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).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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