Nat Turner – The Fire of Jubilee: a Slave Rebellion in Ante-Bellum Slave Holding America
The nineteenth century Southampton County, Virginia had predominantly more blacks than white.
Nat Turner was a black preacher, a deeply religious man who saw visions and claimed directives from God. He was respected as a boy by all and sundry, a very intelligent and smart man. He led an insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831 killing with his comrades killing white male, female and children.
He was born a slave of Benjamin Turner in 1800, he learned to read and write quite early in life. He sees himself as the biblical Moses that was supposed to lead the enslaved to freedom. He was convinced by a solar eclipse in 1831 that the time was ripped for the revolt.
As a child he watched as African-Americans were oppressed before and in his life time, He watched as a significant number are murdered, dismembered and brutalized- men, women and children; he watched the raping of women and was part of this vicious circle for years. He watched as Samuel Turner, the son Benjamin Turner, his master reneged on his fathers promise put him to slavery.
When Nat was 12 he was separated from his peers, a mixture of white kids and colored people and match to the farm, he never became same thereafter, a forlorn and desolate youth with no future. He was shocked that though smarter than some his master could be held in slavery with all his intelligence.
Even when he befriended free blacks, he noticed how the barely make a living on little plot in swamps and backwoods and from them he learnt how limited freedom devoid of political and social rights and he detests that middle road between liberty and bondage. I think from reading the bible Nat Turner was astonish by the powers of Moses and the exodus out of Egypt.
According to Stephen Oates “Nat Turner would bring on the years of Jubilee when those who had been first- the white master would become subservient to the blacks who had been last, that was Nat’s mission in this world revealed to him.”
On the judgment day, August 21, 1831 Nat Turner led an insurrection, the first of its kind in America of willing black people with intent on a reprisal killing of all the white people that he saw killed and dominated his people for so long, together with the family.
Though he was intent on total decimation he spared a few white yeomen and even Giles Reese because his family lived in his farm. It only showed he would have spared most of the white people if he has no resistance and no threat from them.
After killing Joseph Travis and family there seems to be no going back. It was not a well planned revolution with no precise or military organization of discipline, as some of the slaves got high on brandy and was of no much use to the cause.
This rebellion was as cruel in its implementation without any regards to neighborliness as the reprisal was without decency. As the enslaved breaks all known decency in the quest for freedom which is poetically justified based on their reason, the reprisal in the quest to dehumanize the Negro ended up dehumanizing mankind and ushered in an era of less regard for life.
The aftermath of the rebellion was brutal for the Negroes, the trial was a facade, as evidence of visible pressure on the court by the public existed, some of them were tiredly and convicted wrongly some were accused falsely and hanged. For those of them that survived their freedom was drastically reduced and militia created to keep a watch on them, while freed slaves were forced out of the county. By the time the insurrection was squashed about sixty whites and more than 200 blacks were killed.
This failed insurrection frankly stirred a debate in the south about the slavery system and aroused a more activist abolition movement in the north. It real revealed the fear inherent in the prejudice society that was built on the exploitation of black labor.
It gave us an insight on the difference and similarity in policies between the federal and state government: for while the federal wish to have slavery abolished in the south; they were not willing to push to enforce abolishment and they southerners where in the limbo of while willing to abolished slavery where not willing to loose all the benefits slave labor provides. For even among the northerners the fear abounds of the competition that will result from emancipation. The southerners were caught in the debate on whether to emancipate the black or colonized them.
To many black people Nat Turner was greater in death than he was in life. He inspired many black people to resist and challenged their oppressors while highlighting the inevitable to the slaveholders that there will never be peace without emancipation and the idea of a contented slave does not exist.
Gratefully acknowledge the used of material from the following books:
The Fires of Jubilee by Stephen B. Oates
Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts
Blassingame, John w. The slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South New York: Oxford University Press, 1972
Griffin, Judith Berry. Nat Turner, New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1970