A Meditation on History, Literature, and Moral Imperatives
And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry came up to God. And God heard their groaning.
The spoils taken from you will be divided among you….The city will be taken, the houses plundered, the women ravished.
Then they utterly destroyed all the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword.
The day dawned bleak and chill that Friday in the Virginia tidewater, and an enveloping gray light seemed to come out of the northeast. The dry leaves whispered a little in the windless November. Around noon the jailer unlocked the condemned hole of the Southampton County Jail. It was cold and musty in the hole, and the rank smell fouled the air.
For nearly two weeks Nat Turner had been lying there in darkness, secured with manacles and chains to make certain he could not escape. For nearly two weeks he had been lying there on a pine board, neither asleep nor awake, as though his very being were itself a part of darkness
This essay was originally published in Southern Writers and Their Worlds, ed. Christopher Morris and Steven G. Reinhardt (College Station: Published for the University of Texas at Arlington by Texas A & M Press, 1996).