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Nat Turner
Born Nathaniel Turner
October 2, 1800(1800-10-02)
Southampton County, Virginia
Died November 11, 1831 (aged 31)
Southampton County, Virginia
Nationality American slave
Known for Nat Turner's slave rebellion

Nathaniel "Nat" Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an American slave who led a slave rebellion in Virginia on August 21, 1831 that resulted in 56[1] deaths among their victims, the largest number of white fatalities to occur in one uprising in the antebellum southern United States. He gathered supporters in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner's killing of whites during the uprising makes his legacy controversial. For his actions, Turner was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed. In the aftermath, the state executed 56 blacks accused of being part of Turner's rebellion. Two hundred additional blacks were beaten and killed, as part of overreaction by white militias and mobs. Virginia and other southern states passed legislation reducing rights of free blacks and slaves. Across the South, state legislators passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free blacks, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free blacks, and requiring white ministers to be present at black worship services.


Early life

At birth, Turner's master recorded only his given name, Nat, although he may have had a last name within the enslaved community. In accordance with common practice, the whites referred to him by the last name of his owner, Samuel Turner. This practice was continued by historians.

Turner spent his life in Southampton County, Virginia, a predominantly black area.[2] After the rebellion, a reward notice described Turner as:

5 feet 6 or 8 inches high, weighs between 150 and 160 pounds, rather bright complexion, but not a mulatto, broad shoulders, larger flat nose, large eyes, broad flat feet, rather knockneed, walks brisk and active, hair on the top of the head very thin, no beard, except on the upper lip and the top of the chin, a scar on one of his temples, also one on the back of his neck, a large knot on one of the bones of his right arm, near the wrist, produced by a blow.[3]

Turner was intelligent; he learned to read and write at a young age. He grew up deeply religious and was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible.[4] He frequently experienced visions which he interpreted as messages from God. These visions greatly influenced his life; for instance, when Turner was 23 years old, he ran away from his owner, but returned a month later after having such a vision. Turner often conducted Baptist services, preaching the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him "The Prophet". Turner also had influence over white people, and in the case of Ethelred T. Brantley, Turner said that he was able to convince Brantley to "cease from his wickedness".[5]

By early 1828, Turner was convinced that he "was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty."[6] While working in his owner's fields on May 12, Turner "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."[7] Turner was convinced that God had given him the task of "slay[ing] my enemies with their own weapons."[7] Turner "communicated the great work laid out for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence" – his fellow slaves Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam.[7]

Beginning in February 1831, Turner came to believe that certain atmospheric conditions were to be interpreted as a sign that he should begin preparing for a rebellion against the slave owners.

On February 12, 1831, an annular solar eclipse was seen in Virginia. Turner saw this as a black man's hand reaching over the sun, and he took this vision as his sign. The rebellion was initially planned for July 4, Independence Day, but was postponed for more deliberation between him and his followers, and illness. On August 13, there was another solar eclipse, in which the sun appeared bluish-green (possibly from debris deposited in the atmosphere by an eruption of Mount Saint Helens). Turner took this occasion as the final signal, and a week later, on August 21, he began the rebellion.


Turner started with a few trusted fellow slaves. 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 blacks.[8]

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.[9] The rebellion did not discriminate by age or sex, until it was determined that the rebellion had achieved sufficient numbers. Nat Turner only confessed to killing one of the rebellion's victims, Margret Whitehead, who he killed with a blow from a fence post.[10]

Before a white militia was able to respond, the rebels killed 55 men, women, and children.[11] They spared a few homes "because Turner believed the poor white inhabitants 'thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.'"[12]

Capture and execution

The capture of Nat Turner

The rebellion was suppressed within two days, but Turner eluded capture until October 30, when he was discovered hiding in a hole covered with fence rails. On November 5, 1831, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Turner was hanged on November 11 in Jerusalem, Virginia, now known as Courtland, Virginia. His body was flayed, beheaded and quartered.[13]

After his execution, his lawyer, Thomas Ruffin Gray, took it upon himself to publish The Confessions of Nat Turner, derived partly from research done while Turner was in hiding and partly from jailhouse conversations with Turner before trial. This work is the primary historical document regarding Nat Turner.


