Nat Turner's Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection) was a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia, in August 1831, led by Nat Turner. Rebel slaves killed from 55 to 65 people, at least 51 being white. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831.
There was widespread fear in the aftermath, and white militias organized in retaliation against the slaves. The state executed 56 slaves accused of being part of the rebellion, and many non-participant slaves were punished in the frenzy. Approximately 120 slaves and free blacks were murdered by militias and mobs in the area. State legislatures passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free black people, restricting rights of assembly and other civil liberties for free black people, and requiring white ministers to be present at all worship services.
|Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion|
|Part of the prelude to the American Civil War|
1831 woodcut illustrating various stages of the rebellion
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|56 executed, approx. 120 killed by militia and mobs||55–65 killed|
|North American slave revolts|
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, 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.
Turner was intelligent and learned how to read and write at a young age. He grew up deeply religious and was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible. He frequently had visions which he interpreted as messages from God, and these visions influenced his life. He ran away at age 21 from his owner Samuel Turner, but he returned a month later after becoming delirious from hunger and receiving a vision which told him to "return to the service of my earthly master". He had his second vision in 1824 while working in the fields under his new owner Thomas Moore. In it, "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". Turner often conducted Baptist services and preached the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him "the Prophet".
By the spring of 1828, Turner was convinced that he "was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty". He "heard a loud noise in the heavens" while working in his owner's fields on May 12, "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".
In 1830, Joseph Travis purchased Turner, and Turner later recalled that he was "a kind master" who had "placed the greatest confidence in" him. Turner eagerly anticipated God's signal to "slay my enemies with their own weapons". He witnessed a solar eclipse on February 12, 1831 and was convinced that it was the sign for which he was waiting, so he started preparations for an uprising against the white slaveholders of Southampton County by purchasing muskets. He "communicated the great work laid out to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence", his fellow slaves Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam.
Turner originally planned to begin the rebellion on July 4, 1831, but he had fallen ill. An atmospheric disturbance on August 13 made the sun appear bluish-green; he took it as the final signal and began the rebellion a week later on August 21. He started with several trusted fellow slaves, and ultimately gathered more than 70 enslaved and free blacks, some of whom were on horseback. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing all the white people whom they encountered.
Muskets and firearms were too difficult to collect and would gather unwanted attention, so the rebels used knives, hatchets, axes, and blunt instruments. Historian Stephen B. Oates states that Turner called on his group to "kill all the white people". A newspaper noted, "Turner declared that 'indiscriminate slaughter was not their intention after they attained a foothold, and was resorted to in the first instance to strike terror and alarm.'" The group spared a few homes "because Turner believed the poor white inhabitants 'thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.'" The rebels killed approximately 60 white people before they were defeated. Eventually, the state militia infantry were able to defeat the insurrection with twice the manpower of the rebels, reinforced by three companies of artillery.
Within a day of the suppression of the rebellion, the local militia and three companies of artillery were joined by detachments of men from the USS Natchez and USS Warren, which were anchored in Norfolk, and militias from counties in Virginia and North Carolina surrounding Southampton. The state executed 56 black people, and militias killed at least 100 more. An estimated 120 black people were killed, most of whom were not involved with the rebellion.
Rumors quickly spread among whites that the slave revolt was not limited to Southampton and that it had spread as far south as Alabama. Fears led to reports in North Carolina that "armies" of slaves were seen on highways, and that they had burned and massacred the white inhabitants of Wilmington, North Carolina and were marching on the state capital. Such fear and alarm led to whites' attacking blacks throughout the South with flimsy cause; the editor of the Richmond Whig described the scene as "the slaughter of many blacks without trial and under circumstances of great barbarity". The white violence against the black people continued two weeks after the rebellion had been suppressed. General Eppes ordered troops and white citizens to stop the killing:
He will not specify all the instances that he is bound to believe have occurred, but pass in silence what has happened, with the expression of his deepest sorrow, that any necessity should be supposed to have existed, to justify a single act of atrocity. But he feels himself bound to declare, and hereby announces to the troops and citizens, that no excuse will be allowed for any similar acts of violence, after the promulgation of this order.
