Today in labor history: Nat Turner is born

On October 2, 1800, Nathaniel Turner was born to Nancy Turner in Southampton County, VA. recording only his given name, Nat, although he may have had a last name within the slave community.

In accordance with common practice, white people referred to him by the last name of his owner, Benjamin Turner.

Nat knew little about the background of his father, who was believed to have escaped from slavery when he was a young boy. Nat remained close to his paternal grandmother, Old Bridget, who was also owned by Benjamin Turner.

Nat’s maternal grandmother was one of the Akan people from present-day Ghana, a group known for slave revolts. She was captured at 13 and shipped to America.

Nat Turner learned to read and write at a young age. Deeply religious, Nat was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible. He frequently experienced visions which he interpreted as messages from God. These visions greatly influenced his life; for instance, when Turner was 22 years old, he ran away from his owner, but returned a month later after having such a vision.

Turner often conducted Baptist services, preaching the Bible to his fellow slaves, who dubbed him “The Prophet.” By early 1828, Nat Turner was convinced that he was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty. While working in his owner’s fields on May 12, Turner was convinced that God had given him the task of “slay[ing] my enemies with their own weapons.” Beginning in February 1831, Nat Turner came to believe that certain atmospheric conditions were to be interpreted as a sign that he should begin preparing for a rebellion against the slave owners.

On February 11, 1831, an annular solar eclipse was seen in Virginia. Nat Turner saw this as a black man’s hand reaching over the sun, and he took this vision as his sign. The rebellion was initially planned for July 4, Independence Day, but was postponed due to illness. On August 13, there was another solar eclipse, Nat took this occasion as the final signal, and about a week later, on August 21, he began what is now call “Turner’s rebellion.”

Wikipedia contributed to this article.

Photo: Nat Turner preaches to comrades in the forest. PBS


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