Nat Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an enslaved African-American preacher who led a four-day rebellion of both enslaved and free Black people in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831.

Nat Turner
Discovery of Nat Turner by William Henry Shelton
Born(1800-10-02)October 2, 1800
DiedNovember 11, 1831(1831-11-11) (aged 31)
Known forNat Turner's slave rebellion
Criminal chargesConspiring to rebel and making insurrection
Criminal penaltyExecution by hanging

Turner's rebellion resulted in the death of approximately sixty White men, women, and children before state militias suppressed the uprising. Turner was captured in October 1831 and was executed after a trial in November. Before his execution, he told his story to attorney Thomas Ruffin Grey, who published The Confessions of Nat Turner in November 1831.

Turner is considered one of the 100 Greatest African Americans. He has been depicted in films, literature, and plays, as well as many scholarly works.

Early life edit

Turner was born into slavery around October 2, 1800, in Southampton County, Virginia.[1][2] Southampton County was a rural plantation area with more Black people than White.[2] Benjamin Turner, the man who held Nat and his family as slaves, called the infant Nat in his records. Even when grown, the slave was known simply as Nat; but after the 1831 rebellion, he was widely referred to as Nat Turner.[3]

Turner knew little about the background of his father, who was believed to have escaped from slavery when Turner was a child.[4][1] However, Turner grew up "much attached to his grandmother.[1]

Turner learned how to read and write at a young age.[1] He was identified as having "natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension, surpassed by few."[5] He grew up deeply religious and was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible.[6]

Benjamin Turner died in 1810, and his son Samuel inherited Nat.[7] When he was 21, Nat Turner escaped from Samuel Turner; but he returned a month later, after becoming delirious from hunger and receiving a vision that told him to "return to the service of my earthly master".[8] In 1830, Joseph Travis purchased Turner; Turner later recalled that Travis was "a kind master" who "placed the greatest confidence" in him.[9]

An 1831 reward notice described Turner as:

5 feet 6 or 8 inches [168–173 cm] high, weighs between 150 and 160 pounds [68–73 kg], rather "bright" [light-colored] complexion, but not a mulatto, broad shoulders, larger flat nose, large eyes, broad flat feet, rather knockneed [sic], 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.[10]

Visions and religious activities edit

Turner was deeply religious and was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible.[6] He had visions that he interpreted as messages from God, and which influenced his life. The historian Patrick Breen states that "Nat Turner thought that God used the natural world as a backdrop in front of which he placed signs and omens."[11] Breen further states that Nat Turner claimed he possessed a gift of prophecy and that he could interpret these divine revelations.[11]

Turner often conducted religious services, preaching the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him "The Prophet". In addition to Blacks, Turner garnered some White followers such as Ethelred T. Brantley, whom Turner baptized after convincing him to "cease from his wickedness".[12][1]

When he was 21, Nat Turner escaped but returned a month later, after receiving a vision that told him to "return to the service of my earthly master".[8] In 1824, Turner had a second vision while working in the fields for Moore: "The Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand".[13]

Historian David Allmendinger notes that Turner had ten different supernatural experiences between 1822 and 1828. These included appearances of both the Spirit communicating through a religious language and scripture along with the visions of the Holy Ghost.[14] By the spring of 1828, Turner was convinced that he "was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty".[8]

Turner said he "heard a loud noise in the heavens" while working in Moore's fields on May 12th "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".[9] Historian and theologian Joseph Dreis says, "In connecting this vision to the motivation for his rebellion, Turner makes it clear that he sees himself as participating in the confrontation between God's Kingdom and the anti-Kingdom that characterized his social-historical context."[15]

During the 1820s, Turner was motivated by strong convictions, at least partly inspired by his religious beliefs, to organize his fellow slaves against enslavement.[16] His deep spiritual commitment served as a significant influence on slaves within the surrounding plantations in Virginia.[17][16] After Turner viewed the eclipse in 1831, he was certain that God wanted the revolt to commence.[11]

Rebellion edit

Over approximately a decade, Turner built up support for his cause, culminating in an anti-slavery uprising that served as a source of inspiration for later abolitionist organizers and rebels.[18]The four-day rebellion stated on August 21, 1831.[19]

Turner's rebellion resulted in the death of 55 White men, women, and children.[1] This is considered the "most deadly slave revolt" in United States history.[1] The state militia and local troops quickly suppressed the uprising; between 36 and 120 Black men, women, and children, many of whom were not involved in the revolt, were killed by soldiers and local mobs in retaliation.[20][21][22][1]

Turner eluded capture but remained hidden in Southampton County.[16] On October 30, a farmer named Benjamin Phipps discovered Turner hiding in a depression in the earth, created by a large, fallen tree covered with fence rails.[23] This was referred to locally as Nat Turner's cave although it was not a natural cave.[23] Around 1 p.m. on October 31, Turner arrived at the prison in the county seat of Jerusalem, Virginia (now Courtland).[24]

