In 1831, Southampton, Virginia was a small county that was inhabited by approximately 16,000 people, including whites, a relatively high proportion of free blacks, and slaves. 1 Southampton County is in the southeastern portion of Virginia, near the North Carolina border. Though slavery had been a fixture in the South since the seventeenth century, there had never been a sustained slave insurrection. In 1790, there was a large-scale uprising on the island of Santo Domingo. The rebellion overthrew French control and established Haiti, the first independent black republic in the New World. 2
In 1800, the year Nat Turner was born, Gabriel Prosser formed plans in Richmond, Virginia, for blacks to revolt on the belief that the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness contained in the Declaration of Independence should apply to blacks as well as whites. Though Prosser’s plans were entirely confined to Richmond, Virginia, authorities promptly responded by activating the state militia and arresting Gabriel Prosser and about thirty-four of his followers. All were eventually tried and sentenced to death by hanging. Though no whites were killed and Prosser’s plans were stopped before they began, the question remained about whether or not large-scale black revolution, similar to what had occurred on Santo Domingo, where some 60,000 people died, could ever occur in the American South.
That question was emphatically answered during August 21 through August 23, 1831, when Nat Turner and a small group of collaborators (initially a group of six that expanded to possibly as many as fifty or sixty) carried on an insurrection in Southampton that resulted in the deaths of at least fifty-five white people. Most of Turner’s group was captured by August 23, though