Nat Turner was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia in 1800, and as such he was not considered human at all, but property. He was intelligent, learning to read and write at a young age, and also deeply religious, becoming a preacher. Nat began to have religious visions that eventually prompted him to rebel against his enslavers and go on a killing spree of white people.
–On This Day in History, Shit Went Down: August 21, 1831–
Nat said God told him to “slay my enemies with their own weapons.” Nat was sold to Joseph Travis in 1830 and in February 1831 he witnessed a solar eclipse that he interpreted as a message of a Black hand covering the sun, which meant rebellion time, motherfuckers. So he started planning and bringing others into his confidence about his desire to rise up against their enslavers.
The original plan was for July 4 in a suck-on-this independence, assholes, but Nat was sick so they delayed. Then Mount St. Helens had a bit of a kerblooie and made the sun look weird and he said that’s it that’s the signal, let’s do this shit. And so they did, beginning on August 21, 1831, with the killing of the Travis family. They went from house to house killing all the white people they found, while freeing Black people and saying hey grab weapons and join us. In all, there were about 70 enslaved and free Black people who participated in the rebellion. They killed anyone with white skin: men, women, and children. Nat said he personally killed only one person, a white woman whose head he bashed in with a fence post.
Turner said indiscriminate slaughter was not their aim, and they spared poor white people who were not slave owners and who “thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.” But regarding the killing of women and children, he justified it by saying the goal was to spread “terror and alarm” among white people so they could experience something of what it was like to live every day as an enslaved Black person.
The rebels killed about 60 people, and the whites were terrorized into bringing in a large militia not just to put down the rebellion, but to engage in reprisals. Over a hundred Black people were killed in reprisals, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion. Another 56 were executed, including Nat Turner, who eluded capture for a time but was eventually caught and hanged the following November. Immediately after the rebellion unfounded rumors proclaimed the rebellion was spreading to other states, and white people freaked the fuck out and started killing Black people just because.
In the aftermath, slave states began enacting laws against allowing Black people, free or not, to read and assemble. They were all yeah look what they did slavery is actually good let’s be even more oppressive. Conversely, in the north the rebellion added fuel to the abolitionist movement.
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