Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory

By Kenneth S. Greenberg | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Reading, Revelation, and Rebellion
The Textual Communities of Gabriel, Denmark Vesey,
and Nat Turner
JAMES SIDBURY

One Sunday late in the summer of 1800, a group of slaves gathered at a spring near their Richmond, Virginia, Baptist Church to discuss a planned rebellion. A conspirator named Ben Woolfolk had second thoughts about the pending insurrection and warned that he “had heard that in the days of old, when the Israelites were in Servitude to King Pharoah [sic], they were taken from him by the Power of God,—and were carried away by Moses—God had blessed them with an Angel to go with him, But that I could see nothing of that kind in these days.” Martin, the brother of Gabriel, who was the conspiracy's leader, answered Woolfolk with a citation to Leviticus: “I read in my Bible where God says, if we will worship him, we should have peace in all our Lands, five of you shall conquer an hundred and a hundred, a thousand of our enemies.” Two decades later, in Charleston, Denmark Vesey sought to inspire enslaved South Carolinians to rise in rebellion by reading to them “from the Bible, how the children of Israel were delivered out of Egypt from bondage.” Slightly less than ten years after that, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner found similar inspiration by interpreting the world through a Christian lens: “And now the Holy Ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me—For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew—and as the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand.” 1

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