Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory

By Kenneth S. Greenberg | Go to book overview

TWO
The Construction of The Confessions of Nat Turner
DAVID F. ALLMENDINGER, JR.

I began a cross examination, and found his statement corroborated by every circumstance coming within my own knowledge or the confessions of others whom [sic] had been either killed or executed, and whom he had not seen nor had any knowledge since 22d of August last.

Thomas R. Gray, The Confessions of Nat Turner, 1831

Long before he first met Nat Turner in the Jerusalem, Virginia, jail, Thomas R. Gray began to assemble evidence on the Southampton rebellion and its leader. For ten weeks after the events of 21–23 August 1831, while Nat Turner remained at large, Gray immersed himself in factual details about the uprising. By the time Nat Turner was finally captured, on 30 October, Gray knew more about the rebellion than any man alive, except perhaps the leader himself. For that reason, during the first three days of November, Gray got permission to enter the jail and write down the leader's own statement. By 5 November, when Nat Turner came to trial, Gray had completed the manuscript of The Confessions of Nat Turner, the most authoritative account of the rebellion to that day. Two days later he was in Richmond looking for a publisher. He was able to work swiftly because he had prepared himself single-mindedly for the moment that he might meet the leader and because he had begun to construct the manuscript before that moment arrived.

It helped Gray's efforts, too, that he had connections and that he did not have to work alone. Though he had been an attorney for less than a year, he already belonged to a circle of influential men in Jerusalem. These included a half dozen lawyers, the county clerk, the sheriff, and 20

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