The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Turner, Nat

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TURNER, Nat, negro slave, preacher and leader of the “Southampton Insurrection”; b. Southampton County, Va., 1800; executed at Jerusalem, Va., 11 Nov. 1831. A man of elementary education, but a preacher of natural ability and influence among the negroes, his mystical claims of hearing voices and seeing visions from childhood culminated in 1828 when he announced that a voice from heaven had declared that “the last shall be first”; that the negroes should rise and slay their enemies and gain freedom and control, when a sign should appear. The solar eclipse of February 1831 and subsequent unusual atmospheric conditions were accepted as the signal, and on Sunday night, 21 Aug. 1831, Turner and seven companions murdered his master and five members of the family in their beds. With their band increased to 53 members, the negroes massacred 24 children, 18 women and 13 men of white blood before noon of the following day, when they were dispersed by a party of white men who had hastily gathered for defense. The criminals were subsequently hunted down and Turner escaped capture until 30 October. Tried and condemned, 17 of the band, including Turner, were hanged. The remainder received other sentences, as evidence showed that they acted under life or death compulsion. In other instances, at the risk of their lives, faithful slaves successfully defended their masters and families from slaughter. Pro-slavery advocates irrationally attributed the insurrection to the work of the abolitionists. Stricter slave codes were enacted, and the liberation movement received a serious setback. Consult Drewry, W. L., ‘The Southampton Insurrection’ (Washington 1900).