquos estate, and was a slave, and these revelations being made known to me, I began to direct my attention to this great object, to fulfil the purpose for which, by this time, I felt assured I was intended.
That sense of purpose was why Turner once ran away but soon returned to the plantation and to bondage. That was why, he said, he waited for a sign&mdashand, believing he had seen it, took action. That was why, shortly before his execution, he reflected, “I am here loaded with chains, and willing to suffer the fate that awaits me.”
Gray’s judgment on all this? “He is a complete fanatic.”
But, even then, some saw his fanaticism in a different context. The next session of the Virginia Legislature was the scene of several speeches that used the rebellion as reason to call for abolition&mdashincluding one by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the founding father’s grandson, and C.J. Faulkner who, in speaking of the differences between the North and the South, was particularly prescient: “You must adopt some plan of emancipation,” he declared, “or worse will follow.”
During the mid-20th century, the Nat Turner story was revisited by many, in the course of the movement for the study of black history in schools, an attempt to remedy the fact that many mainstream textbooks glossed over or omitted major turning points in the history of the U.S. if the people involved were black. For example, as TIME explained in 1964, a teacher’s guide had to be distributed to schools to point out to educators and students that “contrary to folklore, slaves hated slavery so passionately that thousands joined bloody revolts. The biggest was led in 1831 by Nat Turner, a Virginia slave preacher, whose rebels killed 60 whites before he was captured and hanged.”
Then, in 1967, the novelist William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner turned Turner’s story into an award-winning bestseller, which he called a “meditation on history” rather than a historical novel. “This novel goes beyond a mere retelling of history to show how the fettered human spirit can splinter into murderous rage when it is goaded beyond endurance,” raved TIME’s critic.
Not everyone, however, loved the novel&mdashwhich inspired a backlash that culminated in the 1968 publication of William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writer Respond, in which Styron was called out for minimizing the degree to which Turner was just one of many slaves who rightfully harbored rebellious desires, among other critiques. Some of the reaction to that book, at least as expressed by TIME, now reads as dated: the magazine’s review of the responses called the black writers “blinded by their own racism” against Styron, who was white.
The opportunities to assess and reassess Turner’s legacy, however, are far from over: The Sundance sensation Nat Turner film, The Birth of a Nation, arrives in theaters in October.
Nat Turner Slave Revolt of 1831
Nat Turner’s Revolt resulted in the deaths of 60 whites and 200 blacks, causing greater vigilance, the strengthening of slave codes, and a new perception of slavery.
Church bells began ringing all over Southampton County on the morning of Sunday, August 22, 1831 as news rapidly spread that a major insurrection was taking place. Although there had been other slave rebellions in the past, like the Gabriel Prosser revolt in 1800 and the Vesey rebellion in 1822, Nat Turner’s revolt would dramatically change white perceptions of slavery. Sixty whites had perished by orders of Turner, a highly intelligent and charismatic leader. But as with other slave rebellions, it was swiftly put down, in part because many slaves refused to join Turner’s army and even betrayed the revolt to white masters out of fear of reprisal.
Southampton County, Virginia
The first slaves to arrive in America in 1619 landed in Virginia and it was the expanding Tidewater plantation economy that grew the slave population in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Nat’s mother had been brought from Africa and eventually sold in Southampton County. She had named him Nathaniel, meaning “the gift of God.”
In the agricultural South, white social status was determined by the number of slaves a planter owned. Most of the wealthier planters – the old Virginia aristocracy, maintained large estates along the Atlantic coast. Although a handful of planters in rural Southampton County owned more than fifty slaves, most owned only a few and were not wealthy enough to employ overseers.
Nat Turner at the Travis Plantation
Despite widespread knowledge among blacks and whites of his intelligence, Turner was forced to work in the fields. Unlike most slaves, Turner had learned to read and had been encouraged by a former master to study the Bible. This inspiration led him to believe that God was calling him to a special task that involved freeing the slaves from bondage, even as Moses had led the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Turner’s spirituality condoned violence as a means to an end, unlike the views of other slaves that found solace in Christianity.
