Black slave preacher Nat Turner felt that God had called on him to lead his people out of slavery. He was born on a small plantation in Virginia to an African-born slave mother who taught him to hate slavery. His master's son taught him to read, and over the years he became fanatically religious and served as preacher for the slaves in the area. Some of his devoted flock began to call him “the Prophet.” A solar eclipse in 1831 was God's sign to Nat Turner that the time had come to strike the blow for freedom.
The biggest slave uprising in U.S. history began on the night of August 21, 1831, when Turner and seven fellow slaves murdered their master and his family while they slept, and then set out on a campaign of brutal murder that terrorized the countryside and killed 55 white people. Picking up slave recruits as they traveled from plantation to plantation, Turner and his followers moved through Southampton County toward the county seat of Jerusalem, where they planned to capture the armory. Some of the slaves were mounted so that they could chase down anyone trying to escape as they swept down on a plantation and bludgeoned to death all the white people they could find- children and women, young and old indiscriminately. For 48 hours, Turner and his undisciplined followers rampaged and killed until they, themselves, were killed, captured, or dispersed in a confrontation with armed citizens and the state militia outside Jerusalem. Nat managed to escape and hide out for six weeks before he was captured. He and 16 of his followers were hanged.
Nat Turner's rebellion set off a reign of terror for all blacks in the area as state and federal troops swept through, killing as many as 200 blacks. To avoid future uprisings, new slave codes were enacted outlawing the education of slaves and putting strict controls on their movements.
Fascinating Fact: A policy of not questioning the slave system was adopted in the South because it was felt that any discussion might encourage similar slave revolts.
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