Discovery of Nat Turner (c. 1831–1876)
|Born|| October 2, 1800 |
|Died||November 11, 1831 31) (aged|
Jerusalem, Virginia, U.S.
|Cause of death||Execution by hanging|
|Known for||Nat Turner's slave rebellion|
Nat Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an enslaved African-American preacher who led a four-day rebellion of both enslaved and free black people in Southampton County, Virginia, beginning August 21, 1831. The rebellion caused the death of approximately 60 white men, women, and children. Whites organized militias and called out regular troops to suppress the uprising. In addition, white militias and mobs attacked blacks in the area, killing an estimated 120 men, women, and children, many of whom were not involved in the revolt.
The rebels went from plantation to plantation, gathering horses and guns, freeing and recruiting others along the way. During the rebellion, Virginia legislators targeted free blacks with a colonization bill, which allocated new funding to remove them, and a police bill that denied free blacks trials by jury and made any free blacks convicted of a crime subject to sale into slavery and relocation.
In the aftermath, the state tried those accused of being part of Turner's slave rebellion: 18 were executed, 14 were transported out of state, and several were acquitted.Turner hid successfully for two months. When found, he was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, hanged, and possibly beheaded. Across Virginia and other Southern states, state legislators passed new laws to control slaves and free blacks. They prohibited education of slaves and free blacks, restricted rights of assembly for free blacks, withdrew their right to bear arms (in some states), and to vote (in North Carolina, for instance), and required white ministers to be present at all black worship services. They also made criminal the possession of abolitionist publications by either whites or blacks.
Born into slavery on October 2, 1800,in Southampton County, Virginia, Turner was recorded as "Nat" by Benjamin Turner, the man who held his mother and him as slaves. When Benjamin Turner died in 1810, Nat was inherited as property by Benjamin's son Samuel Turner. For most of his life, he was known as "Nat", but after the 1831 rebellion, he was widely referred to as "Nat Turner". Turner knew little about the background of his father, who was believed to have escaped from slavery when Turner was a young boy.
Turner spent his entire life in Southampton County, a plantation area where slaves comprised the majority of the population.He was identified as having "natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension, surpassed by few." He learned to read and write at a young age. Deeply religious, Nat was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible.
Turner's religious convictions manifested as frequent visions, which he interpreted as messages from God. His belief in the visions was such that when Turner was 22 years old, he ran away from his owner; he returned a month later after claiming to have received a spiritual revelation. Turner often conducted services, preaching the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him "The Prophet". Turner garnered white followers such as Etheldred T. Brantley, whom Turner was credited with having convinced to "cease from his wickedness".
In early 1828, Turner was convinced that he "was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty."While working in his owner's fields on May 12, Turner said later that he
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.
Joseph Dreis wrote: "In connecting this vision to the motivation for his rebellion, Turner makes it clear that he sees himself as participating in the confrontation between God's Kingdom and the anti-Kingdom that characterized his social-historical context." – his fellow slaves Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam.He was convinced that God had given him the task of "slay[ing] my enemies with their own weapons." Turner said: "I communicated the great work laid out for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence"
Beginning in February 1831, Turner claimed certain atmospheric conditions as a sign to begin preparations for a rebellion against slaveowners. On February 12, 1831, an annular solar eclipse was visible in Virginia. Turner envisioned this as a black man's hand reaching over the sun.He initially planned the rebellion to begin on July 4, Independence Day. Turner postponed it because of illness and to use the delay for additional planning with his co-conspirators. On August 7 there was another solar eclipse, in which the sun appeared bluish-green, possibly the result of lingering atmospheric debris from an eruption of Mount St. Helens in present-day Washington state. Turner interpreted this as the final signal, and about a week later, on August 21, he began the uprising.
Turner started with a few trusted fellow slaves. "All his initial recruits were other slaves from his neighborhood".The neighborhood men had to find ways to communicate their intentions without giving up their plot. Songs may have tipped the neighborhood members to movements. "It is believed that one of the ways Turner summoned fellow conspirators to the woods was through the use of particular songs." The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing the white people they found. The rebels ultimately included more than 70 enslaved and free men of color.
Because the rebels did not want to alert anyone to their presence as they carried out their attacks, they initially used knives, hatchets, axes, and blunt instruments instead of firearms.The rebellion did not discriminate by age or sex, and members killed white men, women, and children. Nat Turner confessed to killing only one person, Margaret Whitehead, whom he killed with a blow from a fence post.
