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 Nat Turner (1800-1831) believed that he was chosen by God to lead his people out of bondage. By wearing a cloak of religious fervor, he was successful in executing his plot to revolt in 1831. He was born in Virginia, thee son of African-born slaves. His father escaped and returned to Africa, and his mother, hating enslavement, attempted to murder her infant. He received some education as a boy, but this was interrupted several times because he was sold and resold by his masters.

            As an adult in Southampton County, Virginia, he was looked to by his fellow slaves for advice and direction. His mysticism brought him awe and respect as he quoted his theory of revolt from the Scriptures. In 1831, Nat Turner, concluding that the Day of Judgment was at hand for slave-owners, chose to strike on August 21. At ten o’clock, Turner and his followers murdered the entire Joseph Travis family and then moved from plantation to plantation in Southampton County, killing 55 whites within 36 hours.

            When the slaves’ revolt became known, more than 3,000 whites came to the county to put down the insurrection. A massacre of Negroes by the enraged whites followed, but Turner eluded capture by hiding out in the Dismal Swamp for almost two months. Turner and 52 followers were finally caught, and 17, including Turner, were hanged; 12 slaves were convicted and sent out of the state; and 24 insurrectionists were acquitted.

            The Turner insurrection terrorized the slaveholding states of the South and led to the passage of the restrictive Black Codes, which were intended to prevent slaves from attempting other revolts.




Source: International Library of Negro Life and History by Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Publishers Company, Inc., New York, Washington, London under the auspices of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1967).

*Black has been substituted for the word “Negro” originally used in this citation.





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