Contrary to the conclusions of Southern chroniclers, Turner was not a lunatic or a deceiver. According to Religion Professor Stephen Haynes, Turner was “portrayed as a trickster and manipulator, an ignorant, superstitious, and cunning man” by Southern historians. Turner’s visions – signs and omens, were no different from those claimed by white prophets of the same time period like Joseph Smith.
The Insurrection Begins
The revolt began after midnight as Turner and his small group of trusted lieutenants entered the home of his master, Joseph Travis. The entire family was killed, hacked to death and decapitated. From there, Turner’s group attacked other farms, killing any whites they encountered. Although some slaves joined his cause as he moved from one farm to another, many refused, fearing eventual retribution. Turner spared poor whites who, he reasoned, were no better off than the slaves.
Some whites escaped, alerting other farms in the county. Word came to Jerusalem, the county seat, and the militia was mustered out. Riders brought news of a major revolt to Richmond, Petersburg, and even Murfreesboro, North Carolina, prompting outrageous rumors and the prospect of slave uprisings in that state. In Richmond, Governor John Floyd dispatched troops to Southampton.
End of the Rebellion and the Aftermath
The revolt was quickly brought under control. Nat Turner, who had hidden in the swamps and forest, was captured and brought to Jerusalem for trial. After a public recounting of the events and a formal trial, he was hung on November 11th. Twenty of his group were also convicted and hung. Although 60 whites had been killed, the retribution cost 200 black lives in the aftermath.
The Turner revolt changed the perceptions of whites regarding slaves. Slave codes were strengthened and vigilance increased. Historian Stephen Oates comments that, “In one desperate blow, Nat Turner had smashed the prevailing stereotype of master-slave relationships in the Old South…” Slavery had gone from “necessary evil” and “economic necessity” to a volcanic institution that could erupt any place, any time, particularly in areas where blacks outnumbered whites.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion, 1831
In the early hours of August 22, 1831, a slave named Nat Turner led more than fifty followers in a bloody revolt in Southampton, Virginia, killing nearly 60 white people, mostly women and children. The local authorities stopped the uprising by dawn the next day. They captured or killed most of the insurgents, although Turner himself managed to avoid capture for sixty days.
Even though Turner and his followers had been stopped, panic spread across the region. In the days following the attack, 3000 soldiers, militia men, and vigilantes killed more than one hundred suspected rebels. In a letter written a month later from North Carolina, Nelson Allyn described the retaliation against African Americans:
"The insurrection of the blacks have made greate disturbance here every man is armd with a gun by his bed nights and in the field at work a greate many of the blacks have been shot there heads taken of stuck on poles at the forkes of rodes some been hung, some awaiting there trial in several countys, 6 in this county I expect to see them strecht ther trial nex week there is no danger of their rising again here."
Nineteen of the thirty who had been arrested were convicted and executed. The rest, along with 300 free blacks from Southampton County, agreed to be exiled to Liberia in Africa. Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831.
Nat Turner&rsquos rebellion led to the passage of a series of new laws. The Virginia legislature actually debated ending slavery, but chose instead to impose additional restrictions and harsher penalties on the activities of both enslaved and free African Americans. Other slave states followed suit, restricting the rights of free and enslaved blacks to gather in groups, travel, preach, and learn to read and write.
Nat Turner and the Bloodiest Slave Rebellion in American History
Frederick Douglass&rsquo statement about slavery concisely defines the effect that such an institution had on the entire shape of a nation: Without slavery, how does one understand freedom? For hundreds of years, the United States thrived economically at the expense of millions of men and women who were not permitted to realize the freedoms and rights established by their country. To paraphrase Douglass&rsquo words satirically (and in a way common with 1830&rsquos Southern thinking): Ignorance is bliss. As he experienced, this was the type of bliss involving occasional beatings, separation from family, or the bliss of never knowing what freedom is.
The book, The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner&rsquos Fierce Rebellion, by Stephen B. Oates, tells the story of a man who caught a glimpse of freedom as a child and understood its value. Nat Turner used his spotless reputation among whites and religious influence over black slaves to cleverly plan a slave rebellion in 1831. Nat&rsquos insurrection reinforced both the fear and ignorance of Virginia whites toward the institution of slavery, which resulted in numerous repercussions toward slaves, despite would-be Southern Christian intentions.
