One of the ways that slaves defied slavery was to run away. Nat, like every other slave, was prone to this sort of rebellion. One of the first of a series of shocks in Nat Turner’s life was when his father ran away from Benjamin Turner’s place and supposedly escaped to the North. Apparently, no one knew why he left aside the assumption of hatred for the institution that kept him in bondage. This desire for freedom in Nat’s father was strong enough to make him sacrifice his wife and Nat, his only son at the time.
Obviously, Nat Turner never forgot his father and this incident as in 1821, himself also ran away. With the death of Master Benjamin Turner in 1810 (and the subsequent demise of his wife Elizabeth shortly afterwards), Nat, Nancy, and Old Bridget all became the legal property of Master Samuel Turner – Master Benjamin’s oldest son. During the depression that hit the United States and caused the downward spiral of cotton prices, Samuel Turner hired an overseer to get the best out of his slaves. It was either he did that or sell his slaves. Samuel Turner favored the earlier option.
The overseer arrived in late 1821 and shortly after Nat ran way because he was flogged by the overseer. Most Negroes on Turner’s farm were praying for Nat, recalling how his father had run away successfully. Unlike most fugitives, after thirty days later, Nat Turner returned to the Turner’s place. Visibly, this was done voluntarily as there were no slave patrons or dog hounds with him when he arrived at Turner’s place. Although most of the Negroes found fault in Nat’s return and murmured against him, his mystical appearance we further entrenched in their minds.
His reason for return was that the spirit had asked him to return to his earthly master and direct his attention to the kingdom of heaven. Another reason for his return could have been Cherry whom he jumped over the broomstick with not long after his runaway incident. A second way that Nat Turner openly and conspicuously defied his master and slavery itself was in the baptism of a white man and himself. Nat encountered a demoralized white man named Etheldred T. Brantley sometime in 1827.
Brantley, an overseer at a farm bordering Samuel Turner’s, was guilty of some action which made him an outcast among the whites. He could only find some sort of redemption in the hand of “preacher” Nat. Nat ministered to the disheveled Brantley and assured him that God had shown him (Nat) miracles, given him extraordinary powers as well as shown him that Judgement Day was coming. After Nat’s ministration, Brantley “ceased” from his wicked works and repented. He then broke out with sores on his face but Nat prayed and fasted with him for nine days and Brantley was healed.
Eventually, Nat offered to baptize Brantley and himself claiming the spirits had appeared and instructed that as the Savior was baptized, so should both of them. It was unheard of for a Negro to baptize a white man in tidewater Virginia. The white Christians abhorred the thought and refused to let Nat perform the baptismal ceremony at their altars. Additionally, the Methodists were completely enraged at this idea. Aside from the fact that he was a Negro slave, Nat was not even an ordained minister a so had no authority to baptize anyone, let alone, a white man.
Fearlessly, Nat decided we would baptize the white man in Pearson’s Mill Pond, deep in the forests northwest of Flat Swamp since the whites rejected his request to use their altars. On the set date, even though no dove appeared as Nat has said, the imaginable had taken place before the eyes of a skeptical interracial crowd – a Negro slave had christened a white man and himself. The famous revolt of 1831 in Southampton, Virginia was another display of open and conspicuous rebellion against slavery by Nathaniel Turner. Hardly anyone in Southampton thought a slave rebellion would happen there.
With a history of only a revolt in 1799 which otherwise marred a spotless record of the county, there was nothing to indicate that such an inconceivable tragedy as a slave revolt could occur now. Additionally, only seven slaves had every been convicted of crimes and most of the surrounding counties had a similar record. Besides, they saw their blacks as content and docile. They provided their darkies with sufficient “privileges” to keep then happy and in check. However, Southampton whites’ beliefs were not shared by Preacher Nat who though visions and the slave grapevine, believed that these were unusual times.
He knew about Denmark Vesey and other slave conspirators. He knew that insurrection scares had shaken a few Virginia communities. By 1826 or 1827 Nat has singled out twenty slaves and freed blacks he could trust. The February 1831 eclipse of the sun was seen by Nat as a sign from God to speak about the plan he had been tight-lipped about for a few years. The initially set date of July 4 to execute the plan did not come to fruition as Nat fell sick in the midst of much forming and rejection of plans.
The atmospheric disturbance of August 13, 1831, which eventuated in the display of a black spot on the sun was Nat final sign from Jehovah. On the night of August 21, 1831, after the final meeting at Cabin Pond with his Chosen Four (Hark, Nelson, Henry and Sam) and two others (Jack and Will), they set out on the infamous slave revolt that resulted in the death of about sixty Southampton whites consisting of men, women and children. A fourth way Nat rebelled against slavery and his masters was by speaking out/talking back.
Nat was full of rage because of his condition as a slave. Due to frustration, fasting, prayers and, bible fantasies, Nat on May 12, 1828, received a vision that appeared to clarify his purpose in life. His mission was to defeat his enemies – the white man and Satan – and bring on the years of Jubilee where the first would be last (the white man) and subject to the black man who had been last. Driven by his discontent and equipped with his mission, one day, Nat announced to Thomas Moore, his then master, that slaves ought to be feed and would be free one day or another.
Shocked at such rebellious talk from a slave, Moore took Nat to the shed and gave him a thrashing. It was a serious offense for a slave to talk about Negro liberation within the hearing of another slave. The 1820s for Southern whites was not only a time of drought and depression but there was grave anxiety about the slave rebellion that had taken place in Santo Domingo and the uncovered Gabriel conspiracy in Richmond. After this incident, it is recorded that Nat did not complain or make any inciteful statements in the presence of whites anymore. Henceforth, he played the “good nigger”.