Southampton County, Virginia lay along the North Carolina border, and was a rolling, densely forested area with farms, plantations, and crossroad villages dotted with “big houses” that belonged to the “Masters,” barns, kitchens, and slave cabins. Slaves were called “Negroes” and owning as many Negroes as one could possibly own meant climbing the social ladder notches higher than the rest of the farm- and plantation-owners.While Virginians boasted that slavery in their state was not as bad as it was in the Deep South, they admitted to “a few” harsh treatments afforded to some slaves, like sadistic overseers or some poor whites who chased after slave girls.
Virginians still held their heads high as they boasted of all “sweetness and sunshine in their master-slave relations. ” They allowed their slaves to gather for religious meetings, visits to other farms, and even to travel to Jerusalem on Saturdays to see relatives and friends.Nathaniel “Nat” Turner was a slave boy who belonged to Benjamin and Elizabeth Turner, a Methodist couple who owned a plantation of several hundred acres. The Turners were prominent church folk in their community and they did all they could to spread the faith . They spoke against slaveholding and they were among the Methodists, Quakers, and antislavery Baptists who had been able to convince many whites to liberate their slaves.
However, most of the Southern whites were not too keen about emancipating their Negroes because of the status symbol brought to a family that owns many slaves.It was the “most tried and tested means of racial control in their white supremacist society. ” Nat grew up to be a bright-eyed and smart child, and was seen as having congenital markings on his head and chest which, according to African traditions and beliefs, meant that the child was destined to become a leader . Nat astonished his fellow slaves as a child even more as he had very good memory, he had learned to read and write his name, and he often led his playmates.
His superior intelligence did not escape Master Benjamin’s notice, and so the latter encouraged the boy to study the Bible.Several events took place that forever changed Nat’s life. His father ran away and then sometime in 1809, Master Benjamin’s oldest son, Samuel, bought some 360 acres of land from his father and was given some slaves to stay with him. Nat and his mother were among the eight slaves who were loaned to Master Samuel. Then, in October 1810, Master Benjamin died of typhoid fever, followed by his wife, Elizabeth, not long after.
Having divided his home estate, land and slaves among his children in his last will, Master Benjamin had granted Master Samuel legal ownership of Nat, his mother and his grandmother .Now, Master Samuel had become a Methodist elder but had different beliefs with regard to slave-owning. He would use Christianity as a means of keeping slaves from running away or striking back, and so he and his fellow white churchmen carefully rehearsed carefully selected Bible lessons for their slaves, leading the latter to believe that if they did not follow their Masters then God would send them to burn in hell, and that God wanted Negroes to become white men’s slaves . With fear mounting amongst the whites that their slaves were planning to revolt, tighter slaves disciplines were implemented, with harsher punishments.They termed this “enlightened benevolence” but maintained a militia force to back up their drive to keep Negroes from rebelling.
Nat began working at Master Samuel’s plantation when he turned twelve, and felt the separation from the white children. It had become a rather rude awakening for Nat that he was a slave – a piece of white man’s property – to be ordered about like a mule. His only respite from each day’s hard work, not to mention the white men’s whips and rules, was getting together with the other slaves. Young Nat, however, spent most of his spare time praying or improving his knowledge.He had experimented on making gunpowder and read as much books as he could.
He stole opportunities to listen in as Master Samuel’s children were instructed by hired tutors. He quickly discerned the influence of the black preacher and soon beheld a Bible verse that began in him a sense of leadership and desire to free his fellow slaves . He upheld himself as a prophet among them and began urging Turner’s slaves to believe that a great change was about to happen. In 1825, Nat began preaching in the slave church, spreading the “true gospel” to his fellow slaves.
He shared with them his visions of the Holy Spirit and recounted several verses from the Bible that went against what the white preachers were teaching about slavery. Meanwhile, independent blacks and anti-slavery whites in other states had advocated the end of slavery through published works. They had been gathering anti-slavery petitions and sending them to Congress. The most infamous of these documents to the Southern whites was David Walker’s “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” published in Boston in 1829.Walker was a free Negro who had traveled immensely, studied history books and the Bible, and lectured at Negro meetings in Boston . In reaction to this, Virginia and South Carolina enacted laws against teaching Negroes to read and to write .
Virginians remained vigilant about ensuring that their slaves do not take up arms and rebel against them. By 1831, they had a militia force that was about 100,000 men strong guarding against any insurrection. Things seemed alright, nothing out of the ordinary, until an eclipse of the sun occurred in February 1831.The eclipse was a sign Nat had been waiting for an so he had drawn four of his fellow slaves, known as his Chosen Four and confided them of what he “had been called upon by the Holy Spirit” to do in order to free the slaves . The mission was shared with other slaves, but the plot was kept secret by Nat.
Then on August 21, 1831, Sunday, Nat and his lieutenants, his Chosen Four, along with two new recruits had gathered at a place deep in the woods called Cabin Pond. That night, they planned, they would “kill all the white people.”The insurgence went on as they had planned – with other slaves joining in to kills their white masters and their families. The insurgents took farm after farm by surprise, killing every white man, woman and child, and stealing clothes, jewelry and money.
The violence was unspeakable, and though many slaves joined the ranks of the insurgents, there were others who betrayed the cause and disappeared. I disapprove of what Nat Turner had done and how he had led his people in revolt.Others have chosen a more “enlightened” path to achieving freedom – through advocacies with the U. S.
Congress, through faith, and through reaching out and convincing people that slavery was indeed wrong. I believe Nat Turner was misguided by a twisted idea of achieving freedom for the Negroes through bloodshed. He had resorted to blackmailing some fellow slaves into committing to his cause. He led others with their blind faith in him as their “prophet” into killing and stealing.
In the end, Nat Turner failed because his cause was tarnished with the taste of revenge and not that of true independence.