During the years of slavery in the United States, slave owners lived in fear of slave revolts, and used countless fear tactics to protect themselves from the looming possibility. One slave revolt in 1831, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, had the highest death toll documented in the American South, with the count reaching up to 65 people.
Turner was born in the year 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia. Even as a child, his intelligence and quick-wittedness was noticed by many, and he learned to read and write at a young age. A deeply religious man, driven by prophetic visions, once after running away from his master, Turner returned a month later after receiving what he said was a message from God.
How did Turner orchestrate the rebellion?
Turned began his plans for rebellion with a few other slaves he trusted, communicating with other slaves in the area through songs. On August 22, 1831, Turner and 70 other slaves began their attack. The objective: spread terror and alarm among whites. Beginning with Turner’s master’s family, the slaves used axes, knives, hatchets, and other instruments to kill the surrounding slave owners. Only a few houses were spared by Turner, which were inhabited by poor whites. Because “they thought not better of themselves than they did of Negroes”, they were not targeted. Travelling from house to house, Turner and his rebel slaves freed slaves they came across and killed between 55-65 whites.
The rebellion came to an end when the militia began to respond, with many slaves that were planning on joining the rebellion fighting against Turner when it was clear he could not win. Though most of his fellows were arrested, Turner eluded the militia for two months before being caught. He was sentenced to hang, and his body suffered mutilation and humiliation after his death. 18 of his rebels hung as well, and 12 were sold. After the rebellion, which succeeded in striking fear into the hearts of whites, the state created harsher laws for blacks, both freed men and slaves. Though the rebellion was short lived, Nat Turner lives on in history for his personal war against slavery.