During the early 1800s, slavery played a major role in America, specifically the southern part of the nation. African-American Nat Turner greatly opposed slavery and those who enforced the act that questioned individuals’ humanity. Nat Turner’s actions proved that he had the strength to revolt and stand up for what he believed in. His actions portrayed the anger that some slaves felt that came with the conditions of being an African American in the slaveholding south. Following Turner’s violent rebellion, many of the limited rights of African Americans were taken away because of white fear of black power.
The fear caused by Nat Turner’s insurrection and the concerns raised in the emancipation debates that followed resulted in politicians and writers responding by defining slavery as a “positive good”. Born on October 2, 1800, Nat Turner was born into slavery in Southampton, Virginia. His master was first Benjamin Turner, his brother Samuel Turner after the death of Benjamin, as well as a man named Joseph Travis. Where he lived in Virginia, slaves made up a large amount of the population. Unlike many other slaves living near him, Nat Turner was extremely intelligent for the education he received as an African American slave.
He could read write at a very young age and was noted for having a “natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension, surpassed by few. ” At a young age, he was recognized for having such a sharp mind as well as a very keen understanding for what was going on in the world around him. At a young age, he had a book read to him as means to sooth his infant cries, and from there on, he had a grand interest in learning how to read, write, and learn from the objects around him. Anyone who visited his home would be astonished by his intellect at such a young age, declaring his gift of intelligence was “God-given.
Because of his inquisitive, observant, and restless mind, many of his peers thought that he would use his natural gifts to pursue a career of religion; after all, his grandmother worked in the church and devoted much of her life to enhancing her religious beliefs and practices. While employed, any time spent not serving his master would be devoted to praying, observing the world around him, or making molds out of natural resources he could grasp, attempting to form paper as well as gunpowder – neither of which were successful due to the unavailability of resources to create or manufacture either of the two goods.
Recognizing his remarkable intuition, his fellow African Americans asked Turner to organize and plot any mischievous deeds of theirs. His peers and himself well aware of Turner’s mental capabilities prompted Turner to seek the reason of his mental gift by his superior, God. His reliance on extramundane sources for answers caused him to escape his master for a short period of time. Though he could have easily escaped and have become a free individual in another part of the country, after much prayer and reflection, he returned back to the field and back to slavery.
Heavily spiritually influenced, his interpretations from God would lead him to carry out the murder and death of over sixty white men, using their weapons and tools, alongside him would be tens of other African Americans fighting and risking their life for the same cause. On May 12, 1828, Turner has a vision in which he hears a loud clamor from above, and a spirit he constantly endures, appears to him and mentioned that a serpent had ben loosened and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of mankind. Turner was then instructed to take this “yoke” and fight against the serpent.
The way Nat Turner interpreted his vision at the time was that his duty was to emerge and formulate himself to the destruction and damnation of his enemies with the aid of their own armament. Almost three years later, there was a solar eclipse in February of 1831. He interpreted this solar eclipse as a supernatural sign to complete his instructions and follow through with his vision. He informed his four most trusted friends, Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam of his plan of rebellion with the intention to initiate their plan of action on the fourth of July of that year, 1831.
Their original plan to attack was postponed due to Turner’s ill health at the time. A month later, their plan finally came into effect. The night prior to the rebellion, Turner’s group of trusted comrades assembled and outlined their scheme of action. The assembly was strictly ordered to not spare anyone, regardless of age or gender, a rule that was rigorously enforced and exercised. Taking every precaution to avoid their exposure, Turner and his men initiated their first attack on Turner’s master at the time, Joseph Travis, and his family in the silence of the night.
Carefully entering through the home with very little sound, Turner and his men snuck inside the house, first approaching the quarters of Joseph Travis. Turner swung the axe he possessed and barely missing Mr. Travis’s head. Woken up, Travis yelled for his life, but by that time, he had an axe to his head, ceasing his life. In total, there were five murders that took place in the Travis residence, including Joseph, his wife, and any other household members inside the home. Leaving their home, Turner’s men brought any guns, weapons, and powder they could lay their hands on for future use.