Trial and execution edit

 
Title page of The Confessions of Nat Turner

Turner was tried on November 5, 1831, for "conspiring to rebel and making insurrection" and was convicted and sentenced to death.[25][26] Before his executive, he told his story to attorney Thomas R. Grey, who published The Confessions of Nat Turner in November 1831.[27] Asked if he regretted what he had done, Turner responded, "Was Christ not crucified?"[28] Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831, in Jerusalem. [29] According to some sources, he was beheaded as an example to frighten other would-be rebels.[30][31]

After his execution, Turner's body was dissected and flayed, with his skin being used to make souvenir purses.[32][33]: 218  In October 1897, Virginia newspapers ran a story about Nat Turner's skeleton being used as a medical specimen by Dr. H. U. Stephenson of Toana, Virginia.[34] Stephenson acquired the skeleton from a son of Dr. S. B. Kellar; Dr. Kellar claimed to have paid Turner $10 for his body while he was in jail.[34] After the execution, Kellar had Turner's bones scraped and hung as a medical specimen.[34]

In 2002, a skull said to have been Turner's was given to Richard G. Hatcher, the former mayor of Gary, Indiana, for the collection of a civil rights museum he planned to build there. In 2016, Hatcher returned the skull to two of Turner's descendants. Since receiving the skull, the family has temporarily placed it with the Smithsonian Institution, where DNA testing will be done to determine whether it is the authentic remains of Nat Turner. If the test renders positive results, the family plans to bury his remains next to his descendants.[35]

Another skull said to have been Turner's was contributed to the College of Wooster in Ohio upon its incorporation in 1866. When the school's only academic building burned down in 1901, the skull was saved by Dr. H. N. Mateer. Visitors recalled seeing a certificate, signed by a physician in Southampton County in 1866, that attested to the authenticity of the skull. The skull was eventually misplaced.[36]

Marriage and children edit

Turner married an enslaved woman named Cherry, also spelled Chary (however, historians still dispute exactly who Nat Turner's wife was).[37][38] It is thought that Turner and Cherry met and were married at Samuel Turner's plantation in the early 1820s.[37] The couple had children; although historians vary in believing that there were one, two, or three children -- a daughter and one or two sons, including a son named Riddick.[38][39]

The family was separated after Samuel Turner died in 1823, when Turner was sold to Thomas Moore and his family were sold to Giles Reese.[40][41] By 1831, his son was enslaved by Piety Reese and lived on a farm that was near the Travis farm where Turner was enslaved.[1] However, in February 1831, Reese's son John used Turner's son as collateral for a family debt.[1] On historian notes that Turner approached his conspirators for the rebellion days after his son was used as collateral.[1]

After the rebellion, the authorities beat and tortured Cherry Turner in hopes of finding her husband.[42] On September 26, 1831, the Richmond Constitutional Whig published a story about the raiding of Reese plantation stating that, "some papers [were] given up by his wife, under the lash."[43]

Legacy edit

In popular culture edit

Film edit

 
Nat Turner as depicted in Baker's graphic novel.

Literature edit

  • The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), a novel by William Styron, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968.[51] Styron's work was controversial, with some criticizing the White author for writing about such an important black figure and calling him racist for portraying Turner as lusting for a white woman.[51][1]
  • In response to Styron's novel, ten Black scholars and authors published a collection of essays, William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond (1968).[51]
  • In 2006, Kyle Baker's graphic novel, Nat Turner, received the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work and the Glyph Comic Award for Best Story of the Year.[52]
  • Sharon Ewell Foster published her novel, The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part One, The Witness, A Novel in 2011.[53][54]

Music edit

  • The 1960s funk-soul band Nat Turner Rebellion was named after Turner's slave revolt.[55]
  • Chance The Rapper's song "How Great" refers to Turner's rebellion in the line, "Hosanna Santa invoked and woke up enslaved people from Southampton to Chatham Manor."[56]
  • In the early 1990s, hip hop artist Tupac Shakur spoke in interviews about Nat Turner and his admiration for his spirit against oppression. Shakur also honored Turner with a cross tattoo on his back, "EXODUS 1831", referring to the year Turner led the rebellion.[57]
  • The R. J. Phillips Band of Baltimore, Maryland, wrote and recorded a song called "Nat Turner".[58]

