6 – Nat Turner’s Rebellion – 1831
Nat Turner grew up a slave on the Turner plantation in Southampton County Virginia. Turner was deeply religious from an early age, claiming to sometimes receive visions from God, and he also offered religious teaching to other slaves on the plantation. His visions convinced him that God had chosen him as an instrument, he said, to “fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first.” In February 1831 there was a solar eclipse, which Turner took as a sign to prepare for an uprising. That August there was another eclipse, and Turner concluded that God had told him it was time to act.
On August 21, 1831, Turner and a handful of his followers escaped and began to move from plantation to plantation, killing any white person that they came across and recruiting new followers from amongst the slaves they found. Turner’s rebels, who numbered seventy at their height, were extremely brutal. They slaughtered sixty men, women, and children using edged weapons and clubs. Their violence precipitated a strong reaction from white militia and the U.S. military, who suppressed the rebellion over the course of two days.
During the course of the fighting 100 slaves were killed, many of whom had not actually been involved, and 56 of the rebels would be executed after they were subdued. Rumors of further uprisings wound through the south, prompting indiscriminate attacks on slaves across the region that claimed another 120 lives.
Turner himself managed to evade capture for two months before being found and sentenced to death. Before his execution he commented “was Christ not crucified?” In the wake of the rebellion, Virginia passed new regulations outlawing teaching slaves to read and further curtailed the rights of even free blacks.