In 1831, a slave rebellion led by #NatTurner shook the South to its core. In its wake, the grip of the slaveholders tightened even further. But who was Nat Turner, how did his #rebellion start, and how should this horrible event be viewed in history?
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August 1831. Southampton County, Virginia. The fears of the slaveholding South were realized. Rebellion. Over 70 slaves, armed with knives, hatchets, and bludgeoning objects swept the pastoral countryside, killing all in their path. Their leader was a slave named Nat Turner.
Born in the year 1800, Nat’s mother had been kidnapped and brought from Africa, his father, a slave who later escaped.
Nat was quickly seen as a gifted, intelligent child. He was taught to read and found his purpose in the Holy Bible.
He would preach to fellow slaves and even some whites, earning him the nickname “Prophet,” and even claimed to receive visions.
When he was 22, he escaped and fled, only to return to the plantation voluntarily. When asked why, he claimed “the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the kingdom of heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master.”
But Nat was not back to subserviently serve in bondage. He knew his purpose was to avenge those that suffered under the chains of slavery.
At age 27, while working in his master’s field, an intense vision befell him.
“The Serpent is loosened. Christ laid down the yoke for the sins of man. You shall take it to fight against the Serpent. The time is near when the first should be last and the last shall be first.”
Nat began to prepare, at first confiding only in those closest to him. (4 men) Then, in 1831, a solar eclipse appear in the sky like a black fist blotting out the sun.
They planned the uprising for July 4th, Independence Day. But illness befell Nat, and the insurrection was called off.
That was until August of the same year, when another solar eclipse occured, and the air turned a ghastly grayish-blue. This was the sign Nat was waiting for. The rebellion began a week later.
It started the night of August 21st. The small band of slaves killed Nat’s owner Joseph Travis, his wife, and son, as well as a hired worker, in their beds as they slept.
After the group left, they recalled that there was one more member of the Travis family. So two slaves returned to kill the infant in its cradle.
Nat felt that this violence was necessary to finally bring about the change needed to awaken abolitionist allies and shake the foundation of slavery to pieces. Also, to Nat, this wasn’t about anger, it was holy retribution.
Over the next two days, the rebellion brought Old Testament carnage to the Southampton countryside, killing more than 60 whites in their path, sparing the poorest who it was believed “thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.”
Hundreds of federal troops and thousands of white militiamen intercepted the rebellion on its way to the center of the county’s government, a town named Jerusalem.
Nat managed to escape, hiding himself in the woods for over two months until he was found.
Once captured, he was quickly tried, convicted, and hanged. His body was desecrated, flayed, and decapitated, with his headless remains buried in an unmarked grave.
30 other slaves, and 1 free black would also be convicted, 19 of them being hanged and the others sold to places far away.
This punishment paled in comparison to those African Americans that were murdered by paranoid, vengeful whites. Upwards of 200 blacks were killed by mobs during and following the rebellion.
In the aftermath, some whites, including Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson to the third President, called for gradual emancipation to remove slavery. Instead, what followed in Virginia were even harsher codes for blacks; no jury trials for African-Americans, free blacks found guilty of crimes could be sold into slavery, and it was now illegal to teach any black to read. Many other southern states followed suit.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion was a product of over two centuries of oppression in Virginia. While the concentrated horror committed by those in the insurrection cannot be denied, the horrors inflicted upon them and their ancestors must remembered to begin to understand the event. It was a violent, abominable response to a violent, abominable system and it proved the age-old truth...
Evil begets evil.