?”Nat Turners Southampton Slave Revolt and How it Paved the Way for the Abolitionist andCivil Rights Movement “Nat Turner was a man with a vision that would change America forever.
His vision mayhave 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 heremains 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 ahumane or kind thing. The cruel and unjust treatment by the slave masters in the 1800’s led to NatTurner’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 before1808.While most of the Africans had come from West Africa, Nancy’s was supposedly from in theNorth’s Nile River country(“Fires of Jubilee”). Folk chroniclers say that slave traders or warlikenatives abducted Nancy when she was a teenager. She was thrust over to European slave tradersand crammed on a disease infested slave boat headed to the New World(“Fires of Jubilee”).
Nancy’sship landed at Norfolk, Virginia around 1795. She then was herded more inland where slave tradersexhibited her at several slave auctions. Around 1799 Nancy was brought by Benjamin Turner andher life on a plantation began. Not long after Nancy had arrived at the plantation, she marriedanother 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 sonup as a slave so she tried to kill him. The slave owners punished Nancy for trying this and shackledher for a lengthy period.
As Nancy watched Nat get a little older, she noticed that she had a special child. She wasextremely proud of her young son Nat. Nat was bright, and quick to learn and he stood out from therest of the children. In one instance, Nancy overheard a conversation Nat was having with some ofhis 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?” Hereplied “No, somehow I just know.
” Nancy beckoned other slaves to come hear this story, and tosee if Nat were telling it correctly. By and by these other slaves were astonished because he toldthe story again and explained it just the way it happened(“Fires of Jubilee”). Nat later recalled theincident and said that only the almighty could have given him such powers of recollection(“Firesof Jubilee”).Nat’s Mother and Father realizing that they had someone special, praised Nat for hisextraordinary brilliance and great imagination. They believed so much that Nat was going to besomething special that, they showed other slaves scars and bumps that were on Nat’s chest.
InAfrican tradition it is said that a male with the markings, like Nat’s, was destined to become aleader(“Fires of Jubilee”). Nat’s parents, his grandmother, and other slaves were all in agreementthat “he was intended for some great purpose, and would surely become a prophet.”(“Fires ofJubilee”)Another astonishing thing about Nat Turner was his ability to read.
Never in his life had hebeen taught or educated by someone, yet he knew how. One day while Nat was crying and carryingon, another slave gave him a book to “play with. Instead Nat sat and proceeded to list the wordsin the book and read the book(“Fires of Jubilee”).The slave masters were astonished because noneof the slaves could read or write, yet Nat knew how. The master did not overlook Nats literacy andsuperior intelligence, yet he only encouraged Nat to read the bible because of his strong religiousbeliefs.
Reading the bible is where Nat received many of his callings to start his massive slaverevolt.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 wasnever heard from again, but Nat never forgot him(“Fires of Jubilee”). Around 1810 Nat’s masterBenjamin, 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 hismother now became property of Samuel Turner.
Master Samuel was a cruel slave owner comparedto his. Like his father he was religious but he scared Christian religion into his slaves. He told themthat God had brought them to the new world to serve the white man, and that they were to beobedient to the whites.
He said if the slaves tried ever to revolt or try to escape they would burn inhell with Satan forever. Nat lived under these ridiculous beliefs while on the plantation yet hisbelief in the lord and the bible never favored. Another new experience was presented to Nat whenhe turned twelve, he started to work difficult and laborious chores like the older male slaves.
Hecould no longer play games with white children, no more fishing and cavorting. The same whitechildren he and the other young slave children played with began ordering them around, and nowNat began to do grueling slave work.Young Nat continued to persevere and he worked through these rough times. He woke upbefore the sunlight, to an unhealthy breakfast of corn mush, milked the cows, fed the hogs andtended to the fields. Slavery was hard and because of the brilliance Nat displayed as a boy hethought he would never be doing this, but he was. When not ending to the fields or feeding animalsNat 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 theirmind off their hardships.
It was when the slaves could get away from the crack of the Masters whipand far away from the master’s yelling. At night some slaves would gather around a fire with theirchildren and tell stories of freedom and sing songs. They would also speak about things they hadheard on the slave grapevines about slaves in other parts of the south planning revolts. At thesegatherings at night, Nat would shine. He would speak brilliantly to all of the slaves and he alwaystalked about the day that slaves would rise and claim their freedom.
Nat would participate inanything involving public speaking, and especially speaking to slaves about religion. Nat wouldsneak 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 slavesand whenever giving a religious sermon he would always say things with passion and used greatbody 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 ranaway.