In early 1800&rsquos Virginia, slavery was an integral part of Southern life. Even Virginia&rsquos governor, John Floyd, only disapproved of the institution for an economic reason, namely tariff reductions given to Free states. In addition, for many plantation owners and farmers, owning slaves was a status symbol. Beyond the societal implications, slavery served as a means of &ldquoracial control&rdquo (10) if blacks were kept busy serving masters, they would not have the time or means to revolt. Virginia allowed such freedoms as slave schools and slave churches, but at the same time enforced slave behavior with military guard.
Most Great Planters were not unnecessarily cruel to their slaves many owners allowed slaves holidays off and opportunity to be with family in the evenings. By comparison, Virginia &ndash especially Southampton County &ndash was more lenient with slaves than the Deep South, perhaps because &ldquoover one-third of Southampton&rsquos white families owned no slaves&rdquo (2), and the county had never experienced a risk of rebellion. For the most part, &ldquoSouthampton whites regarded insurrection as some unimaginable calamity that happened to someone else.&rdquo (50) This lack of experience with slave discontent further propagated the white perspective that slaves were satisfied with their current conditions.
Though many slaves were assimilated enough to fall into their roles as field hands or servants, Nat Turner was different from the day he was born. Born into slavery, his body possessed symbolic birthmarks which his family traditionally associated with leadership in African heritage. Nat also had powerful psychic abilities and was mystically aware of events that &ldquohappened before he was born.&rdquo (11) He was unusually bright compared to other slave (and white) children and was thus given the opportunity to learn to read and study The Bible by his original masters, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Turner. Even they believed he far exceeded the intelligence and capabilities of an average slave. Because of his impeccable behavior, the Turners entertained his young mind by encouraging him to entertain their white friends with his literacy and wit. Though possibly unintentional, Nat&rsquos special treatment was ultimately a cruel trick when he became old enough to work in the fields, he was set out to hard labor like any other slave. This was &ldquo&hellipan especially painful time, for he had been led to believe he might be freed one day.&rdquo (21)
Although the option to abolish slavery was always available, the Southern agricultural-based economy was too dependent on that aspect of the labor force to discontinue the practice. Christian influences introduced another paradox of Southern slave owners while some Christian sects denounced slavery, others were able to justify through bastardized Biblical interpretation that made slavery seem legitimate in the eyes of God. Nat&rsquos first owners, The Turners, were pleased when their Methodist congregation stopped trying to &ldquoeradicate the peculiar institution and set about Christianizing the slaves for a better time ahead.&rdquo (10) Probably due to a cultural divide resulting in misunderstanding and fear of African and Caribbean religions, many like the Turners truly believed that spreading Christianity to the slaves was God&rsquos work. Perhaps the economic necessity coupled with a modicum of kind treatment toward black slaves made the institution of slavery just civilized enough to live with.
Surely influenced by his Christian beliefs, Nat spoke of experiencing messages from God and visions of angels which pointed to his divine selection as the chosen one to lead a slave rebellion. &ldquoGod did not intend a man of his gifts, his intelligence, his powers to waste his years hoeing weeds and slopping hogs.&rdquo (32) After transitioning from a childhood where he was respected for his aptitude, to working as a field hand alongside slaves to whom he was intellectually superior, Nat recognized that the best use of his gifts was to continue playing the role of a &ldquosmart nigger&rdquo (52) and take advantage of the time and liberties he was given by his masters.
Nat practiced polite and subservient behavior to gain a reputation never to be associated with trouble. Nat ran away once but apologetically returned of his own will shortly thereafter. He never swore, stole or drank alcohol. As Nat grew older, he became incredibly pious and eventually developed a following as a slave preacher. His return from escape and devout practice of Baptist beliefs reinforced both white religious morality and the notion that Nat was a model slave who could be trusted. After being inherited, bought and transferred, Nat became the property of Joseph Travis who thought Nat was &ldquothe smartest, best behaved slave a man was likely to own in all the county.&rdquo (66) Based on Nat&rsquos impeccable reputation, Travis allowed him to continue leading unsupervised church meetings. It was eventually through these meetings that Nat was able to explain his beliefs and amass a group of slaves willing to assist with the revolt.
