Little Bits of History

The Prophet

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 21, 2013
Nat Turner's Rebellion or the Southampton Insurrection

Nat Turner’s Rebellion or the Southampton Insurrection

August 21, 1831: The Southampton Insurrection begins. The slave rebellion took place in Southampton County, Virginia and resulted in the deaths of 55 whites, the highest number of fatalities caused by a slave revolt. Virginia’s population in 1830 was 1,211,405 and of that number 469,737 were slaves, or 39% of the total. Southampton County’s population was 16,074 with 7,756 slaves, or 48%. Samuel Turner’s slave, Nat, began the rebellion against his oppressors. Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the more popular name, was quickly suppressed.

Records of Nat’s birth on October 2, 1800 list only his given name. He may have had a surname within the slave community, but he is known only by his owner’s name. He was a very intelligent child and learned to read and write at an early age. He was able to describe events from before his birth and was said to have visions. His peers called him “The Prophet” as he was very religious. At age 23 Nat ran away but returned to his owner after receiving a vision. He preached to both slaves and whites. While working the fields, Nat had a vision in which God told him to “fight against the Serpent.”

In February 1831, Nat believed atmospheric conditions were God’s sign to him to slay his enemies. On February 12 there was an annular solar eclipse. Nat interpreted it as a black man’s hand covering the sun. He planned his uprising for July 4 but had to postpone it. On August 13 the sun took on a blue-green color (probably from an eruption of Mt. Saint Helens and ash in the sky). This second sign spurred Nat Turner and his followers to kill all whites regardless of gender or age. Some poor whites were spared since they “thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.”

Using knives, hatchets, and axes the slaves began their killing spree. The rebellion was quickly brought under control. It was over within 48 hours and Nat was in hiding. Retaliatory attacks by frightened whites led to the deaths of many blacks who were not even involved in Turner’s Rebellion. About 200 blacks were killed and more were beaten and tortured by angry white mobs. The state executed 55 people and banished many more. Nat Turner was captured on October 30 and came to trial on November 5. He was found guilty and hanged on November 11. Laws were enacted making it illegal to teach blacks to read and write and the free practice of religion for blacks, slave and free, was banned.

“Being at play with other children, when three or four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother overhearing, said it had happened before I was born… others being called on were greatly astonished…and caused them to say in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet.”

“Having soon discovered to be great, I must appear so, and therefore studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer.”

“I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit 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 about this time I had a vision – and 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 – and I heard a voice saying, ‘Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bear it.'” – all from Nat Turner

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: This was just one of a series of slave revolts beginning in colonial times and lasting up to the beginning of the US Civil War. San Giguel de Gualdape was the first European settlement in what is today the United States. There was a slave revolt there on Sapelo Island, Georgia in 1526 and the slaves were victorious. The colony was abandoned in 1527 after three months of winter. The next slave revolt was in 1570 at Veracruz and again the slaves were the winners. Between 1712 (New York City revolt) and 1859 (John Brown’s Raid in Virginia) there were fifteen named revolts which were suppressed. There were also three revolts where the slaves won their freedom, all outside the US. The Haitian revolt of 1791-1804, a ship rebellion aboard the Amistad, and another ship revolt aboard the Creole were successful. Even after the ban on reading and religion, there were three unsuccessful bids for freedom made in North America.

Also on this day: USA = 50 States – In 1959, Hawaii is admitted to the United States of America as the 50th state.
Stolen Smile – In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre.
Jarvis Island – In 1821, Jarvis Island was discovered.

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