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Nat Turner's Rebellion

NAT TURNER'S REBELLION

NAT TURNER'S REBELLION was the most significant slave revolt in United States history. Under the leadership of Nat Turner, a thirty-one-year-old religious mystic, a group of enslaved people in Southampton County, Virginia, conspired to strike a blow to the system. On 21 August 1831 Turner and six followers attacked and killed Turner's owner and the owner's family, gathered arms and ammunition, and set out to gain support from other slaves. Turner's force grew to about seventy-five,


and they killed approximately sixty whites. On 23 August, while en route to the county seat at Jerusalem, the rebels encountered a large force of white volunteers and trained militia and were defeated. Turner escaped and attempted unsuccessfully to gather other supporters. He was captured on 30 October, sentenced to death by hanging on 5 November after a brief trial, and executed on 11 November. Several of his followers had been hanged earlier.

The incident sparked a reign of terror resulting in the murder of a number of innocent blacks, the passage of more stringent slave laws, and the more vigorous enforcement of existing statutes. The immediate effect of the rebellion on the attitudes of blacks toward slavery and toward themselves is difficult to document, but there is evidence that Turner's example of resistance lived on in the collective memory of the black community.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Herbert Aptheker, Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion. Prometheus Books: New York, 1966.

Foner, Eric. Nat Turner. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

Tragle, Henry Irving. The Southampton Slave Revolt of1831: A Compilation of Source Material. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1971.

Henry N.Drewry/a. r.

See alsoAfrican American Religions and Sects ; Education, African American ; Insurrections, Domestic ; Slave Insurrections ; South, the: The Antebellum South ; andvol. 9:The Nat Turner Insurrection .

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Nat Turner's Rebellion

NAT TURNER'S REBELLION


Nat Turner was an American slave who led the only sustained slave revolt in U.S. history (August 1831). Turner was born on a large plantation in Southampton County, Virginia, on October 2, 1800. Through his mother, who had been born free in Africa, he acquired a passionate hatred of slavery. One of his master's sons taught him to read, and he became fanatically devoted to religious self-instruction. His loathing of slavery blended with his religious training to produce a heady and violent brew. Turner came to see himself as divinely ordained to lead his fellow slaves out of bondage, and he launched his uprising after an eclipse of the sun convinced him that the time to strike had arrived.

On the night of August 21, 1831, Turner and seven other slaves attacked the local white population, and over the next two days 51 whites were killed during a vengeful march to reach the Dismal Swamp, where Turner's group intended to hide, regroup their forces, and attract supporters. En route the insurgents intended to capture the arsenal located in the county seat of Jerusalem.

The rebellion had little chance for success: only 75 African Americans (who were divided by dissent) joined Turner's cause. Virginia responded swiftly, and 3,000 militiamen combined with strong assistance from the local white population led to a swift end to the insurgency. Turner's supporters were soon killed or captured, as was Turner himself after a dramatic man-hunt lasting six weeks. Shortly thereafter Turner was tried and hanged at the county seat of Jerusalem, which became a symbolic location for northern abolitionists.

The revolt had a profound impact on Southern attitudes towards the "peculiar institution" of slavery. For many southerners it exploded the myth that the slave population was either content or at least congenitally unable to rebel against their inferior status. For other southerners the revolt confirmed in their mind the discontent of slaves and the ever-present menace of rebellion that could topple the southern socio-economic system. Not surprisingly, the revolt led to a harsh tightening of controls over the slave population, particularly in the form of legislation that prohibited the education and other activities of slaves. The rebellion also strengthened Southern pro-slavery sentiments.

Nat Turner's rebellion hardened sectional animosities, making secession and the American Civil War (18611865) more likely. Galvanized by the Turner uprising, Southern congressmen sought to enact or strengthen existing national legislation supporting slavery, particularly the Fugitive Slave Act of 1796. In 1836 the House of Representatives enacted a gag rule preventing the debate of anti-slavery petitions. It was later repealed after a long and acrimonious debate between northern and southern representatives. Southern congressmen also repeatedly demanded that free states restrict the activities of abolitionist societies. For their part abolitionist societies in the North stepped up their activities, and northern politicians felt increasingly vulnerable to abolitionist demands that they adopt strong anti-slavery stands.

Topic overview

The revolt had a profound impact on Southern attitudes towards the "peculiar institution" of slavery. For many southerners it exploded the myth that the slave population was either content or at least congenitally unable to rebel against their inferior status. For other southerners the revolt confirmed in their mind the discontent of slaves and the ever-present menace of rebellion that could topple the southern socio-economic system.

See also: Civil War (Economic Causes of), Fugitive Slave Act, Slavery


FURTHER READING

Duff, John B. and Peter M. Mitchell. The Nat Turner Rebellion; The Historical Event and the Modern Controversy. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Freehling, A.G. Drift toward Dissolution: The Virginia Slavery Debate of 18311832. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.

Greenberg, Kenneth S., ed. The Confessions of Nat Turner and Related Documents. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Styron, William. The Confessions of Nat Turner. 1966. Reprint. New York: Vintage, 1993.

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"Nat Turner's Rebellion." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Nat Turner's Rebellion." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nat-turners-rebellion