Nat Turner Sentenced To Be Hanged ► Throwback Thursday

Benjamin Phipps, a local farmer, accidentally
discovers Nat Turner almost 2 months after the revolt

On this day in 1831, Nat Turner was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged as leader of the slave revolt of two months earlier.

Turner believed his revolt was ordained by God. According to History:

He was born on the Virginia plantation of Benjamin Turner, who allowed him to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion. Sold three times in his childhood and hired out to John Travis (1820s), he became a fiery preacher and leader of African-American slaves on Benjamin Turner’s plantation and in his Southampton County neighbourhood, claiming that he was chosen by God to lead them from bondage.

Believing in signs and hearing divine voices, Turner was convinced by an eclipse of the Sun (1831) that the time to rise up had come, and he enlisted the help of four other slaves in the area. An insurrection was planned, aborted, and rescheduled for August 21,1831, when he and six other slaves killed the Travis family, managed to secure arms and horses, and enlisted about 75 other slaves in a disorganized insurrection that resulted in the murder of 51 white people.

Afterwards, Turner hid nearby successfully for six weeks until his discovery, conviction, and hanging at Jerusalem, Virginia, along with 16 of his followers. 

Racist cartoon depicting the revolt

If Nat Turner thought his revolt would lead to freedom for slaves, he was sadly mistaken. In fact, as the WikiWackyWoo tell us, it got worse for all Black folk, Free Black and slave alike.

In total, the state executed 56 blacks suspected of having been
involved in the uprising. But in the hysteria of aroused fears and anger
in the days after the revolt, white militias and mobs killed an
estimated 200 blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion.[32]

[…]

The fear caused by Nat Turner’s insurrection and the concerns raised
in the emancipation debates that followed resulted in politicians and
writers responding by defining slavery as a “positive good”.[34] Such authors included Thomas Roderick Dew, a William and Mary College professor who published a pamphlet in 1832 opposing emancipation on economic and other grounds.[35]

Fears of uprisings polarized moderates and slave owners across the South. Municipalities across the region instituted repressive policies against
blacks. Rights were taken away from those who were free. The freedoms
of all black people in Virginia were tightly curtailed. Socially, the
uprising discouraged whites’ questioning the slave system from the
perspective that such discussion might encourage similar slave revolts. Manumissions
had decreased by 1810. The shift away from tobacco had made owning
slaves in the Upper South an excess to the planters’ needs, so they
started to hire out slaves. With the ending of the international slave
trade, the invention of the cotton gin, and opening up of new territories in the Deep South,
suddenly there was a growing market for the trading of slaves. Over the
next decades, more than a million slaves would be transported to the
Deep South in a forced migration as a result of the domestic slave
trade.

Nat Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831, just 6 days after he was tried, convicted, and sentenced.


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Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.