Reverend G. W. Powell wrote a letter to the New York Evening Post stating that "many negroes are killed every day. The exact number will never be known." A company of militia from Hertford County, North Carolina reportedly killed 40 blacks in one day and took $23 and a gold watch from the dead. Captain Solon Borland led a contingent from Murfreesboro, North Carolina, and he condemned the acts "because it was tantamount to theft from the white owners of the slaves". Blacks suspected of participating in the rebellion were beheaded by the militia, and "their severed heads were mounted on poles at crossroads as a grisly form of intimidation" A section of Virginia State Route 658 remains labeled as "Blackhead Signpost Road" in reference to these events.
Turner eluded capture for six weeks but remained in Southampton County. On October 30, a white farmer named Benjamin Phipps discovered him hidden among the local Nottoway people, in a depression in the earth, created by a large, fallen tree that was covered with fence rails. He was tried on November 5, 1831 for "conspiring to rebel and making insurrection"; he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was asked if he regretted what he had done, and he responded, "Was Christ not crucified?" He was hanged on November 11 in Jerusalem, Virginia, and his corpse was drawn and quartered.
After Turner's capture, lawyer Thomas Ruffin Gray published The Confessions of Nat Turner: The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia. The book was the result of Gray's research while Turner was in hiding and his conversations with Turner before the trial, and it is the primary window into Turner's mind. Gray had a conflict of interest because he was the defense attorney for other accused participants, so historians disagree on how to assess it as insight into Turner.
In the aftermath of the rebellion, dozens of suspected rebels were tried in courts called specifically for the purpose of hearing the cases against the slaves. Most of the trials took place in Southampton, but some were held in neighboring Sussex County plus a few in other counties. Most slaves were found guilty and many were then executed, while others were transported outside the state but not executed; 15 of the slaves tried in Southampton were acquitted. Moreover, some slave owners sought compensation from the legislature for slaves who were killed without trial during the rebellion or its immediate aftermath; all their petitions were rejected.
The Virginia General Assembly debated the future of slavery the following spring; some urged gradual emancipation but the pro-slavery side prevailed. The General Assembly passed legislation making it unlawful to teach reading and writing to slaves, free blacks, or mulattoes, and restricting all blacks from holding religious meetings without the presence of a licensed white minister. Other slave-holding states in the South enacted similar laws restricting activities of slaves and free blacks.
Some free blacks chose to move their families north to obtain educations for their children. Some white people, such as teachers Thomas J. Jackson (later to be famous in the American Civil War as Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson) and Mary Smith Peake, violated the laws and taught slaves to read. Overall, the laws enacted in the aftermath of the Turner Rebellion enforced widespread illiteracy among slaves. As a result, most newly freed slaves and many free blacks in the South were illiterate at the end of the American Civil War.
Freedmen and Northerners considered the issue of education and helping former slaves gain literacy as one of the most critical in the postwar South. Consequently, many northern religious organizations, former Union Army officers and soldiers, and wealthy philanthropists were inspired to create and fund educational efforts specifically for the betterment of African Americans in the South. Although Reconstruction legislatures passed authorization to establish public education for the first time in the South, a system of legal racial segregation was later imposed under Jim Crow laws, and black schools were historically underfunded by southern states.
Events from the year 1831 in the United States.American Slavery As It Is
American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses is a book written by the American abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, his wife Angelina Grimké and her sister Sarah Grimké, which was published in 1839.A follower of the abolitionist movement, Weld was a white New Englander. His wife, Angelina, and sister-in-law Sarah, were from a Southern slave-owning family; both women were active in the abolitionist and women's suffrage movements. Together they composed this book using many first-hand accounts of slavery and its horrors. The work focuses on the afflictions that slaves faced, covering their diet, clothing, housing, and working conditions. The authors also discussed and refuted several pro-slavery arguments. American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses was distributed by the American Anti-Slavery Society, and was very influential in the formative days of the abolitionist movement.
Harriet Beecher Stowe used American Slavery As It Is as the direct inspiration for her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which also became very influential in the movement to end slavery. Stowe went so far as to reportedly sleep with the book "under her pillow at night." Within the first year of publication, the book had sold 100,000 copies; it served as a vital combination of testimony from those affected by slavery and advertisements published by slavers themselves. This method proved effective at gaining support for abolitionism, since slave-owners could not dispute their own words no matter how poorly it reflected on their character.
