Thomas Ruffin Gray

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Thomas Ruffin Gray (1800 – ?) was an attorney who represented several enslaved people during the trials in the wake of Nat Turner's slave rebellion.

Nat Turners slave rebellion slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia, during August 1831

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.


Early life

Thomas Ruffin Gray was born in 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia. He graduated from the College of William & Mary.

Southampton County, Virginia County in the United States

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.

College of William & Mary public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia

The College of William & Mary is a public research university in Williamsburg, Virginia. Founded in 1693 by letters patent issued by King William III and Queen Mary II, it is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, after Harvard University.


Gray was a lawyer. Although he is commonly thought of as Nat Turner's lawyer, James Strange French is the person listed in official records as Turner's lawyer. [1] Neither assertion is correct- William C. Parker was assigned by the court to represent Nat. [2] [3] Though educated in law at William and Mary early in life, he had only recently begun practicing law. There is some speculation that he had lost much of his property through gambling and that is what caused him to begin practicing law, which appears to be confirmed in a pamphlet Gray prepared discussing a dispute with a Southampton County physician, Orris A. Browne. [4] There is also recent speculation on Gray's relationship with a well-known gambler in Virginia. [5]

James Strange French (1807-1886) was a lawyer, novelist, and later hotel keeper.

Gray published The Confessions of Nat Turner, which purports to be Turner's confession and account of his life leading up the rebellion, as well as an account of Turner's motives and actions during the rebellion. [6]


In the 1960s, William Styron published a fictional and controversial account of the Nat Turner rebellion using the same title as Gray's pamphlet, The Confessions of Nat Turner .

William Styron American novelist and essayist

William Clark Styron Jr. was an American novelist and essayist who won major literary awards for his work.

<i>The Confessions of Nat Turner</i> novel by William Styron

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.

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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.


  1. Alfred L. Brophy, "The Nat Turner Trials", North Carolina Law Review (June 2013), Volume 91: 1817-80.
  2. Southampton Co., VA, Court Minute Book 1830-1835, p. 121-23
  3. "Proceedings on the Southampton Insurrection, Aug-Nov 1831"
  4. David F. Allemdinger, Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton (2014).
  5. Alfred L. Brophy, "The Nat Turner Trials", North Carolina Law Review (June 2013), Volume 91: 1817-80.
  6. Scot A. French, The Confessions of Nat Turner