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To the white residents of Southampton County, it came as a surprise
that a slave named Nat Turner was the leader of a slave rebellion that
resulted in the deaths of 55 white people. This rebellion, which
Turner believed was directed by God, became one of the most famous
slave insurrections in U.S. history.
Nat Turner was born in Southampton County, Virginia on October 2,
1800. As a young boy, Turner was recognized as being highly
intelligent. His keen sense was noticed when he was about three or
four years old. While he was playing with other children, his mother
overheard him telling them about something that had happened before he
was born. She asked him details about the incident, and it confirmed
that he knew about this past event. Thereafter, other slaves believed
that in addition to his unique perception, his physical markings were
a sign that he would be a prophet.
In adulthood, he became a preacher. As a young man, he began having
visions that he believed were from God. Turner had three visions prior
to the rebellion in 1831. His first vision occurred in 1821, after he
had run away. While hiding out in the woods, he was prompted to return
after a vision from the Spirit who directed him to "return to the
service of my earthly master." After thirty days in the woods, he
returned to his master.
His second vision came in 1825 after he had seen "lights in the sky."
He prayed to find out what it meant. His prayers were answered when ".
. . while labouring in the field, I discovered drops of blood on the
corn, as though it were dew from heaven . . . I then found on the
leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters and numbers, with the
forces of men in different attitudes, portrayed in blood, and
representing the figures I had seen before in the heavens."
On May 12, 1828 he had his third vision. He ".
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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. . . . And by signs in the
heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the
great work . . ." Then in February of 1831, an eclipse of the sun
occurred, and Turner believed that this was a sign to begin planning.
He told four other slaves, and they planned the attack for the 4th of
July, but they had to cancel due to Turner being ill.
Plans were postponed until August 20th. On that evening, Turner and
six other men met in the woods, and at 2:00 a.m. they set out for the
house of Turner's master. There they killed his master's entire family
and proceeded to go house-to-house, sparing no one. In the process,
they had gained the assistance of 40 slaves who helped kill at least
55 white people.
The rebellion came to an end when Turner and the other slaves were
pursued by the militia. During the pursuit, some slaves were captured,
and about 15 were hanged. Turner escaped and hid out for about six
weeks until he was captured, imprisoned, and on November 5, 1831, he
was sentenced to execution. While in prison, he dictated his
confession to Thomas R. Gray. On November 11, he was hanged and
As a result of the insurrection, Virginia debated about ending slavery
but decided against it. Instead, more stringent laws were imposed upon
both free blacks and slaves.