Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory

By Kenneth S. Greenberg | Go to book overview

FOUR
Convenant in Jerusalem
THOMAS C. PARRAMORE

Nat Turner, a slave on the farm of carriage-maker Joseph Travis, met his cohorts by prearrangement on the afternoon of Sunday, 21 August 1831, at nearby Cabin Pond. They had talked for months about rebelling against the whites, and Nat had called the meeting to make final preparations for it. Present were Hark Travis and Will Francis, who, like Nat, were said to be Methodist “exhorters” (lay preachers). Nelson Williams, Sam Francis, Jack Reese, and Henry Porter were also present. 1

Following extended discussion, they agreed to begin the revolt that night by killing the Travis family and then all other whites they found until they felt strong enough to spare at least women and children. The revolt, initiated by Nat's hatchet and Will's axe, would move from farm to farm, its members recruiting other rebels and confiscating arms and horses. 2

Nat, known as “General Cargill” or “General Jackson,” would lead. His principal subordinates would be known as “General Nelson” or “General Gaines,” “General Porter,” and “General Moore.” (Hark Travis was better known to blacks as Hark Moore, from the surname of a former master, Thomas Moore.) Jack Reese, married to Hark's sister, begged off owing to illness but was induced by Hark to stay. The discussion concluded around 10:30 P.M.3

Walking through the woods to Travis's, where the family had gone to bed, the group, joined at the great house by Travis's slave Austin, spent some hours drinking cider from Travis's press, perhaps to fortify themselves against the grim work ahead. At last, at around 3:00 A.M., Hark placed a ladder under an upstairs window, and Nat silently climbed it,

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