In total, the state executed 56 blacks suspected of having been involved in the uprising. In the aftermath, close to 200 blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion, were beaten, tortured, and killed.[14]

Before the Nat Turner Revolt, there was a small but ineffectual antislavery movement in Virginia,[citation needed] largely on account of economic trends that made slavery less profitable in the Old South in the 1820s and fears among whites of the rising number of blacks, especially in the Tidewater and Piedmont regions. Most of the movement's members, including acting governor John Floyd, supported resettlement of blacks to Africa for these reasons. Considerations of white racial and moral purity also influenced many of these antislavery Virginians.[citation needed]

Nevertheless, fears of repetitions of the Nat Turner Revolt polarized moderates and slave owners across the South.[citation needed] Municipalities across the region instituted repressive policies against blacks. Rights were taken away from those who were free. The freedoms of all black people in Virginia were tightly curtailed. Socially, the uprising discouraged whites' questioning the slave system from the perspective that such discussion might encourage similar slave revolts. Manumissions of slaves had decreased by 1810. The shift away from tobacco had made owning slaves in the Upper South an excess to the planters' needs, so they started to hire out slaves. With the ending of the slave trade, the invention of the cotton gin, and opening up of new territories in the Deep South, suddenly there was a growing market for the trading of slaves. Over the next decades, more than a million slaves would be transported to the Deep South in a forced migration as a result of the domestic slave trade.

In terms of public response and loss of white lives, slaveholders in the Upper South and coastal states were deeply shocked by the Nat Turner Rebellion. While the 1811 German Coast Uprising in Louisiana involved a greater number of slaves, it resulted in only two white fatalities. Events in Louisiana did not receive as much attention in those years in the Upper South and Lowcountry. Because of his singular status, Turner is regarded as a hero by some African Americans and pan-Africanists worldwide.

Turner became the focus of historical scholarship in the 1940s, when historian Herbert Aptheker was publishing the first serious scholarly work on instances of slave resistance in the antebellum South. Aptheker wrote that the rebellion was rooted in the exploitative conditions of the Southern slave system. He traversed libraries and archives throughout the South, managing to uncover roughly 250 similar instances, though none of them reached the scale of the Nat Turner Revolt.


  • The Confessions of Nat Turner, a novel by William Styron that was published in 1967, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968.[1] This book had wide critical and popular acclaim. Several black critics considered it racist and "a deliberate attempt to steal the meaning of a man's life."[2] These assertions were part of cultural discussions about how different peoples can interpret the past and whether any one group has sole ownership of any portion.
  • In response to Styron's novel, ten African-American writers published The Second Crucifixion of Nat Turner in 1968.[3]
  • In 2007 cartoonist and comic book author Kyle Baker wrote a two-part comic book about Turner and his uprising, which was called Nat Turner.[5]
  • Philadelphia MC Reef The Lost Cauze put out a song called "Nat Turner" on his album "A Vicious Cycle."[6]
  • In early 2009, comic book artist and animator Brad Neely created a Web animation entitled "American Moments of Maybe", a satirical video game advrtisement for "Nat Turner's Punchout!" a game in which a player supposedly took on the role of Nat Turner and loosely followed the events of the two-day slave rebellion.[7]
  • Nat Turner is mentioned in the song "Point of no Return" by Immortal Technique on the album Revolutionary Volume 2.
  • Nat Turner is also mentioned in Episode 5 of Roots

See also


  1. ^ American HIstory: A survey - Brinkley
  2. ^ Drewry, William Sydney (1900). The Southampton Insurrection. Washington, D. C.: The Neale Company. pp. 108. 
  3. ^ Description of Turner included in $500 reward notice in the Washington National Intelligencer on September 24, 1831, quoted in Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts, p. 294.
  4. ^ Aptheker (1993), p295.
  5. ^ Gray, Thomas Ruffin (1831). The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va.. Baltimore, Maryland: Lucas & Deaver. pp. 7–9, 11.. 
  6. ^ Gray (1831), p 9.
  7. ^ a b c Gray (1831), p 11.
  8. ^ Ayers, de la Tejada, Schulzinger and White (2007). American Anthem US History (Pg.286). New York, New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston. 
  9. ^ Gray, Thomas Ruffin (1831). The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va.. Baltimore, Maryland: Lucas & Deaver. 
  10. ^ Gray, Thomas Ruffin (1831). The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va.. Baltimore, Maryland: Lucas & Deaver. 
  11. ^ Oates, Stephen B. (1990 [1975]) The fires of jubilee: Nat Turner's fierce rebellion, New York: HarperPerennial ISBN 0-06-091670-2.
  12. ^ Oates, Stephen. "Children of Darkness". American Heritage Magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Africans in America/Part 3/Nat Turner's Rebellion
  15. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.