Other works inspired in part by American Slavery As It Is included William Goodell's The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice, and Charles Dickens' American Notes quotes whole ads from Weld and the Grimké sister's book. Frederick Douglass quoted from the book when giving speeches, and said that "not a single fact or statement recorded therein has ever been called in question by a single slave holder."Anti-literacy laws in the United States
Anti-literacy laws were in force in many slave states before and during the American Civil War, affecting slaves, freedmen, and in some cases all people of color. These largely came into force following abolitionist David Walker's 1829 publication of Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, which openly advocated rebellion, and Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831. The Southern white public was already fearful because of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and the Denmark Vesey revolt of 1822.
William M. Banks wrote, in Black Intellectuals:"Literacy also threatened the control and surveillance network for slaves in the South. Concern about runaways prompted slaveholders to require passes for all slaves traveling unaccompanied off the plantation. Literate slaves, however, could forge the necessary papers and escape to the North (few white patrollers could read well enough to verify the documents). Many slaves who learned to write did indeed achieve freedom by this method. The wanted posters for runaways often mentioned whether the escapee could write."Belmont (Capron, Virginia)
Belmont is a historic plantation house located near Capron, Southampton County, Virginia. It was built about 1790, and is a 1 1/2-story, frame dwelling sheathed in weatherboard. It has a side gable roof with dormers and sits on a brick foundation. It has a single pile, central-hall plan and features a Chinese lattice railing on the second story. Also on the property are a contributing smokehouse and office. At Belmont, on the morning of August 23, 1831, Nat Turner's slave rebellion was effectively suppressed.It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.Boston Bread riot
The Boston Bread Riot was the last of a series of three riots by the poor of Boston, Massachusetts, between 1710 and 1713, in response to food shortages and high bread prices. The riot ended with minimal casualties.Buffalo riot of 1862
The Buffalo Riot of 1862 was a civil disturbance on the afternoon of August 12, 1862 by Irish and German stevedores against local dock bosses. The rioters demanded increased pay and prevented others from working at the old rates. They initially overpowered police, seriously injuring the chief of police and other officers, but were forced to surrender after police opened fire, wounding two. Although the mayor had called for the New York State Militia, police arrested the ringleaders before the militia was needed.First Baptist Church (Petersburg, Virginia)
First Baptist Church (est. 1774) was the first Baptist church in Petersburg, Virginia; one of the first African-American Baptist congregations in the United States, and one of the oldest black churches in the nation. It established one of the first local schools for black children in the nation.
Its congregation was active during the 20th century Civil Rights Movement. Today it has the largest community outreach program in the city.Herbert Aptheker
Herbert Aptheker (July 31, 1915 – March 17, 2003) was an American Marxist historian and political activist. He wrote more than 50 books, mostly in the fields of African-American history and general U.S. history, most notably, American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), a classic in the field. He also compiled the 7-volume Documentary History of the Negro People (1951–1994). In addition, he compiled a wide variety of primary documents supporting study of African-American history. He was the literary executor for W. E. B. Du Bois.
From the 1940s, Aptheker was a prominent figure in U.S. scholarly discourse. David Horowitz described Aptheker as "the Communist Party’s most prominent Cold War intellectual". Aptheker was blacklisted in academia during the 1950s because of his Communist Party membership. He succeeded V. J. Jerome in 1955 as editor of Political Affairs, a communist theory magazine.James Strange French
James Strange French (1807-1886) was a lawyer, novelist, and later hotel keeper.Jason Michael Berman
Jason Michael Berman is the Vice President of Mandalay Pictures, where he is responsible for developing and structuring financing for Mandalay's slate of independent films, in addition to packaging projects.
Berman has produced feature films that have debuted at premiere film festivals around the globe, including the Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW, Tribeca, Berlinale, and Edinburgh. Berman was named by Variety in 2011 as one of the Top Ten Producers to Watch, and by Deadline Hollywood in 2012 as one of the Top Ten Producers to Watch at Sundance.Berman produced Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, starring Parker, Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, and Penelope Ann Miller, about the true life story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion. The Birth of a Nation premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Jason is also in post-production on Mark Elijah Rosenberg's AD Inexplorata starring Mark Strong.