Theater edit

  • In 1940, Paul Peter's play, Nat Turner, was produced by the People's Drama Theater in New York City.[59]
  • In 2011, Paula Neiman's play, Following Faith: A Nat Turner Story was produced in Los Angeles.[60]
  • In 2016, the play Nat Turner in Jerusalem, by Nathan Alan Davis was produced at the New York Theatre Workshop, and in 2018 at the Forum Theatre in Washington, D.C.[61][62]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Breen, Patrick H. (December 7, 2020). "Nat Turner's Revolt (1831)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities. Retrieved February 21, 2024.
  2. ^ a b Drewry, William Sydney (1900). The Southampton Insurrection. Washington, D.C.: The Neale Company. p. 108.
  3. ^ Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. Oxford University Press, 2003. Kenneth S. Greenberg, ed., pp. 3–12. According to Greenberg, the trial transcript refers to him on the first mention as "Nat alias Nat Turner" and subsequently as "Nat". Greenberg writes that Thomas Ruffin Gray's The Confessions of Nat Turner, which purports to be Turner's confession and account of his life leading up to the rebellion, was the most influential source of the name by which he is known.
  4. ^ Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. Kenneth S. Greenberg, ed. Oxford University Press, 2003. p. 18.
  5. ^ Bisson, Terry (1988). Nat Turner. Chelsea House Publishers. p. 76. ISBN 1555466133.
  6. ^ a b Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts. 5th ed., New York: International Publishers, 1983. p. 295. ISBN 978-0717806058
  7. ^ Gray White, Deborah (2013). Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans. New York Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 225.
  8. ^ a b c Gray, Thomas Ruffin (1831). The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va. Baltimore, Maryland: Lucas & Deaver, p. 9.
  9. ^ a b Gray, Thomas Ruffin (1831). The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va. Baltimore, Maryland: Lucas & Deaver, p. 11.
  10. ^ Description of Turner included in a $500 reward notice in the Washington National Intelligencer on September 24, 1831.
  11. ^ a b c Breen, Patrick H. (2015). The land shall be deluged in blood: a new history of the Nat Turner Revolt. New York. ISBN 978-0-19-982800-5. OCLC 892895344.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Gray, Thomas Ruffin (1831). The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va. Baltimore, Maryland: Lucas & Deaver, p. 10.
  14. ^ Allmendinger, David F. (2014). Nat Turner and the rising in Southampton County. Baltimore. ISBN 978-1-4214-1480-5. OCLC 889812744.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ Dreis, Joseph (November 2014). "Nat Turner's Rebellion as a Process of Conversion: Towards a Deeper Understanding of the Christian Conversion Process". Black Theology. 12 (3): 231.
  16. ^ a b c Makungu M. Akinyela (2003). "Battling the Serpent: Nat Turner, Africanized Christianity, and a Black Ethos". Journal of Black Studies. 33: 255–280.
  17. ^ Anthony E. Kaye (2007). "Neighborhoods and Nat Turner: The Making of a Slave Rebel and the Unmaking of a Slave Rebellion". Journal of the Early Republic. 27 (4): 705–720.
  18. ^ "Nat Turner | Biography, Rebellion, & Facts | Britannica". www.britannica.com.
  19. ^ Turner, Nat (1831). Grey, T. R. (ed.). "The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Va". Documenting the South. Baltimore. "Confession" paragraph 2. Retrieved July 14, 2018. I was thirty-one years of age the 2d of October last [Nat reported in Nov 1831]
  20. ^ Brinkley, Alan (2008). American History: A Survey (13th ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0073385495.
  21. ^ Breen, Patrick H. (2015). The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt. Oxford University Press. pp. 98, 231. ISBN 978-0199828005.
  22. ^ Breen 2015, Chapter 9 and Allmendinger 2014, Appendix F are recent studies that review various estimates for the number of slaves and free blacks killed without trial, giving a range of from 23 killed to over 200 killed. Breen notes on page 231 that "high estimates have been widely accepted in both academic and popular sources".
  23. ^ a b Drewry, William Sydney (1900). The Southampton Insurrection. Washington, D.C.: The Neale Company. p. 13, 151-153. via Internet Archive
  24. ^ Kossuth, Lajos (1852). Letter to Louis Kossuth: Concerning Freedom and Slavery in the United States. R.F. Walcutt. p. 76. via Hathi Trust.
  25. ^ Southampton Co., VA, Court Minute Book 1830–1835, pp. 121–23. Archived November 11, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Proceedings on the Southampton Insurrection, Aug–Nov 1831" Archived August 25, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Fabricant, Daniel S. “Thomas R. Gray and William Styron: Finally, A Critical Look at the 1831 Confessions of Nat Turner.” The American Journal of Legal History, vol. 37, no. 3, 1993, pp. 332–61. JSTOR website Retrieved 23 Sept. 2023.
  28. ^ Foner, Eric (2014). An American History: Give Me Liberty. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 336. ISBN 978-0393920338.