Before a white militia could organize and respond, the rebels killed 60 men, women, and children.They spared a few homes "because Turner believed the poor white inhabitants 'thought no better of themselves than they did of negros.'" Turner also thought that revolutionary violence would serve to awaken the attitudes of whites to the reality of the inherent brutality in slave-holding. Turner later said that he wanted to spread "terror and alarm" among whites.
This section needs to be updated. In particular: What did DNA testing of the skull find?.November 2017)(
The rebellion was suppressed within two days, but Turner eluded capture by hiding in the woods until October 30. He was discovered by farmer Benjamin Phipps while hiding in a hole covered with fence rails. While awaiting trial, Turner confessed his knowledge of the rebellion to attorney Thomas Ruffin Gray, who compiled what he claimed was Turner's confession.On November 5, 1831, Turner was tried for "conspiring to rebel and making insurrection", convicted, and sentenced to death. Turner was hanged on November 11 in Jerusalem, Virginia. His body was flayed and beheaded as an example to frighten other would-be rebels. Turner received no formal burial; his headless remains were possibly buried in an unmarked grave.
In 2002, a skull said to have been Turner's was given to Richard G. Hatcher, the former mayor of Gary, Indiana, for the collection of a civil rights museum he planned to build there. In 2016, Hatcher returned the skull to two of Turner's descendants. If DNA tests confirm that the skull is Turner's, they will bury it in a family cemetery.
Another skull said to have been Turner's was contributed to the College of Wooster in Ohio upon its incorporation in 1866. When the school's only academic building burned down in 1901, the skull was saved by Dr. H. N. Mateer. Visitors recalled seeing a certificate, signed by a physician in Southampton County in 1866, that attested to the authenticity of the skull. The skull was eventually misplaced.
In the aftermath of the insurrection, 45 slaves, including Turner, and five free blacks were tried for insurrection and related crimes in Southampton. Of the 45 slaves tried, 15 were acquitted. Of the 30 convicted, 18 were hanged while 12 were sold out of state. Of the five free blacks tried for participation in the insurrection, one was hanged while the others were acquitted.At least seven slaveowners sent legislative petitions for compensation for the loss of their slaves without trials during or immediately after the insurrection. They were all rejected.
Soon after Turner's execution, Thomas Ruffin Gray published The Confessions of Nat Turner. His book was derived partly from research Gray did while Turner was in hiding and partly from jailhouse conversations with Turner before trial. This work is considered the primary historical document regarding Nat Turner, but some historians believe Gray's portrayal of Turner is inaccurate.
In total, the state executed some 55 black people suspected of having been involved in the uprising. In the hysteria of aroused fears and anger in the days after the revolt, white militias and mobs murdered an estimated 120 black people, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion.
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The fear caused by Nat Turner's insurrection and the concerns raised in the emancipation debates that followed resulted in politicians and writers responding by defining slavery as a "positive good".Such authors included Thomas Roderick Dew, a College of William & Mary professor who published a pamphlet in 1832 opposing emancipation on economic and other grounds. In the period leading up to the American Civil War, other Southern writers began to promote a paternalistic ideal of improved Christian treatment of slaves, in part to avoid such rebellions. Dew and others believed that they were civilizing black people (who by this stage were mostly American-born) through slavery.
The massacre of blacks after the rebellion was typical of the pattern of white fears and overreaction to blacks fighting for their freedom; many innocent blacks were killed in revenge. African Americans have generally regarded Turner as a hero of resistance, who made slaveowners pay for the hardships they had caused so many Africans and African Americans.
James H. Harris, who has written extensively about the history of the black church, says that the revolt "marked the turning point in the black struggle for liberation." According to Harris, Turner believed that "only a cataclysmic act could convince the architects of a violent social order that violence begets violence."
In the period soon after the revolt, whites did not try to interpret Turner's motives and ideas.Antebellum slaveholding whites were shocked by the murders and had their fears of rebellions heightened; Turner's name became "a symbol of terrorism and violent retribution."
In an 1843 speech at the National Negro Convention, Henry Highland Garnet, a former slave and active abolitionist, described Nat Turner as "patriotic", saying that "future generations will remember him among the noble and brave."In 1861 Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a northern writer, praised Turner in a seminal article published in Atlantic Monthly . He described Turner as a man "who knew no book but the Bible, and that by heart who devoted himself soul and body to the cause of his race."
In the 21st century, writing after the September 11 attacks in the United States, William L. Andrews drew analogies between Turner and modern "religio-political terrorists". He suggested that the "spiritual logic" explicated in Confessions of Nat Turner warrants study as "a harbinger of the spiritualizing violence of today's jihads and crusades."
I was thirty-one years of age the 2d of October last [Nat reported in Nov 1831].