Berman also produced Jonas Carpignano's Mediterannea in Calabria, Italy, which premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Andrew Renzi's Franny starring Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning and Theo James, which premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, and Sara Colangelo's film Little Accidents starring Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, and Jacob Lofland which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. All five films were been supported by the Sundance Institute Labs and fellowship programs.
Berman's past producing credits include The Dry Land, Jess + Moss, Seven Days in Utopia, The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, LUV, Struck by Lightning, Kilimanjaro and X/Y.
Prior to producing, Berman started his career at the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills, California. His later worked under the Chief Operating Officer at MGM Studios, and then for writer/director Gary Ross.Berman is a 2006 graduate of the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts, where he is now an adjunct professor teaching a course on Entrepreneurship in Entertainment.
Berman is a co-founder of the Sundance Institute Catalyst Initiative (creative investor and financier lab). Berman is a member of the Producers Guild of America. Jason lives in Los Angeles, California, and is originally from Baltimore, Maryland.List of rebellions in the United States
This is a List of rebellions in the United States, it shows all rebellions fought in what is today the United States.Mahone's Tavern
Mahone's Tavern, also known as Kello's Tavern, Vaughn's Tavern and Howard's Hotel, is a historic inn and tavern located in Courtland, Southampton County, Virginia. It was built about 1796, and is a two-story, three-bay, gable-roofed, wood framed structure with exterior gable end chimneys. A rebuilt hyphen and kitchen structure were added in 1933. In 1831, like nearly every standing building in Courtland, or Jerusalem at the time, it became a refuge and gathering place for local citizens during the slave uprising led by Nat Turner, known as the Nat Turner's slave rebellion. The building was also the boyhood home of two persons who later achieved national prominence: Confederate General William Mahone and John J. Kindred, resident from 1859 to 1869, who later became a U.S. Senator from New York. It ceased being used as a tavern or hotel in 1901.It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.Negro Head Road
Negro (or Nigger) Head Road is a place outside Wilmington, North Carolina with similar displays in other Southern towns, where body parts of slaves or blacks were displayed in consequence of a purported crime. It is modeled after displays like Blackhead Signpost Road in Southampton County, Virginia. It was here, in 1831, where the head of a slave, Alfred, was displayed on a stake for being part of Nat Turner's slave rebellion, as a warning for any future rebels.Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783
The Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 (also known as the Philadelphia Mutiny) was an anti-government protest by nearly 400 soldiers of the Continental Army in June 1783. The mutiny, and the refusal of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania to stop it, ultimately resulted in Congress vacating Philadelphia and the creation of a federal district to serve as the national capital.Rebecca Vaughan House
Rebecca Vaughan House is a historic home and farm located at Courtland, Southampton County, Virginia. It was built about 1800, and is a 1 1/2-story, three bay, four room, frame dwelling. It has a pressed metal shingle gable roof with five dormers. The house was moved to its present site in 2004, and is located on the grounds of the Southampton Agriculture & Forestry Museum and Heritage Village, administered by the Southampton Historical Society. The house was the last house during the Nat Turner's slave rebellion of August 21 through 23, 1831, at which Nat Turner and his followers killed residents during their journey through the southwestern portion of Southampton County. Moved from its original location, the house has been restored.
A brick foundation for the house and for the dairy barn were built in 2015 and the chimneys for the house were restored with period accurate material the same year. The restored chimneys are lined with terra cotta tile to meet modern standards.It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.The Liberator (newspaper)
The Liberator (1831–1865) was an American abolitionist newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp. Religious rather than political, it appealed to the moral conscience of its readers, urging them to demand immediate freeing of the slaves. It also promoted women's rights. Despite its modest weekly circulation of 3,000, it had prominent readers such as Frederick Douglass.Thomas Ruffin Gray
Thomas Ruffin Gray (1800 – ?) was an attorney who represented several enslaved people during the trials in the wake of Nat Turner's slave rebellion.William Henry Brodnax
William H. Brodnax (also Broadnax), (1786 – October 23, 1834) was a nineteenth-century American militia Brigadier General and American politician from Virginia.