Nat Turner

Born: 1800

Birthplace: Virginia

Died: 1831

Nat Turner became known as the leader of the Southampton County, Virginia, slave rebellions in 1831. This incident was considered to be one of the bloodiest revolts of slaves in American history.

A former slave, Turner had become a minister, and the event brought attention to the slave movement. Although his attempt ended in failure and even harsher punishments against slaves, Turner did become a symbol of freedom during the Black Power movement of the 1960s.

  • Turner was born on a Virginia plantation in 1800 that was owned by Benjamin Turner. His mother’s name was Nancy, but nothing is known about his father. The plantation owner gave permission for Nat to be educated in reading and writing and in religious instruction.
  • Turner was born on October 2, 1800, in Southampton County, Virginia, on the plantation of Benjamin Turner.
  • His¬†mother was named Nancy, but nothing is known about his father. Turner’s slave owner, Benjamin, allowed him to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion.
  • Nat was thought to have special talents as a child because he seemed to be able to describe things that happened before he had been born. Some in his group thought that he might be a prophet, and his grandmother told him that he was intended for a greater purpose. Turner’s youth was devoted to religion, praying, reading the Bible, and fasting.
  • Turner had been put to work on a lot of plantations and eventually ran away from the one he worked on that was the brother of his former owner. He hid in the woods for thirty days, and when he returned, he said he had received what he thought was a sign from God. When the current owner died, he became the slave of one man and then his widow who remarried to someone named John Travis.
  • It was during his time as a slave of John Travis that he led a revolt and killed the Travis family on August 21, 1831.
  • Nat thought he heard voices and saw signs that he believed to be divine. He thought there was a spiritual conflict going on between white and black spirits and that they were telling him to revolt. Turner stated, “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.” He said in another sign, it saw it as telling him to fight against the white slave owners. He translated the message as “I should arise and prepare myself and slay my enemies with their own weapons.”
  • In February 1831, Turner saw the solar eclipse as a holy sign that the time for rebellion had arrived. He gathered 40-50 slaves that decided to join him, and they began acts of violence throughout the county that they lived in. They had gotten weapons and horses from the homes of the 55 men, women, and children that they had killed.
  • His plan to return to the county seat of Jerusalem and overtake the armory failed when a large group of white men showed up at the plantation to stop them. Turner ran off to hide in the woods, and the mobs of white people in the area held all of the other slaves and black people to account by slaughtering around 100 to 200 of them.
  • Nat was captured and given an attorney who took down his confession. His plea of not guilty was based on his belief that he was doing the actions sent to him by God. Turner was found guilty, sentenced to death by hanging, and he and many of those that were part of the rebellion were hung on November 11, 1831.
  • This event made many of those in the south fearful and resulted in laws being passed in the southern states that limited gatherings and movements by black people. Many condemned Turner for his acts of violence, but the actions also played out as part of the abolitionist movement. Turner’s story became a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize, “Confessions of Nat Turner.” The rebellion and Nat Turner were also in the 2016 film “The Birth of a Nation,” which won awards at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Q&A:

What 1960s movement did the life of Nat Turner inspire?
Black Power movement

What celestial event did Turner think was the signal to start his rebellion against the white slave owners?
Solar eclipse

What was Nat Turner’s defense in court against the charges put against him?
The rebellion was a message from God

How many Black people did the white mob kill as retribution against the rebellion?
100-200

What did Turner’s grandmother tell him that he used to support his beliefs?
He was intended for a greater purpose

How did Turner’s rebellion affect the southern states?
They passed new laws to restrict the gatherings and movements of black people