He became a fugitive and dwelled deep into the swamps of Southampton. For thirty days Natwas gone and for sure the “slave patrol” was put on the task of searching for him. All the slavesprayed for his safe return, and finally one night he did return, but he returned on his own.
There wasno patrol, no hound dogs, nothing with Nat. He just decided to come back because as he put it, “thelord 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 1822though, Master Samuel died of an unknown affliction at age 31. The overseer having left andMaster Samuel’s wife inability to run the farm caused it to sink into despair. Eventually the slaveswere sold including Nat and his wife Cherry. They sold Nat to a man named Thomas Moore andsold 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 thathe 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 eclipseappeared this day and Nat told his four closest comrades: Hark, Nelson, Henry, and Sam.
He toldhim that they were to stir all of the other Negroes on the plantation because the revolt was going tohappen on July 4. The same day as the country would celebrate its freedom Nat said, Negroes willcelebrate theirs. This day proved not to work out well because on July 4, 1831, Nat got very sickand the revolt was called off. This caused Nat to wait for another sign, and the sign that wouldsignal Nat came. Saturday, August 13, 1831 the sky was supposedly a “greenish blue color”(“NatTurner’s Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker), and this caused Nat to again to tell his four men tospread the word. All that were to be involved in the revolt, would wear red bandannas around theirnecks to signify cooperation. On the afternoon of Sunday, August 21, the conspirators gathered andNat decided that was the day the rebellion would begin. The last thing Nat Turner said to hisfollowers was this: Remember that ours is not a war for robbery nor to satisfy our passions; it isa struggle for freedom.
Ours must be deeds not words. Then let us away to the scene ofaction.”(“Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion”). It is plain to see what Nat Turner’s desires are about thisrevolt but some of his followers had different desires. Some wanted to get back at mean mastersand 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 doingit 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. Someestimate 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 rebellionprobably had from about eighty to one hundred conspirators.
Accuracy of what happened exactlywith all the killings is also in debate. There are many accounts on what went on but most of themare 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 resortedto in the first instance to strike terror and alarm. Women and children would have afterwards beenspared, and men too, who ceased to resist.”(“Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion”). Mostly what Nat andthe group did was go from house to house and killed all white people in the house, this includedwomen and children.
Nat and the conspirators killed and burned some plantations down for aboutseven days.On August 28, 1831, most of the conspirators had been jailed or killed except Nat Turnerand five or six other slaves. The state militia had put down the revolution. The biggest reason thatthe revolt was put down so fast was because of insubordination from some slaves toward Nat. Otherreasons for the put down were, there were only about eighty slaves and there were at least more thanfive hundred militia men. Also the slaves were tired and did not have enough ammunition tocompete with the militia. The revolution was crushed but not before Nat Turner had struck some fear and got peopleto listen up that slavery should be abolished. About 55 whites were killed in all, most of them werewomen and children.
Nat was able to out run the law for about three months until he was captured sometime onOctober 30, 1831. There were many rumors about where Nat was. Some people heard he had runaway to Maryland, or escaped to the West Indies.
What Nat really did was hide in a cave inSouthampton, Virginia, and was caught by a man named Benjamin Phipps while Nat was lookingfor food. Nat was brought to trial after his escape and on November 5, the Honorable JeremiahCobb 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 ofmurder, thus ending Nat Turner’s life and his slave revolt.Nat Turner’s slave revolt led to manyother things significant in the abolishment of slavery. This revolt seemed to show people howhorrible slavery was and what happens slaves do not put up with it. After the revolt, there weremany steps taken in the process of abolishing slavery.
The climax of the steps was PresidentLincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation. Nat Turner’s slave revolt and the abolitionist movementreally helped bring an end to the cruel and unjust reality of slavery. Without the Nat Turner slaverevolt the abolitionist movement would have never come about. Some critics complain that therevolt was very violent and unnecessary, but so was slavery. The slave revolt opened Americaseyes to the ills of slavery and paved the way for less violent revolutions such as the Black Muslimuprising and the Civil Rights non-violence movement.
Bibliography1. Aptheker, Herbert; Nat Turners Slave Rebellion, Johnson and Williams Inc., New York, New York, Copyright 19212. Farina, Reggie; Nat Turners Rebellion, Snyder Publications, Chicago Publishing House,Chicago, Illinois, Copyright 19633.
Friedman, Jesse; Nat Turner: Prophet, Visionary, Slave Revolt leader, Adu publishing inc.,New York, New York, Copyright 18924. Gray, Thomas R.; The Confessions of Nat Turner, Thomas R.
Gray publishing, Lucas andDenver printing, Copyright 18315. Oates, Stephen B.; Fires of Jubilee; Nobles, Turner and Smith, Los Angeles, CaliforniaCopyright 1899