Nat Turner

Nat Turner, 1800–1831, American slave, leader of the Southampton Insurrection (1831), b. Southampton co., Va. Deeply religious from childhood, Turner was a natural preacher and possessed some influence among local slaves. Apparently believing himself divinely appointed to lead fellow slaves to freedom, he plotted a revolt with a band of approximately 60 followers. After killing the family of Turner's owner, the band ravaged the neighborhood, in two days killing a total of 55 white people, mostly women and children. The revolt was soon crushed, however, and 13 slaves and three free blacks were hanged immediately. Turner himself escaped to the woods, but was captured six weeks later and hanged. Dozens more blacks were also killed in retaliation. The abortive uprising, by far the bloodiest and most serious in the history of slavery in the United States, led to more stringent slave laws in the South and to an end of the organized abolition movement there. Over the years, Turner became a figure of controversy, seen by some as a vicious fanatic and by others as a hero of black resistence.

See studies by H. Aptheker (1943 and 1968), E. Foner (1971), J. Duff and P. Mitchell, ed. (1971), K. S. Greenberg, ed. (2003), and S. French (2004); C. Burnett, dir., Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (documentary film, 2004).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Nat Turner: Selected full-text books and articles

The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Va. By Nat Turner; Thomas R. Gray University of North Carolina Press, 2011
Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory By Kenneth S. Greenberg Oxford University Press, 2003
The Civitas Anthology of African American Slave Narratives By William L. Andrews; Henry Louis Gates Jr Civitas Counterpoint, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Va., as Fully and Voluntarily Made to Thomas R. Gray"
American Negro Slave Revolts By Herbert Aptheker International Publishers, 1993 (6th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "The Turner Cataclysm"
A Baker's Dozen: Thirteen Unusual Americans By Russel B. Nye Michigan State University Press, 1956
Librarian’s tip: "Nat Turner" begins on p. 233
American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War By David Grimsted Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Black Fears"
Freedom of Thought in the Old South By Clement Eaton Duke University Press, 1940
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Fear of Servile Insurrection"
Voices of the Fugitives: Runaway Slave Stories and Their Fictions of Self-Creation By Sterling Lecater Bland Jr Praeger, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Religion, Revolt, and the Commodification of Language: The Limitations of "Voice" In the Confessions of Nat Turner"
Neo-Slave Narratives: Studies in the Social Logic of a Literary Form By Ashraf H. A. Rushdy Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Discourse Mobilized: The Debate over William Styron's 'The Confessions of Nat Turner'"
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