August 21st, 1831

Nat Turner Leads Enslaved Black People in Virginia Rebellion

Nat Turner was an enslaved black man who lived in Southampton, Virginia. By many accounts, Turner was a very religious man who ministered to fellow enslaved blacks as well as whites. Turner studied the Bible fervently and often claimed to have divine visions. In the late 1820s, Turner claimed to have several visions leading him to believe that God was calling him to lead a rebellion. In February 1831, he witnessed a solar eclipse and interpreted it as a sign to start his campaign. Turner and his followers planned to rebel on July 4, 1831, but postponed the plan. On August 13, 1831, Turner witnessed a second eclipse and believe it to be yet another sign to begin the rebellion.

On August 21, 1831, Turner led his most trusted followers to various plantations, recruiting other blacks, until their ranks swelled to between 60 and 70 fighters armed with muskets and tools. As the rebels moved, they indiscriminately killed white plantation owners, but seemed to spare poor whites. Turner and his followers killed nearly 60 whites before they were confronted and defeated by a militia. Turner’s men were killed or captured immediately, but he escaped and remained at large until October 30, 1831. Upon capture, Turner was criminally convicted and executed along with 30 other blacks convicted of insurrection. In the wake of the rebellion, angry white mobs tortured and murdered hundreds of blacks and Southern legislatures passed laws prohibiting blacks from assembling freely, conducting independent religious services, and gaining an education.