It may at once be said that there are features of the Turner revolt that are still uncertain and probably will remain so. Any statement purporting to give the precise number of Negroes who took part in the revolt, or the exact number of victims, white or Negro, is to be suspiciously regarded. What appear to be fairly good approximations may be made.
It is thought, however, to be possible with the available evidence, to answer other and more important questions. The causes and the purposes of the event may be discerned. Whether what is today to be seen in this connection is all that really existed over one hundred years ago cannot be said, but causes and purposes are yet visible and appear to be sufficient to explain the revolt. Similarly, there are many results that appear, some more clearly than others, which will be discussed later.
Concerning the Turner revolt there is unanimity on two things, and only on two things. First, all agree it took place, or, at least, started (whether it was local or not will be dealt with later) in Southampton County and, second, that the leader was Nat Turner. The former has been sufficiently described, but what sort of person was Nat?
The year eighteen hundred was a fateful one for American slavery. It was then that John Brown was born, that Gabriel's revolt occurred and that
This essay is a chapter from Herbert Aptheker's Master's thesis completed at Columbia University in 1937.