After celebrating the death of the members of the Travis household, Turner’s party advanced into the property of Salathul Francis, the next victim of rebellion and master of Turner’s friends, Sam and Will. Knocking on the door casually, Sam and Will utilized the excuse that they were transporting a letter intended for Mr. Francis. When he opened the door, the two seized him and murdered him with several blows to the head, ending his life almost instantly. Following the intrusion of the Porter home, John Porter was murdered and deprived of his own slaves along with the slaves he inherited after the death of his father.
The total amount of slaves on Porter’s property summed up to over twenty slaves who willingly joined the rebellion and supported Turner’s cause. During the rebellion, Turner and his group members recruited other African American slaves of the owners whom they had killed. Many of these African Americans were slaves who wanted to overthrow their master and end the harsh treatment they received as being a slave. From the Travis residence all the way to the plantation of Newitt Harris, Turner led the march and murder of white families who were along the way.
However, Turner in the end was unsuccessful because he and his army did not stop at every house in between the start and endpoint of their march. For this, their march had been intervened by local militia rather quickly by the morning of the 31st of August, 1831. The dawn following the convocation of the rebellious African Americans, though their numbers were high, their risk of being imprisoned or even murdered was even higher. House by house, Turner and his men snuck into the home of their own masters as well as the home of other white masters just so they could murder them and the loved ones around them.
The rebels refused to hesitate to the death and murder of anyone white being in their way. As a result, families, wives, husbands, and children were killed abruptly in their sleep, only to be woken up by death. After reaching the last attacked house, Turner and his fifty or more followers waited and regrouped for their final scheme on the attack of the nearby town of Jerusalem. While waiting for other groups to mobilize, Turner grew impatient and took a small a party with him to the nearby plantation of Mr.
Jacob Williams to search for the others. On his return, he found several of his own men killed by white militia sent by Captain Alexander P. Peete. At this point, Turner’s men grew into panic and became very scrambled, some stayed with Turner in effort to approach Jerusalem, while others fled to the fields, avoiding risk of getting caught. Encountered by another hostile party of white men, Turner ordered his men to fire at the adverse enemies. After losing so many men, Turner’s taste of defeat began to display.
He watched as his friends and bravest men became wounded, he saw the faces of the horrified “freed” slaves with the fear of the consequences they would face if caught, and he saw the panic of his army as they decreased in numbers and resistance. Aware of his own defeat, Turner escaped the scene alongside twenty or so slaves, taking his private route towards the Nottoway River located south of the city of Jerusalem. His original intention was to regroup with the remainder of his army and go back into the neighborhoods around Jerusalem in effort to assemble, organize, and attack Jerusalem as originally planned.
When he returned to the surrounding area of Jerusalem, he found no others to join him and he did not have enough support to carry out his scheme. After a couple days of searching for others and encountering and escaping white militia, Turner dug himself a hole and remained there for a little over a month, only leaving in the silence of middle of the night to get water nearby. After a month of hiding, while returning to his cave one night, a dog had heard his movements and barked and the dog’s owners were not shy to recognize what exactly the dog was barking at.
Realizing he would have no possibility of freedom if he were to stay in that same hole, Turner left his post and dug out another hole for his concealment further away. Unfortunately for Nat Turner, he was discovered and taken to prison by Benjamin Phillips who hesitated at the opportunity to shoot and kill Turner point-blank. Following the conviction and execution of Nat Turner, slaves had never been treated more harshly and more brutally. Hundreds of African Americans were lynched and killed for being accused of association with the rebellion, leading to the death of several innocent African Americans by white mobs.
Slave laws also became harsher, disallowing the meeting and convention of a certain amount of African Americans for fear that they may plot another rebellion. Slaves stretching as far as North Carolina were accused of being associated in the plot and completion to kill over fifty white individuals alongside Nat Turner in his insurrection. The freedom of slaves was directly attacked by the Virginia General Assembly who agreed to ban the congregation of slaves, teaching a group of slaves how to read and write, and banning the payment of an individual to teach a slave.
In all assets, the rebellion led to further dehumanization of African Americans in the South as their right to freedom of speech was disposed of, which was a turning point that led to a heated debate between the North and the South, setting a tone of disagreement for the Civil War. The rebellion caused some white individuals to have an even more negative view on African Americans following the Nat Turner’s rebellion. However, the insurrection also led African Americans to obtain a certain pride in their ethnicity and their power as they reflect on the actions of Nat Turner and how the one individual could achieve so much and affect so many.