Although Southern whites feared a rebellion, they could not realize or correct the obvious reason why one may occur: It is morally wrong to assume control over another human being. Slaves in other areas of the country recognized the injustice, and occasional revolts occurred. Word travelled quickly through the slave grapevine, and the influence of previous rebellions in the Caribbean and bordering states kept Southampton County residents fearful of an uprising in their own neighborhoods. Gabriel Prosser&rsquos rebellion in Richmond, Virginia was especially close to home for Southampton County residents and, in 1800, was still recent enough to strike fear in their minds of white locals.
On an August night in 1831, Nat led a group of slaves armed with hatchets, knives and axes from house to house in Southampton County, leaving a trail of mutilated white bodies in their wake. The rampage continued for two days. In the early throes of battle, Nat was hesitant to attack and murder the white families and former masters he had known for so many years. Nat&rsquos personal attachment to his previous owners and the influence of Christianity on his life made it difficult for him to take the life of another, despite the directions he felt had been influenced by God. &ldquoIn spite of his enslavement, in spite of his own preachings and prophecies, he did not know that he could do it.&rdquo (54) Perhaps he felt guilt for taking advantage of the opportunities that allowed plan of the attack. His slave army, enraged by years of mistreatment and influenced by a chance for revenge, took little issue with the violent murder of women, children and infants.
When Nat Turner&rsquos rebellion began, Southampton citizens initially thought it was the beginnings of another war with the British. Once it was realized that slaves were responsible for such action and that Nat was the leader, reasons for the insurrection were explained away by &ldquoreligious fanaticism&rdquo (101) and Nat&rsquos influential abilities. After Nat was turned in to authorities, strange religious-inspired drawings and writings with &ldquo&hellipno definite meaning&rdquo (102) were found with Nat&rsquos wife, which justified the belief that a single &ldquoreligious maniac&rdquo (102) had plotted the entire attack, and that the revolt was more of a delusional impulse than action based on a negative stance toward slavery. Ultimately, Southampton County learned that the &ldquo&helliphostilities had been confined to Southampton and no widespread plot had been uncovered.&rdquo (109) Nat&rsquos intention was martyrdom he chose to use his mysticism and religion as a facade for the uprising that was desired and imagined by many slaves.
What was overlooked in the midst of investigation into the slave rebellion was the true motivation. Nat admitted to lawyer Thomas Gray that he was fortunate enough to have masters that treated him fairly well and encouraged his education and religious beliefs, but also that he did not believe his efforts to rebel were wrong. During his deposition, Nat warned &ldquo&hellipthat other slaves could well have seen visions and signs in the skies and acted as he had done.&rdquo (122) Nat was certainly exercising his wit with his suggestion that visions could be widespread among slaves, but the representation of those visions as motivation is tragically poignant. Nat&rsquos mystic childhood visions and memories may have shown him the history of slavery, but slavery in Nat&rsquos time was a practicing history these &ldquovisions&rdquo could be witnessed by any black person sent out to the fields. In addition, Nat&rsquos realizations must have solidified as he began preaching and was able to read The Bible in its entirety to clarify any discrepancies he had been taught.
The reality of insurrection in their own backyard showed Southampton County that &ldquoall was not sweetness and sunshine in their slave world.&rdquo (105) Fear increased, and Virginia towns responded with increased military security. Rumors of insurrections spread throughout the South. Though many of these rumors were false, blacks were retaliated against for acts not yet committed through a type of vigilante justice. Across the once relatively peaceful Southampton County, blacks were murdered and their bodies left in public to remind other would-be slave rebels that defiance would not be tolerated. All slaves involved in the rebellious massacre (and some who were not) were executed by hanging, and owners were reimbursed for their losses. This reaction to possible religious motivation is another contradiction in his own right a black man who knew and understood true Christian beliefs was labeled as a criminal and fanatic when fighting against oppression. The white response to such condemnable brutality and violence by slaves was not recognition of the injustices of slavery, but their own condemnable revolt against the enslaved population.
