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Nat Turner's Rebellion

(aka The Southampton Slave Revolt) Early in the morning of August 21, 1831, a band of eight slaves, led by a lay preacher named Nat Turner, entered the house of James Travis (Turner's owner) in Southampton County, Virginia, and killed five members of the Travis family. This was the beginning of a slave uprising that was to become known as Nat Turner's Rebellion. Over a thirty-six hour period, this band of slaves grew to sixty or seventy in number and killed fifty-eight White persons in and around Jerusalem (seventy miles east of Richmond) before the local community could act to stop them.

contemporary depiction of the Southampton Slave Revolt

Nat Turner was born on a plantation in Southampton County, Virginia, on October 2, 1800. While still a young child he was overheard describing events that had happened before he was born. This, along with his keen intelligence, marked him in the eyes of fellow slaves as a prophet "intended for some great purpose." His parents and grandparents encouraged him to become educated and to fight slavery. Through the years, Turner came to believe that God had chosen him to lead the slaves to freedom, and he built a religious following justifying revolution against the white masters. After seeing a halo around the sun on August 13, 1831, Turner believed this to be a sign from God to begin the revolt.

At 2:00 in the morning of August 21, Turner and six followers set out to the home of James Travis, Turner's owner at the time, and killed the entire Travis family as they lay sleeping. They continued on, from house to house, killing all of the white people they encountered. Turner's force eventually consisted of more than forty slaves.

By about mid-day Turner decided to march toward Jerusalem, the closest town. By then word of the rebellion had gotten out and white citizens had begun to mobilize. Confronted by a group of militia at Jerusalem, the rebels scattered, and Turner's force became disorganized. After spending the night near some slave cabins, Turner and his men attempted to attack another house, but were repulsed. By August 31, several of the rebels had been captured or killed, but many others, including Turner, had managed to escape. Despite a large-scale manhunt, Turner was able to hide in the woods of Southampton for two months.

On October 31, a local farmer spotted and captured Nat Turner at gunpoint. On November 5, Turner was convicted of insurrection and sentenced to hang; the sentence was carried out on November 11. In total, the state executed fifty-five people, banished many more, and acquitted a few. The state reimbursed the slaveholders for their slaves. But in the hysterical climate that followed the rebellion, close to two hundred blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion, were murdered by white mobs. In addition, slaves as far away as North Carolina were accused of having a connection with the insurrection, and many were subsequently tried and executed.


Africans in America--People and Events www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3p1518.html

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This page was last updated on September 10, 2015.

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