Nathaniel “Nat” Turner and his slave rebellion, also known as the “Southampton Insurrection,” in Southhampton, Va., exists as the largest known revolt of its kind. Despite avoiding capture after killing 60 Whites and losing 100 of his own people, Turner would later be caught and executed on this day in 1831.
Turner was a slave and minister who learned to read and write at a young age. Inspired by his biblical teachings and the oppression he faced, Turner believed he was chosen by God to deliver his people from bondage. After killing his owner, Joseph Travis, and his entire family, Turner gathered a handful of slaves and led them on the insurrection. Turner’s aim was to capture the Southampton County armory, seize weapons, and then march to the Dismal Swamp to lose their pursuers.
Turner and some seventy five men went through the county on a rampage, but were encountered by a 3,000-men strong state militia. Cornered and depleted, the rebellion was crushed on August 23. Many Blacks, who had nothing to do with the revolt, were lynched or killed. The uprising inspired a period of unusual cruelty from owners towards the enslaved Black.
Turner wasn’t found until October, facing trial on November 5. He was found guilty of conspiring to rebel and for the insurrection, and was sentenced to death by way of public hanging. The Southampton authorities wanted to make an example out of Turner with the display, hoping to quell any others who had similar ideas.
Turner, who defiantly confessed to the crime without remorse, was hanged in the county’s seat of Jerusalem in front of onlookers.
Nat Turner’s death signaled the end of that great rebellion, but it couldn’t quell the spirit of those seeking freedom. Slavery’s foothold would slowly be chipped away, although resistance from White Southerners proved to be a great difficulty. Still, a great debt is owed to Turner for standing up those in power despite insurmountable odds.