Further reading

  • Herbert Aptheker. American Negro Slave Revolts. 5th edition. New York: International Publishers, 1983 (1943).
  • Herbert Aptheker. Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion. New York: Humanities Press, 1966.
  • Scot French. The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2004.
  • William Lloyd Garrison, "The Insurrection", The Liberator, (September 3, 1831). A contemporary abolitionist's reaction to news of the rebellion.
  • Thomas R. Gray, The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va. Baltimore: Lucas & Deaver, 1831. Available online.
  • Stephen B. Oates, The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990 (1975).
  • Brodhead, Richard H. "Millennium, Prophecy and the Energies of Social Transformation: The Case of Nat Turner," in A. Amanat and M. Bernhardsson (eds.), Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America (London, I. B. Tauris, 2002), 212-233.
  • Kenneth S. Greenberg, ed. Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Junius P. Rodriguez, ed. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006.
  • Ely, Mike. "The Slave Rebellion of General Nat Turner". Kasama Project. December 2007, re-published February 2009 Available online.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Nat Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was a United States slave who led a 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia.



The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831)

  • And my father and mother strengthened me in this my first impression, saying in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose, which they had always thought from certain marks on my head and breast
  • My grand mother, who was very religious, and to whom I was much attached - my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house, and whom I often saw at prayers, noticing the singularity of my manners, I suppose, and my uncommon intelligence for a child, remarked I had too much sense to be raised – and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one – as a slave
  • The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet
  • Having soon discovered to be great, I must appear so, and therefore studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer.
  • ...I was struck with that particular passage which says: "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you."
  • And about this time I had a vision - and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened – the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams – and I heard a voice saying, "Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bear it."
  • For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew - and as the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgement was at hand.


  • Kill all the white people

Quotes about Nat Turner

  • Although they confiscated horses, weapons, and brandy, they took only what was necessary to continue the struggle, and they committed no rapes. They even spared a few homesteads, one because Turner believed the poor white inhabitants "thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes."
  • "What strikes us as the most remarkable thing in this matter is the horrible ferocity of these monsters." ~ The Richmond Enquirer, 30 August 1831[1]
  • "A fanatic preacher by the name of Nat Turner (Gen. Nat Turner) who had been taught to read and write, and permitted to go about preaching in the country, was at the bottom of this infernal brigandage. He was artful, impudent and vindicative, without any cause or provocation, that could be assigned." ~ The Richmond Enquirer, 30 August 1831

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

NAT TURNER (1800-1831), the negro leader of a slave insurrection in Virginia, known as the "Southampton Insurrection," was born in Southampton county, Virginia, in 1800. From his childhood he claimed to see visions and hear voices, and he became a Baptist preacher of great influence among the negroes. In 1828 he confided to a few companions that a voice from heaven had announced that "the last shall be first," which was interpreted to mean that the slaves should control. An insurrection was planned, and a solar eclipse in February 1831 and peculiar atmospheric conditions on the 13th of August were accepted as the signal for beginning the work. On the night of the 21st of August 1831, with seven companions, he entered the home of his master, Joseph Travis, and murdered the inmates. After securing guns, horses and liquor they visited other houses, sparing no one. Recruits were added, in some cases by compulsion, until the band numbered about sixty. About noon on the 22nd they were scattered by a small force of whites, hastily gathered. Troops, marines and militia were hurried to the scene, and the negroes were hunted down. In all thirteen men, eighteen women, and twenty-four children had been butchered. After hiding for several weeks Nat was captured on the 30th of October and was tried and hanged, having made, meanwhile, a full confession. Nineteen of his associates were hanged and twelve were sent out of the state. The insurrection, which was attributed to the teachings of the abolitionists, led to the enactment of stricter slave codes.

See S. B. Weeks, "Slave Insurrections in Virginia," in Magazine of American History, vol. xxxi. (New York, 1891), and W. S. Drewry, The Southampton Insurrection (Washington, 1900).

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Simple English

File:Nat Turner
A wood engraving of the capture of Nat Turner

Nathaniel "Nat" Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was a slave in the United States. He led a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831. At least 55 white people were killed in the rebellion.[1]


Before the rebellion

Turner was a Christian preacher, and he believed God had given him visions. There was an eclipse in February 1831, and he thought it was a sign from God that he should plan a rebellion.[2]

The rebellion

Seventy black people were in the rebellion.[3] Some were free, and others were slaves. The rebellion lasted two days. Soldiers ended it, but Turner escaped. He was found hiding on October 30, and was executed on November 11 by hanging.

New laws

Because of the rebellion, new laws were made in Virginia. People could not bring black people together to teach them how to read and write,[4] and black people could not have church services without a white person there.



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