southampton county virginia

185 Years Ago Today - Nat Turner’s Slave Revolt

In Southampton County, Virginia, on August 21-22, 1831, Nat Turner, a brilliant minister and moody slave, led the first slave revolt of magnitude. The revolt was crushed, but only after Turner and his band had killed some sixty whites and threw the South into panic. After hiding out, Turner was captured on October 30, 1831, and hanged in Jerusalem, Virginia, on November 11. Thirty other blacks were also implicated and executed. It was not until John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 that another slave revolt or conspiracy became known.

Today in History: 13 August 1831 - Nat Turner interpreted a solar eclipse on that day as a sign to begin his planned rebellion

“Born into slavery on October 2, 1800, in Southampton County, Virginia, his name was recorded as “Nat” by his master Benjamin Turner, and when Benjamin Turner died in 1810 Nat became the property of Benjamin’s brother Samuel Turner"

“Turner spent his life in Southampton County, Virginia, a plantation area where enslaved laborers were the majority of the population. He was identified as having “natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension, surpassed by few.” He learned to read and write at a young age.”

“Deeply religious, Nat was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible.”

“Turner’s religious convictions manifested as frequent visions which he interpreted as messages from God. Turner’s belief in the visions was such that when Turner was 22 years old he ran away from his owner but returned a month later after receiving a spiritual revelation. Turner often conducted Baptist services, preaching the Bible to his fellow slaves who dubbed him “The Prophet”. Turner garnered white followers such as Ethelred T. Brantley, who Turner was credited with having convinced to “cease from his wickedness”.”

“Turner was proclaimed as a prophet by his fellow black slaves on the plantation. In early 1828, Turner was convinced that he “was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.” While working in his owner’s fields on May 12, Turner

“heard a loud noise in the heavens, 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.”

“He was convinced that God had given him the task of “slay[ing] my enemies with their own weapons.” Turner said, “I communicated the great work laid out for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence” – his fellow slaves Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam.”

“On February 11, 1831, an annular solar eclipse was seen in Virginia and Turner envisioned this as a black man’s hand reaching over the sun. He initially planned the rebellion to begin on July 4, Independence Day. Turner postponed it because of illness and to use the delay for additional planning and deliberation with his co-conspirators.”

“On August 13 there was another solar eclipse in which the sun appeared bluish-green, possibly the result of lingering atmospheric debris from an eruption of Mount St. Helens. Turner interpreted this as the final signal, and about a week later, on August 21, he began the uprising.”

Nat Turner (Wikipedia)

On August 21, 1831, one of the largest slave revolts in the history of the United States began: the Nat Turner Rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The drawing shows Nat Turner preaching in the forest.

Via Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung - New York Office

Early Slave Rebellions: Many Black slave rebellions and insurrections took place in North America during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Of those documented, there is evidence of more than 250 slave uprisings or attempted uprisings involving ten or more slaves. Three of the best known in the United States are the revolts by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia in 1800, Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, and Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. The 1811 German Coast Uprising, which took place outside of New Orleans in 1811, involved up to 500 slaves. It was suppressed by volunteer militias and a detachment of the United States Army. They killed 66 black men in the battle, executed 16, and 17 escaped and/or were killed along the way to freedom. Slave resistance in the South did not gain academic or popular attention until the 1940s when historian Herbert Aptheker started publishing the serious research on the subject, stressing how rebellions were rooted in the exploitative conditions of Southern slavery.


For more info, search: 1811 German Coast Uprising, Nat Turner Rebellion, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey,   Herbert Aptheker

Teach the babies that there was a time when we had our minds, when we had sense, when we knew that we didn’t deserve to be under other people’s domination. Maybe, just maybe, the children will do better than we have.

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