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Nat Turner was the leader of a violent slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831.
Nat Turner - Slave Rebellion (3:35)
William Styron - Confessions (2:09)
In August 1831, one of America's largest slave uprisings strikes fear in the South and prompts some to call for an end to the institution of slavery.
Wiliam Styron is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Confessions of Nat Turner."As a white author wiring about African American issues, Styron faced criticism from both sides. Video courtesy of Open Road Media.
Artist Alison Saar created a memorial statue to Harriet Tubman in Harlem to honor all that she did and the many lives she saved.
Before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had always thought that the President had no Constitutional right to attack slavery. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, his executive order freeing slaves in 10 states.
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Nat Turner, born into slavery on October 2, 1800, on a Southampton County plantation, became a preacher who claimed he had been chosen by God to lead slaves from bondage. On August 21, 1831, he led a violent insurrection. He hid for six weeks but was eventually caught and later hanged. The incident ended the emancipation movement in that region and led to even harsher laws against slaves.
"I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened—the thunder rolled in the heavens, and blood flowed in streams."
Born on October 2, 1800, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner made history as the leader of one of the bloodiest slave revolts in America. He was born on the Virginia plantation of Benjamin Turner, who allowed him to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion. His mother was named Nancy, but nothing is known about his father.
As a small child, Turner was thought to have some special talent because he could describe things that happened before he was even born. Some even remarked that he "surely would be a prophet," according to his later confession. His mother and grandmother told Turner that he "was intended for some great purpose." Turner was deeply religious and spent much of his time reading the Bible, praying and fasting.
Over the years, Turner worked on a number of different plantations. He ran away from Samuel Turner, his former owner's brother, in 1821. After thirty days hiding in the woods, Turner came back to Turner's plantation after he received what he believed to be a sign from God. After Samuel Turner's death, Nat Turner became the slave of Thomas Moore and then the property of his widow. When she married John Travis, Nat Turner went to work on Travis's lands.
Believing in signs and hearing divine voices, Turner had a vision in 1825 of a bloody conflict between black and white spirits. Three years later, he had what he believed to be another message from God. In his later confession, Turner explained "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. " Turner would receive another sign to tell him when to fight, but this latest message meant "I should arise and prepare myself and slay my enemies with their own weapons."
Turner took a solar eclipse that occurred in February 1831 as a signal that the time to rise up had come. He recruited several other slaves to join him in his cause. On August 21, 1831, Turner and his supporters began their revolt against white slave owners with the killing the Travis family. Turner gathered more supporters—growing to a group of up to 40 or 50 slaves—as he and his men continued their murder spree through the county. They were able to secure arms and horses from those they killed. Most sources say that about 55 white men, women and children died during Turner's rebellion.
Initially Turner had planned to reach the county seat of Jerusalem and take over the armory there, but he and his men were foiled in this plan. They faced off against a group of armed white men at a plantation near Jerusalem, and the conflict soon dissolved into chaos.
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