On this dayAug 21, 1831

Nat Turner Leads Enslaved Black People in Virginia Rebellion

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On August 21, 1831, an enslaved black man named Nat Turner led a rebellion of enslaved people in Southampton, Virginia, killing dozens of white slaveholders and sparking brutal repression by officials intent on maintaining slavery.

By many accounts, Nat Turner was a very religious man who ministered to fellow enslaved black people as well as white people. He studied the Bible fervently and often claimed to have divine visions. In the late 1820s, Turner claimed to have several visions leading him to believe that God was calling him to lead a rebellion. In February 1831, he witnessed a solar eclipse and interpreted it as a sign to start his campaign. In response, Turner and his followers planned a rebellion. On August 13, Turner witnessed a second eclipse and believe it to be a sign the time to rebel had come.

On August 21, Nat Turner led his most trusted followers to various plantations, recruiting other black people, until their ranks swelled to between sixty and seventy fighters armed with muskets and tools. The rebels made their way through the landscape, killing white plantation owners and their families, but seeming to intentionally spare poor white people. Turner and his followers killed nearly sixty white people before they were confronted and defeated by a militia.

Many of Nat Turner's followers were killed or captured immediately, but he escaped and remained at large for weeks. He was ultimately captured on October 30, then convicted of insurrection and executed alongside nearly twenty other black people who had joined his uprising.

In the wake of the rebellion, angry white mobs tortured and murdered hundreds of black people, including many who had no connection to the rebellion. State legislatures throughout the South also passed laws designed to suppress the threat of black rebellion by prohibiting black people from assembling freely, conducting independent religious services, or learning to read or write. Despite the violent and legal repression that emerged after this and other incidents of revolt, black people continued to resist enslavement until abolition was achieved.


Nat Turner

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