Nat Turner Slave Revolt

“Nat Turners Southampton Slave Revolt and How it Paved the Way for the Abolitionist and
Civil Rights Movement “
Nat Turner was a man with a vision that would change America forever. His vision may
have not sounded right to the average person but to Nat Turner, he was on Earth to realize his vision.
Nat Turner is the most famous and most controversial slave rebel in American history, and he
remains a storm center of dispute(“Fires of Jubilee” author Stephen B. Oates).
Nat Turners slave revolt may have not been the greatest way to solve the problem of slavery,
but it did open many people’s eyes. Slavery was an accepted practice in society but it was not a
humane or kind thing. The cruel and unjust treatment by the slave masters in the 1800’s led to Nat
Turner’s slave revolt, which in turn led to the abolitionist movement.

Nat Turner was born on October 2, 1800 in the small town of Jerusalem in Southampton,
Virginia. Nat’s mother Nancy was one of 400,000 native Africans brought to North America before
1808.While most of the Africans had come from West Africa, Nancy’s was supposedly from in the
North’s Nile River country(“Fires of Jubilee”). Folk chroniclers say that slave traders or warlike
natives abducted Nancy when she was a teenager. She was thrust over to European slave traders
and crammed on a disease infested slave boat headed to the New World(“Fires of Jubilee”). Nancy’s
ship landed at Norfolk, Virginia around 1795. She then was herded more inland where slave traders
exhibited her at several slave auctions. Around 1799 Nancy was brought by Benjamin Turner and
her life on a plantation began. Not long after Nancy had arrived at the plantation, she married
another slave whose name is unknown(“Fires of Jubilee”). Their union produced Nathaniel “Nat”
Turner. In Hebrew this name meant “the gift of God. Nancy did not want to bring her young son
up as a slave so she tried to kill him. The slave owners punished Nancy for trying this and shackled
her for a lengthy period.

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As Nancy watched Nat get a little older, she noticed that she had a special child. She was
extremely proud of her young son Nat. Nat was bright, and quick to learn and he stood out from the
rest of the children. In one instance, Nancy overheard a conversation Nat was having with some of
his playmates. He was telling them of a story that had taken place long before he had been born,
yet he told the story like he was there. Nancy asked young Nat “Did anyone tell you this story?” He
replied “No, somehow I just know.” Nancy beckoned other slaves to come hear this story, and to
see if Nat were telling it correctly. By and by these other slaves were astonished because he told
the story again and explained it just the way it happened(“Fires of Jubilee”). Nat later recalled the
incident and said that only the almighty could have given him such powers of recollection(“Fires
of Jubilee”).

Nat’s Mother and Father realizing that they had someone special, praised Nat for his
extraordinary brilliance and great imagination. They believed so much that Nat was going to be
something special that, they showed other slaves scars and bumps that were on Nat’s chest. In
African tradition it is said that a male with the markings, like Nat’s, was destined to become a
leader(“Fires of Jubilee”). Nat’s parents, his grandmother, and other slaves were all in agreement
that “he was intended for some great purpose, and would surely become a prophet.”(“Fires of
Another astonishing thing about Nat Turner was his ability to read. Never in his life had he
been taught or educated by someone, yet he knew how. One day while Nat was crying and carrying
on, another slave gave him a book to “play with. Instead Nat sat and proceeded to list the words
in the book and read the book(“Fires of Jubilee”).The slave masters were astonished because none
of the slaves could read or write, yet Nat knew how. The master did not overlook Nats literacy and
superior intelligence, yet he only encouraged Nat to read the bible because of his strong religious
beliefs. Reading the bible is where Nat received many of his callings to start his massive slave

