Nat Turner was a visionary religious leader and the architect of the August
1831 Southampton Virginia slave revolt. This revolt was one of more than
250 documented revolts by slaves. The most famous slave revolts included
those lead by Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser.
Some people called Nat Turner a heathen while others called him a Christian prophet. Nat Turner was possessed by the spirit world of both his African ancestors and the new Christian world he was forced into. It is said that as a child Turner spoke about things that occurred before his birth. He was known as a outstanding and gifted speaker. He said aloud what the slaves felt inside. Turner found the biblical scriptures that called slavery unjust and contrary to the will of God. He had numerous visions about God's justice for the slaves and held the slave community spellbound as he preached and communicated his visions.
It was a series of visions from God that convinced Nat that he should struggle against the enslavement of his people. The first of these visions occurred in 1828. In this vision, it was revealed to Turner that the time was coming when "the first would be last and the last would be first." Nat's visions culminated in a slave uprising that began on August 21, 1831. Including his master and his family, sixty whites were killed in a twenty four hour period. The following day State and Federal troops arrived in Southampton county to stop the revolt. Once the revolt was put down, black slaves were randomly arrested, put on trial and hanged. Just before being sent to the gallows, Turner was asked, "Do you not find yourself mistaken now?" to which Nat replied, "Was not Christ crucified."
The aftermath of the Southampton revolt led to the strengthening of the "Black Codes" throughout the south. These codes included laws that specified that slaves cannot: assemble in groups of more than 5; own property or testify in court; strike a white; learn to read or write; buy or sell goods; conduct a religious service without a white person present; beat drums, etc.
The frequent and numerous slave revolts proved that the slaves were not happy. They yearned for freedom and were willing to pay for it with their lives, if necessary.