A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by slaves. Slave rebellions have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery or have practiced slavery in the past. A desire for freedom and the dream of successful rebellion are often the greatest objects of song, art, and culture amongst the enslaved population. Many of the events, however, are often violently opposed and suppressed by slaveholders.
Southampton County is a county located on the southern border of the Commonwealth of Virginia. North Carolina is to the south. As of the 2010 census, the population was 18,570. Its county seat is Courtland.
Gabriel, today commonly—if incorrectly—known as Gabriel Prosser, was a literate enslaved blacksmith who planned a large slave rebellion in the Richmond area in the summer of 1800. Information regarding the revolt was leaked prior to its execution, and he and twenty-five followers were taken captive and hanged in punishment. In reaction, Virginia and other state legislatures passed restrictions on free blacks, as well as prohibiting the education, assembly, and hiring out of slaves, to restrict their chances to learn and to plan similar rebellions.
Denmark Vesey was a literate, skilled carpenter and leader among African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. He was accused and convicted of being the leader of "the rising," a major potential slave revolt planned for the city in June 1822. He was executed shortly thereafter.
The Baptist War, also known as the Christmas Rebellion, the Christmas Uprising and the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831–32, was an eleven-day rebellion that started on 25 December 1831 and involved up to 60,000 of the 300,000 slaves in Jamaica. The uprising was led by a black Baptist preacher, Samuel Sharpe and waged largely by his followers.
The Confessions of Nat Turner is a 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by U.S. writer William Styron. Presented as a first-person narrative by historical figure Nat Turner, the novel concerns the slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. It is based on The Confessions of Nat Turner: The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia, a first-hand account of Turner's confessions published by a local lawyer, Thomas Ruffin Gray, in 1831.
Events from the year 1831 in the United States.
Nat Turner's Rebellion was a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia, in August 1831, led by Nat Turner. Rebel slaves killed from 55 to 65 people, at least 51 being white. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831.
Thomas Roderick Dew (1802–1846) was a professor at and then president of The College of William & Mary. He was an influential pro-slavery advocate.
During the era of slavery in the United States, the education of African Americans, enslaved and free, was often discouraged, except for religious instruction, and eventually made illegal in many of the Southern states. It was believed that literacy was a threat to the institution of slavery. First, literacy facilitated knowledge about the successful slave revolution in Haiti of 1791–1804, the end of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, and the writings of abolitionists. Secondly, literacy allowed or potentially allowed slaves better access to information about the Underground Railroad and other routes to freedom.
Dunmore's Proclamation, is a historical document signed on November 7, 1775, by John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, royal governor of the British Colony of Virginia. The proclamation declared martial law and promised freedom for slaves of American revolutionaries who left their owners and joined the royal forces.
Slavery in Virginia dates to 1619, soon after the founding of Virginia as an English colony by the London Virginia Company. The company established a headright system to encourage colonists to transport indentured servants to the colony for labor; they received a certain amount of land for people whose passage they paid to Virginia.
Thomas Ruffin Gray was an attorney who represented several enslaved people during the trials in the wake of Nat Turner's slave rebellion.
Anti-literacy laws were in force in many slave states before and during the American Civil War, affecting slaves, freedmen, and in some cases all people of color. Some laws arose from concerns that literate slaves could forge the documents required to escape to a free state. According to William M. Banks, "Many slaves who learned to write did indeed achieve freedom by this method. The wanted posters for runaways often mentioned whether the escapee could write." Anti-literacy laws also arose from fears of slave insurrection, particularly around the time of abolitionist David Walker's 1829 publication of Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, which openly advocated rebellion, and Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831.
William H. Brodnax, was a nineteenth-century American militia Brigadier General and American politician from Virginia.
James Strange French (1807-1886) was a lawyer, novelist, and later hotel keeper.
Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property is a 2003 documentary film about Nat Turner co-written and directed by Charles Burnett.
Cherry Turner was an enslaved American Indian in Southampton, Virginia in the early 1800s. She was the wife of slave rebel, Nat Turner.
John Wesley Cromwell was a lawyer, teacher, civil servant, journalist, historian, and civil rights activist in Washington, DC. He was among the founders of the Bethel Literary and Historical Society and the American Negro Academy, both based in the capital. He worked for decades in administration of the US Post Office.
NegroHead Road is a place outside Wilmington, North Carolina with similar displays in other Southern towns, where body parts of slaves or blacks were displayed in consequence of a purported crime. It is modeled after displays like Blackhead Signpost Road in Southampton County, Virginia. It was here, in 1831, where the head of a slave, Alfred, was displayed on a stake for being part of Nat Turner's slave rebellion, as a warning for any future rebels.
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