The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia

By Charles F. Irons | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE OF NAT
TURNER, 1831–1835

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good
tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to
the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the accept-
able year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.—Isaiah 61:1–2

Hark, Henry, Nelson, Sam, Jack, and Will arrived at Southampton County’s Cabin Pond early on Sunday, 21 August 1831. Like most other slaves in the commonwealth, they had the Sabbath off from work. Many African Americans marked the day by attending one of several churches in the county with a high proportion of African American members— including the Raccoon Swamp or Black Creek Baptist churches—or by listening to itinerant preachers. But this particular group of friends was celebrating their weekly respite with a roast pig and some apple brandy. Perhaps because their friend Nat Turner had spent the morning preaching or worshipping, as was his habit, or because he wished for some time alone before carrying out plans long contemplated, he did not join them until three o’clock in the afternoon.1 Together, the friends enjoyed barbecue and conversation for several hours before heading back to their respective farms before sundown, which signaled the end of their liberty.

Sunday afternoon’s apparently lighthearted festivities must have concealed some sober planning, for the entire group reconvened a few hours later, at two o’clock on Monday morning, for much more deadly activity. This time, they carried with them hatchets, axes, and a resolve to use force of arms to end white hegemony. Many Southampton County whites were away at a camp meeting in neighboring Gates County, and Turner and his friends may have determined over pork and brandy that their absence created a window of opportunity to strike a blow against slavery.2 Whether by intent or by coincidence, the group of black revolutionaries began their campaign

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