Turner, Nat

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Turner, Nat,

1800–1831, American slave, leader of the Southampton Insurrection (1831), b. Southampton co., Va. Deeply religious from childhood, Turner was a natural preacher and possessed some influence among local slaves. Apparently believing himself divinely appointed to lead fellow slaves to freedom, he plotted a revolt with a band of approximately 60 followers. After killing the family of Turner's owner, the band ravaged the neighborhood, in two days killing a total of 55 white people, mostly women and children. The revolt was soon crushed, however, and 13 slaves and three free blacks were hanged immediately. Turner himself escaped to the woods, but was captured six weeks later and hanged. Dozens more blacks were also killed in retaliation. The abortive uprising, by far the bloodiest and most serious in the history of slavery in the United States, led to more stringent slave laws in the South and to an end of the organized abolition movement there. Over the years, Turner became a figure of controversy, seen by some as a vicious fanatic and by others as a hero of black resistence.


See studies by H. Aptheker (1943 and 1968), E. Foner (1971), J. Duff and P. Mitchell, ed. (1971), K. S. Greenberg, ed. (2003), and S. French (2004); C. Burnett, dir., Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (documentary film, 2004).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Turner, Nat


Born Oct. 2, 1800, in Southampton County, Va.; died Nov. 11, 1831, in Jerusalem (present-day Courtland), Va. Leader of a Negro slave rebellion in the USA.

Turner, a slave all his life, learned to read and write and later became a preacher. A deeply religious man, he believed he was responsible for carrying out the will of god. In 1831 he organized and led a slave revolt (seeNAT TURNER REBELLION OF 1831). The rebellion was defeated, and Turner went into hiding; however, he was arrested on October 30 and later hanged. While in prison, Turner dictated the story of his life to a journalist.


Aptheker, H. Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion. New York, 1966.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Turner, Nat

(1800–31) leader of slave insurrection; born in Southampton County, Va. 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 (in the 1820s), he became a fiery preacher and leader of African-American slaves on Benjamin Turner's plantation and in his Southampton County, Va., neighborhood, claiming that he was chosen by God to lead them from bondage. Believing in signs and hearing divine voices, he 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; then, on August 21–22, 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 only the murder of 51 white people. Afterwards, he hid nearby successfully for six weeks until his discovery, conviction, and hanging at Jerusalem, Va., along with 16 of his followers. The incident put fear in the heart of Southerners, ended the organized emancipation movement in that region, resulted in even harsher laws against slaves, and deepened the schism between slaveholders and free-soilers that would culminate in the Civil War.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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