Nat Turner Biography Nat Turner Slave Rebellion Nat Turner Confessions TM
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Nat Turner

Nat, commonly called Nat Turner, (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an American slave whose slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, was the most remarkable instance of black resistance to enslavement in the antebellum southern United States. His methodical slaughter of white civilians during the uprising makes his legacy controversial, but he is still considered by many to be a heroic figure of black resistance to oppression. At birth he was not given a surname, but was recorded solely by his given name, Nat. In accordance with a common practice, he was often called by the surname of his owner, Samuel Turner.

Nat lived his entire life in Southampton County, Virginia, an area with predominantly more blacks than whites.[1] After the rebellion, a reward notice described Nat 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.[2]

Nat was singularly intelligent, and learned how 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.[3] He frequently received visions which he interpreted as messages from God. These visions greatly influenced his life; for instance, when Nat was 21 years old he ran away from his owner, but returned a month later after receiving such a vision. Turner often conducted Baptist services, and preached the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him as "The Prophet". Turner also had an influence over white people, and in the case of Ethelred T. Brantley, Nat said that he was able to convince Brantley to "cease from his wickedness".[4] By early 1828, Nat was convinced that he "was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty."[5] 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."[6] Nat was convinced that God had given him the task of "slay[ing] my enemies with their own weapons."[6] Nat "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.[6]

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 those holding him and fellow African Americans as slaves.

On February 12, 1831, an annular solar eclipse was seen in Virginia. Nat saw this as a Black man's hand reaching over the sun. Nat took this to mean that he should begin preparing for a rebellion. The rebellion was initially planned for July 4, Independence Day, but was postponed due to deliberation between him and his followers, and illness. On August 13, there was an atmospheric disturbance, another solar eclipse, in which the sun appeared bluish-green. Nat took this as the final signal, and a week later, on August 21, the rebellion began.

Nat Turner's slave rebellion

Nat started with a few trusted fellow slaves. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing all the white people they found. The rebels ultimately included more than 50 enslaved and free blacks.

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. Nat called on his group to "kill all whites." The rebellion did not discriminate by age or gender, although Nat later indicated that he intended to spare women, children, and men who surrendered as it went on. Before Nat and his brigade of rebels met resistance at the hands of a white militia, 57 white men, women and children had been killed. [7]

Nat Turner's rebellion was suppressed within 48 hours, but Nat eluded capture until October 30 when he was discovered hiding in a cave and then taken to court. On November 5, 1831, Nat was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on November 11 in Jerusalem, Virginia, now known as Courtland, Virginia. His body was then flayed, beheaded and quartered. After his execution, his lawyer, Thomas Ruffin Gray, who had access to the jail in which Nat had been held, took it upon himself to publish The Confessions of Nat Turner, derived partly from research done while Nat was in hiding and partly from conversations with Nat before his trial.

This document is the primary historical document regarding Nat. However, its author's bias is problematic.[citation needed] It is probable that Gray suppressed some facts and gave undue emphasis to others.[citation needed] It seems unlikely, for example, that Nat would have said such things as, “we found no more victims to gratify our thirst for blood.”[citation needed] However, the book does contain other lines which appear genuine, particularly the passages in which Nat describes his visions and early childhood.