Nat Turner (Oct. 2, 1800 – Nov. 11, 1831)
- Nat Turner, who was born into slavery in Virginia, became a preacher and said he had been chosen by God to lead enslaved people to freedom.
- At age 30 in August 1831, he acted on a sign from a solar eclipse earlier that year and led a two-day rebellion.
- On day one of the rebellions, Turner and his men killed Joseph Travis’ family, as Turner had been enslaved by Travis for more than a year.
- As the rebellion went on, Turner grew his army to include 50-60 men, including five free Black men, who had killed 55 white southerners.
- The Virginia state militia killed 55 rebels, stopping the uprising in its tracks. They also repaid slaveholders for their enslaved people.
- The rebellion proved that slavery wasn’t the docile institution white slave owners made it out to be and highlighted southern Christianity backed Turner’s uprising for freedom.
- Turner was ultimately captured in October — 28 days after his 31st birthday — and lynched on Nov. 11, 1831.
- After his death, several stories say his body was skinned, maimed and beheaded before his torso was buried in a local cemetery. His skull and brain were later sent off for study and only almost 200 years later his skull was returned to his family.
- The same month he was captured, Virginia Gov. John Floyd and the Virginia General Assembly made it illegal to teach reading and writing to enslaved people, free Blacks or mixed race people. And white people had to be present during Black people’s religious services.
- Afterward, white mobs murdered nearly 200 Black people, many of whom were not associated with the resistance.
Nat Turner is part of our Black Rebel series for Black History Month.