Blame for the events was eventually transferred to the traditionally non-violent Northern abolitionists, especially William Lloyd Garrison. Due to abolitionist pressure and Governor Floyd&rsquos financially-motivated tendency to lean toward abolishing slavery, talk of &ldquogradual abolition&rdquo (139) began in Virginia, but the legislation was rejected because of cost and the belief that &ldquothe state could not legislate such prejudices away.&rdquo (141) Instead, the Virginia General Assembly passed new legislation making it unlawful to teach slaves, free blacks or those of mixed race to read or write. Laws also limited black church congregations, maintaining that a white person must be present at the meetings to discourage collaboration of another insurrection plan. In addition to strengthening laws to keep slaves at bay, rights were also taken away from free blacks and in some instances, even restrictions of slavery criticism by whites. The main lesson whites learned from Nat Turner&rsquos rebellion was ironically not the injustices of slavery, but the frightening possibilities of educated blacks. In attempts to control future situations, legislation encouraged even harsher treatment of blacks than what Nat and the others originally rebelled against.
Religious righteousness and superior white intelligence were two major justifications for the enslavement of black people in the Southern United States. Nat Turner&rsquos cunning planning of the bloodiest slave rebellion in American history shattered those theories. His wise use of intellect and religion to manipulate white masters proved equality &ndash regardless of skin color, and changed the misconception that slaves were too ignorant to know or want freedom. The insurrection, although never meeting Nat&rsquos personal expectation of freedom, resulted in a course of events leading to further outcry against and ultimate disintegration of the institution of slavery.
Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990. Print.
The revolt began on Sunday night, August 21, 1831, at Joseph Travis’s farm. During the night, the rebels caught the whites completely by surprise, and sleeping whites were in no position to escape the small rebel force. At the same time, while the rebels were in their own neighborhood, they could recruit slaves that they knew to their cause. For example, at Travis’s home, the rebels recruited Austin, who despite living on the same small farm as Turner had not been included in the feast that the conspirators held during the day. At the same time, however, other slaves, even slaves with strong personal connections to the original conspirators, were hesitant to join the revolt. Hark’s brother-in-law Jack agreed to join only reluctantly. Others, including the free black Emory Evans, who lived on Salathial Francis’s farm, refused to join at all. Over the course of the night, the rebels attacked three households, killing eight whites, including a sleeping infant at Travis’s.
As dawn approached on the morning of August 22, the rebels—then numbering about a dozen—changed their method of attack. During the night, they moved stealthily and attacked in silence during the day, they moved quickly and boldly. At Elizabeth Turner’s, Austen shot Hartwell Peebles, the first time that any rebel killed someone with a gun. During the morning, the rebels also separated into two squads: one on horseback, one traveling by foot. This allowed the one on horseback to launch more and faster strikes. These attacks were successful in terms of killing whites. At Catherine Whitehead’s plantation, for example, rebels killed all but one of the white residents—including Margaret Whitehead, the only person Nat Turner killed—but the rebels continued to struggle to win supporters among slaves. Among Whitehead’s twenty-seven slaves, the rebels found, at most, a single recruit, and several of Catherine Whitehead’s slaves foiled the rebels’ efforts to kill Harriet Whitehead. At Newit Harris’s even larger plantation, the rebels failed to gain a single recruit. By late morning, it was clear that the rebels would not inspire a mass movement, as they had hoped. Nevertheless, at about forty slaves, the rebel army was a dangerous force.
By midmorning the challenge of recruiting was compounded by a new problem for the rebels: news about the revolt had spread, making it harder for the rebels to find whites. Most whites who heard of the revolt immediately fled to the woods, eluding the rebel army. Others tried to create defensible positions. At Levi Waller’s farm, the site of a local school, word arrived of the insurrection, and Waller made the decision to gather the children together to defend them. This led to the most devastating raid of the revolt, as the rebels arrived after the children had congregated but before Waller could set up any defense. Waller’s wife and ten children died during that assault. By midday, when the rebels left Rebecca Vaughn’s house, they had encountered no more defenseless whites. Arthur Vaughn was the last person killed by the rebel forces.