As Nat grew a little older, his life began to change in a succession of unsuspected shocks.
First, his father ran away to the North, leaving Nat and Nancy still in slavery. After escaping he was
never heard from again, but Nat never forgot him(“Fires of Jubilee”). Around 1810 Nat’s master
Benjamin, died of a typhoid epidemic that was sweeping through the small Virginia neighborhood.
In Master Benjamin’s will, he divided his land and his slaves among his children. Nat and his
mother now became property of Samuel Turner. Master Samuel was a cruel slave owner compared
to his. Like his father he was religious but he scared Christian religion into his slaves. He told them
that God had brought them to the new world to serve the white man, and that they were to be
obedient to the whites. He said if the slaves tried ever to revolt or try to escape they would burn in
hell with Satan forever. Nat lived under these ridiculous beliefs while on the plantation yet his
belief in the lord and the bible never favored. Another new experience was presented to Nat when
he turned twelve, he started to work difficult and laborious chores like the older male slaves. He
could no longer play games with white children, no more fishing and cavorting. The same white
children he and the other young slave children played with began ordering them around, and now
Nat began to do grueling slave work.

Young Nat continued to persevere and he worked through these rough times. He woke up
before the sunlight, to an unhealthy breakfast of corn mush, milked the cows, fed the hogs and
tended to the fields. Slavery was hard and because of the brilliance Nat displayed as a boy he
thought he would never be doing this, but he was. When not ending to the fields or feeding animals
Nat helped repair fences, and since Nat was a strong man he did much of the heavy lifting.

Although the slave life was bad, the slaves did there best to survive and try and keep their
mind off their hardships. It was when the slaves could get away from the crack of the Masters whip
and far away from the master’s yelling. At night some slaves would gather around a fire with their
children and tell stories of freedom and sing songs. They would also speak about things they had
heard on the slave grapevines about slaves in other parts of the south planning revolts. At these
gatherings at night, Nat would shine. He would speak brilliantly to all of the slaves and he always
talked about the day that slaves would rise and claim their freedom. Nat would participate in
anything involving public speaking, and especially speaking to slaves about religion. Nat would
sneak books and read them, and from some of these books he learned how to make gunpowder.
Religion was still his greatest interest though. He was an acknowledged leader among the slaves
and whenever giving a religious sermon he would always say things with passion and used great
body language. These actions of Nat’s produced people in the audience to yell out “Amen,
“Hallelujah” and “Tell it to them preacher!”
In 1821, master Samuel hired an overseer. Clearly, the overseer beat Nat because he ran
away. He became a fugitive and dwelled deep into the swamps of Southampton. For thirty days Nat
was gone and for sure the “slave patrol” was put on the task of searching for him. All the slaves
prayed for his safe return, and finally one night he did return, but he returned on his own. There was
no patrol, no hound dogs, nothing with Nat. He just decided to come back because as he put it, “the
lord hath found something more for me to do.”(“Fires of Jubilee”).
Nat married another slave named Cherry and they lived on Master Samuel’s farm. In 1822
though, Master Samuel died of an unknown affliction at age 31. The overseer having left and
Master Samuel’s wife inability to run the farm caused it to sink into despair. Eventually the slaves
were sold including Nat and his wife Cherry. They sold Nat to a man named Thomas Moore and
sold Cherry to another slave master. Nat was determined that the rest of his life would be spent
“behind a shitting mule in Moore’s cotton patches.”(“Fires of Jubilee”). Nat said to many slaves that
he was just waiting for a sign that was coming for the lord to tell him what to do.

On a February day in 1831 the sign Nat had been waiting for appeared. A solar eclipse
appeared this day and Nat told his four closest comrades: Hark, Nelson, Henry, and Sam. He told
him that they were to stir all of the other Negroes on the plantation because the revolt was going to
happen on July 4. The same day as the country would celebrate its freedom Nat said, Negroes will
celebrate theirs. This day proved not to work out well because on July 4, 1831, Nat got very sick
and the revolt was called off. This caused Nat to wait for another sign, and the sign that would
signal Nat came. Saturday, August 13, 1831 the sky was supposedly a “greenish blue color”(“Nat
Turner’s Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker), and this caused Nat to again to tell his four men to
spread the word. All that were to be involved in the revolt, would wear red bandannas around their
necks to signify cooperation. On the afternoon of Sunday, August 21, the conspirators gathered and
Nat decided that was the day the rebellion would begin. The last thing Nat Turner said to his
followers was this: Remember that ours is not a war for robbery nor to satisfy our passions; it is
a struggle for freedom. Ours must be deeds not words. Then let us away to the scene of
action.”(“Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion”). It is plain to see what Nat Turner’s desires are about this
revolt but some of his followers had different desires. Some wanted to get back at mean masters
and others were doing it just for money. This is one of the reason’s why the rebellion was crushed.
Not all the slaves were following the rebellion for personal gain though, most of them were doing
it to get their freedom just like Nat was trying to do.