  29. ^ "Nat Turner executed in Virginia | November 11, 1831". HISTORY. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  30. ^ Fornal, Justin (October 7, 2016). "Exclusive: Inside the Quest to Return Nat Turner's Skull to His Family". National Geographic. paragraph 7. Archived from the original on July 10, 2018. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  31. ^ French, Scot. The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. 2004, p. 278-279. ISBN 978-0618104482
  32. ^ Gibson, Christine (November 11, 2005). "Nat Turner, Lightning Rod". American Heritage Magazine. Archived from the original on April 6, 2009. Retrieved April 6, 2009.
  33. ^ Cromwell, John W. (1920). "The Aftermath of Nat Turner's Insurrection". The Journal of Negro History. 5 (2): 208–234. doi:10.2307/2713592. ISSN 0022-2992. JSTOR 2713592. S2CID 150053000.
  34. ^ a b c "Nat Turner's Skeleton". The Norfolk Virginian. 1897-10-21. p. 6. Retrieved 2022-12-10 – via Newspapers.com.
  35. ^ Fornal, Justin (October 7, 2016). "Inside the Quest to Return Nat Turner's Skull to His Family". National Geographic. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  36. ^ Ortiz, Andrew (December 21, 2015) [October 2003]. "Skullduggery". Indianapolis Monthly. Archived from the original on September 30, 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  37. ^ a b Breen, Patrick (2015). The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199828005
  38. ^ a b Allmendinger, David (2014). Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-1421422558
  39. ^ Greenberg, Kenneth (2004). Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195177565
  40. ^ Bisson, Terry; Huggins, Nathan Irvin (1988). Nat Turner. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. p. 21. ISBN 1-55546-613-3. OCLC 17383625.
  41. ^ Wood, Peter H. "Nat Turner | Encyclopedia of Race and Racism". Cengage Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  42. ^ Bisson, Terry; Davenport, John (2005). Nat Turner: Slave Revolt Leader. Chelsea House Publications. p. 22. ISBN 0791083411.
  43. ^ Kossuth, Lajos (1852). Letter to Louis Kossuth: Concerning Freedom and Slavery in the United States. R.F. Walcutt. p. 76. via Hathi Trust.
  44. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  45. ^ "The Trust for Public Land Celebrates Groundbreaking at Nat Turner Park". Pr-inside.com. Archived from the original on February 15, 2013. Retrieved August 21, 2010.
  46. ^ Trescott, Jacqueline (February 16, 2012). "Descendants of Va. family donate Nat Turner's Bible to museum". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 22, 2017. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  47. ^ Moomaw, Graham (September 20, 2017). "Nat Turner, the leader of a violent Virginia slave uprising, will be honored on a new emancipation statue in Richmond". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2022-12-18.
  48. ^ Haltiwanger, John (September 21, 2017). "Nat Turner to Be Included on Monument in Richmond". Newsweek. Retrieved December 18, 2022.
  49. ^ Shivaram, Deepa (2021-09-22). "An Emancipation Statue Debuts In Virginia Two Weeks After Robert E. Lee Was Removed". NPR. Retrieved 2022-12-18.
  50. ^ Adams, Sam (2016-10-14). "Don't Want to Support Birth of a Nation? Watch Charles Burnett's Nat Turner Movie Instead". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  51. ^ a b c Tanenhaus, Sam (August 3, 2016). "The Literary Battle for Nat Turner's Legacy". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  52. ^ Jaffe, Meryl (February 19, 2014). "Using Graphic Novels in Education: Nat Turner – Comic Book Legal Defense Fund". Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  53. ^ Foster, Sharon Ewel. The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part One, The Witness, A Novel. Howard Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4165-7803-1.
  54. ^ "The Resurrection of Nat Turner". WUNC. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  55. ^ Kreps, Daniel (2019-03-26). "How a College Music Department Helped Unearth a Long-Lost Philly Funk-Soul Classic". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  56. ^ "Hosanna Santa invoked and woke up enslaved individuals from Southampton to Chatham Manor". Genius.
  57. ^ Kitchens, Travis (2016-11-29). "Unfortunate Son: The roots of Tupac Shakur's rebellion". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2021-02-10.
  58. ^ Nat Turner | Soundcloud, retrieved 2022-12-10
  59. ^ People's Drama, Inc. presents Nat Turner by Paul Peters,” Revisiting Rebellion: Nat Turner in the American Imagination, American Antiquarian Society. Accessed December 10, 2022.
  60. ^ "Following Faith: A Nat Turner Story". 2011-02-08. Archived from the original on February 8, 2011. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  61. ^ Green, Jesse (September 26, 2016). "God's Will and God's Warning, in Nat Turner in Jerusalem". vulture.com. New York. Retrieved 2021-11-15.
  62. ^ Pressley, Nelson (March 20, 2018). "Nat Turner play at Forum Theatre gives the rebel the high ground". Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 22, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2018.

External links edit

  • Works by Nat Turner at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Nat Turner's slave rebellion at Internet Archive
  • Breen, Patrick H. "We need more black memorials, but do we need Nat Turner's?" Salon, September 30, 2017