By the afternoon of August 22, 1831, the dynamic of the revolt had shifted in an important way. Turner and his men remained on the offensive, heading to Jerusalem where they hoped to “procure arms and ammunition,” but they were being pursued by several groups of whites who had organized to suppress the revolt. At James Parker’s farm, a group of whites led by Alexander P. Peete, who had been pursuing the rebels along the road toward Jerusalem, dispersed a small group of rebels who had remained by the gate while the other rebels went to Parker’s slave quarters to recruit. This white force then engaged the main rebel force at Parker’s farm. Peete and his men were driven from the field. The rebels pursued the fleeing men, but the pursuit led the rebels into an ambush set by other whites who had heard the sounds of fighting. Turner’s men were dispersed, and the rebels were turned back from their approach toward Jerusalem.
Following the defeat at Parker’s farm, the rebels spent the afternoon trying to regroup. By evening, when they made their camp at Thomas Ridley’s plantation, Turner had about forty men in arms. But the rebels were on edge. When rebel sentries went out before dawn to investigate potential attack, they found nothing, but their return set off a commotion in the rebels’ camp. Awake and ill at ease, the rebels who had not fled made their way to Samuel Blunt’s plantation. They believed that the whites had abandoned the plantation, but Blunt and five other whites set up a defense and the rebels scattered. In the commotion following the encounter at Blunt’s, Nat Turner lost contact with the other rebels, who broke up into ever-smaller groups, pursued by more and more whites. Although some rebels remained at large for days—and Turner himself would not be captured for more than two months—the revolt was effectively over by midday on August 23, a day and a half after it first began.
"Nat’s War": The Southampton Slave Rebellion of 1831
On 23 August 1831, Governor John Floyd received a hastily written note from the Southampton County postmaster stating “that an insurrection of the slaves in that county had taken place, that several families had been massacred and that it would take a considerable military force to put them down.” Fifty-seven whites died, many of them women and children, before a massive force of militiamen and armed volunteers could converge on the region and crush the rebellion. Angry white vigilantes killed hundreds of slaves and drove free persons of color into exile in the terror that followed.
Early newspaper reports identified the Southampton insurgents as a leaderless mob of runaway slaves that rose out of the Dismal Swamp to wreak havoc on unsuspecting white families. Military leaders and others on the scene soon identified the participants as enslaved people from local plantations. Reports of as many as 450 insurgents gave way to revised estimates of perhaps 60 armed men and boys, many of them coerced into joining. The confessions of prisoners and the interrogation of eyewitnesses pointed to a small group of ringleaders: a free man of color named Billy Artis, a celebrated slave known as “Gen. Nelson,” and a slave preacher by the name of Nat Turner. Attention focused on Turner it was his “imagined spirit of prophecy” and his extraordinary powers of persuasion that had, according to local authorities, unleashed the fury. Turner’s ability to elude capture for more than two months only enhanced his mythic stature.
While Nat Turner remained at large, rumors of a wider slave conspiracy flourished. An abolitionist writer named Samuel Warner suggested that Turner had hidden himself in the Dismal Swamp with an army of runaways at his disposal. State officials took pains to ensure that Turner lived to stand trial by offering a $500 reward for his capture and safe return to the Southampton County jail. On 30 October 1831, Turner surrendered to a local farmer who found him hiding in a cave. Local planter and lawyer Thomas R. Gray interviewed Turner in his jail cell, recorded his “Confessions,” and published them as a pamphlet shortly after Turner was tried, convicted, and executed. In tracing the “history of the motives” that led him to undertake the insurrection, Turner insisted that God had given him a sign to act, that he had shared his plans with only a few trusted followers, and that he knew nothing of any wider conspiracy extending beyond the Southampton County area.
Nat Turner’s revolt prompted a prolonged debate in the Virginia General Assembly of 1831-1832. As a result of Turner’s actions, Virginia’s legislators enacted more laws to limit the activities of African Americans, both free and enslaved. The freedom of slaves to communicate and congregate was directly attacked. No one could assemble a group of African Americans to teach reading or writing, nor could anyone be paid to teach a slave. Preaching by slaves and free blacks was forbidden. Other southern states enacted similarly restrictive laws.