Bringing A Slave Rebel Back to Life

By Scruggs, Afi-Odelia E. | The Crisis, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Bringing A Slave Rebel Back to Life


Scruggs, Afi-Odelia E., The Crisis


BOOKS Bringing A Slave Rebel Back To Ufe The Resurrection of Nat Turner Part One: The Witnesses By Sharon Ewell Foster (Simon & Schuster, $15.99)

Resurrection is a powerful word, especially for a devout Christian like author Sharon Ewell Foster. The word is fraught with significance because of its association with crucifixion, redemption and salvation. Ewell Foster got her start in Christian fiction. Her first novel, Passing by Samaria, won the industry's Christy Award in 2001 . So the prominence of the word resurrection in her latest project, The Resurrection of Nat Turner Part One: The Witnesses, speaks to the goal of this ambitious work.

Nat Turner is infamous - or famous - for leading the country's most successful slave uprising. Early on Aug. 22, 1831, he and six others began an insurrection that eventually included 40 slaves. At least 50 Whites were murdered. By mid-day, a militia had been organized to combat Turner's army. The slaves scattered, and Turner went into hiding. He was captured in October, tried on Nov. 5 and hanged on Nov. 11, 1 83 1 . More than 55 slaves were also executed, including many who had nothing to do with the revolt. Although the state of Virginia had considered abolishing slavery, legislators voted to retain it after the insurrection. The rebellion also led to more repressive controls against Blacks, whether slave or free.

Ewell Foster is not interested in merely setting the record straight. She wants to release Turner from the myths that have buried him since he was tried, executed and skinned in Southampton County, Va., more than 180 years ago.

Her main target is "The Confessions of Nat Turner," an interview allegedly conducted by Thomas R. Gray. Ewell Foster has disputed the veracity of the document that Turner supposedly acknowledged when it was read during his trial. When Ewell Foster read the trial transcript, she found a shocking revelation.

"Then I read that Turner pleaded innocent. There is no mention in the transcript of a confession," she wrote in the online magazine The Roof. "If Gray's 'Confessions of Nat Turner' was not true, then what had actually happened? Who was Nat Turner really?"

Ironically, in this story Turner doesn't speak for himself; that will probably come in Part 2: The Testimony, which will be released in February, 2012. In this volume, the author explores the complexities of the society that shaped Turner. Instead of holding a mirror, Ewell Foster presents a kaleidoscope. Her antebellum South is a place of shifting relationships, loyalties and conflicts. Whites and Blacks, men and women, gentry and farmers all twist and turn within their prescribed roles. …

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