The number of conspirators is a number that has been in question for sometime. Some
estimate that there was between sixty and eighty slaves and some say the number was between three-
hundred and eight-hundred slaves. The latter number is probably the least accurate. The rebellion
probably had from about eighty to one hundred conspirators. Accuracy of what happened exactly
with all the killings is also in debate. There are many accounts on what went on but most of them
are the way the reader reads and interprets what happened. Nat Turner is quoted as saying
“indiscriminate massacre was not their intention after they obtained a foothold, and was resorted
to in the first instance to strike terror and alarm. Women and children would have afterwards been
spared, and men too, who ceased to resist.”(“Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion”). Mostly what Nat and
the group did was go from house to house and killed all white people in the house, this included
women and children. Nat and the conspirators killed and burned some plantations down for about
seven days.

On August 28, 1831, most of the conspirators had been jailed or killed except Nat Turner
and five or six other slaves. The state militia had put down the revolution. The biggest reason that
the revolt was put down so fast was because of insubordination from some slaves toward Nat. Other
reasons for the put down were, there were only about eighty slaves and there were at least more than
five hundred militia men. Also the slaves were tired and did not have enough ammunition to
compete with the militia.
The revolution was crushed but not before Nat Turner had struck some fear and got people
to listen up that slavery should be abolished. About 55 whites were killed in all, most of them were
women and children.

Nat was able to out run the law for about three months until he was captured sometime on
October 30, 1831. There were many rumors about where Nat was. Some people heard he had run
away to Maryland, or escaped to the West Indies. What Nat really did was hide in a cave in
Southampton, Virginia, and was caught by a man named Benjamin Phipps while Nat was looking
for food. Nat was brought to trial after his escape and on November 5, the Honorable Jeremiah
Cobb sentenced Nat Turner to death by hanging. This sentence was carried out on November 11,
1831 and showing complete calmness and apparently unafraid, Nat was hung for the crime of
murder, thus ending Nat Turner’s life and his slave revolt.Nat Turner’s slave revolt led to many
other things significant in the abolishment of slavery. This revolt seemed to show people how
horrible slavery was and what happens slaves do not put up with it. After the revolt, there were
many steps taken in the process of abolishing slavery. The climax of the steps was President
Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation. Nat Turner’s slave revolt and the abolitionist movement
really helped bring an end to the cruel and unjust reality of slavery. Without the Nat Turner slave
revolt the abolitionist movement would have never come about. Some critics complain that the
revolt was very violent and unnecessary, but so was slavery. The slave revolt opened Americas
eyes to the ills of slavery and paved the way for less violent revolutions such as the Black Muslim
uprising and the Civil Rights non-violence movement.
1. Aptheker, Herbert; Nat Turners Slave Rebellion, Johnson and Williams Inc.,
New York, New York, Copyright 1921
2. Farina, Reggie; Nat Turners Rebellion, Snyder Publications, Chicago Publishing House,
Chicago, Illinois, Copyright 1963
3. Friedman, Jesse; Nat Turner: Prophet, Visionary, Slave Revolt leader, Adu publishing inc.,
New York, New York, Copyright 1892
4. Gray, Thomas R.; The Confessions of Nat Turner, Thomas R. Gray publishing, Lucas and
Denver printing, Copyright 1831
5. Oates, Stephen B.; Fires of Jubilee; Nobles, Turner and Smith, Los Angeles, California
Copyright 1899