Nat Turner's name rings through American history with a force all its own. Leader of the most important slave rebellion on these shores, variously viewed as a murderer of unarmed women and children, an inspired religious leader, a fanatic—this puzzling figure represents all the terrible complexities of American slavery. And yet we do not know what he looked like, where he is buried, or even whether Nat Turner was his real name. In Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory, Kenneth S. Greenberg gathers twelve distinguished scholars to offer provocative new insight into the man, his rebellion, and his time, and his place in history. The historians here explore Turner's slave community, discussing the support for his uprising as well as the religious and literary context of his movement. They examine the place of women in his insurrection, and its far-reaching consequences (including an extraordinary 1832 Virginia debate about ridding the state of slavery). Here are discussions of Turner's religious visions—the instructions he received from God to kill all of his white oppressors. Louis Masur places him against the backdrop of the nation's sectional crisis, and Douglas Egerton puts his revolt in the context of rebellions across the Americas. We trace Turner's passage through American memory through fascinating interviews with William Styron on his landmark novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, one of the "ten black writers" of the 1960s who bitterly attacked Styron's vision of Turner. Finally, we follow Nat Turner into the world of Hollywood. Nat Turner has always been controversial, an emblem of the searing wound of slavery in American life. This book offers a clear-eyed look at one of the best known and least understood figures in our history.
A bold new interpretation of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion that stunned the American South In 1831 Virginia, Nat Turner led a band of Southampton County slaves in a rebellion that killed fifty-five whites, mostly women and children. After more than two months in hiding, Turner was captured, and quickly convicted and executed. In the Matter of Nat Turner penetrates the historical caricature of Turner as befuddled mystic and self-styled Baptist preacher to recover the haunting persona of this legendary American slave rebel, telling of his self-discovery and the dawning of his Christian faith, of an impossible task given to him by God, and of redemptive violence and profane retribution. Much about Turner remains unknown. His extraordinary account of his life and rebellion, given in chains as he awaited trial in jail, was written down by an opportunistic white attorney and sold as a pamphlet to cash in on Turner’s notoriety. But the enigmatic rebel leader had an immediate and broad impact on the American South, and his rebellion remains one of the most momentous episodes in American history. Christopher Tomlins provides a luminous account of Turner's intellectual development, religious cosmology, and motivations, and offers an original and incisive analysis of the Turner Rebellion itself and its impact on Virginia politics. Tomlins also undertakes a deeply critical examination of William Styron’s 1967 novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, which restored Turner to the American consciousness in the era of civil rights, black power, and urban riots. A speculative history that recovers Turner from the few shards of evidence we have about his life, In the Matter of Nat Turner is also a unique speculation about the meaning and uses of history itself.
In August 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner led a bloody uprising that took the lives of some fifty-five white people—men, women, and children—shocking the South. Nearly as many black people, all told, perished in the rebellion and its aftermath. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County presents important new evidence about the violence and the community in which it took place, shedding light on the insurgents and victims and reinterpreting the most important account of that event, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Drawing upon largely untapped sources, David F. Allmendinger Jr. reconstructs the lives of key individuals who were drawn into the uprising and shows how the history of certain white families and their slaves—reaching back into the eighteenth century—shaped the course of the rebellion. Never before has anyone so patiently examined the extensive private and public sources relating to Southampton as does Allmendinger in this remarkable work. He argues that the plan of rebellion originated in the mind of a single individual, Nat Turner, who concluded between 1822 and 1826 that his own masters intended to continue holding slaves into the next generation. Turner specifically chose to attack households to which he and his followers had connections. The book also offers a close analysis of his Confessions and the influence of Thomas R. Gray, who wrote down the original text in November 1831. Allmendinger draws new conclusions about Turner and Gray, their different motives, the authenticity of the confession, and the introduction of terror as a tactic, both in the rebellion and in its most revealing document. Students of slavery, the Old South, and African American history will find in Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County an outstanding example of painstaking research and imaginative family and community history. "The exhaustive research Allmendinger presents greatly enriches our historical understanding of the Southampton Rebellion through the eyes of its key victims. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County reveals important dimensions of the rebellion's local history and contextualizes the event, as Nat Turner did, within the context of slavery in Southampton County."—Reviews in History "Allmendinger’s great achievement is that he made full use of ‘new’ primary sources related to the uprising of 1831—new sources hitherto hidden in plain sight. Most importantly, he understood the significance of this material and knew exactly how to mine it for valuable new insights into virtually every aspect of Nat Turner’s rebellion."—Reviews in American History "No one has done more to corroborate and sync the details, nor to illuminate Turner’s inspirations and goals. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County is a model of historical methodology, and goes further than any other previous work in helping readers understand Turner’s motives and meaning."—African American Intellectual History Society "We are all in David Allmendinger's debt for the labor of research that has given The Rising in Southampton County its absent material context."—Law and History Review "Though the subject of countless histories, novels, videos, and websites, Nat Turner, the leader of the largest slave insurrection in U.S. history, remains an enigma; yet, in this new and challenging study, the life and times of the legendary revolutionary come into much better focus. A must-read for historians of slave resistance and all others interested in the history of antebellum Virginia and in particular Southampton County."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society "Allmendinger approaches a well-trodden historical event from a distinctive perspective. [He] provides the most complete historical context surrounding the rebellion. Ultimately, Allmendinger succeeds in providing a more complete understanding of the community of Southampton, Virginia, and offers a better explanation for the motivations that led Turner and his followers down such a bloody path in 1831."—Choice David F. Allmendinger Jr. is professor emeritus of history at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Paupers and Scholars: The Transformation of Student Life in Nineteenth-Century New England and Ruffin: Family and Reform in the Old South.
Reassesses the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner as it discusses such themes as slavery, race, and national belonging; examines the rebellion itself and analyzes Turner in terms of his meaning as both a martyr and murderer.
The “magnificent” Pulitzer Prize–winning and #1 New York Times–bestselling novel about the preacher who led America’s bloodiest slave revolt (The New York Times). The Confessions of Nat Turner is William Styron’s complex and richly drawn imagining of Nat Turner, the leader of the 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia that led to the deaths of almost sixty men, women, and children. Published at the height of the civil rights movement, the novel draws upon the historical Nat Turner’s confession to his attorney, made as he awaited execution in a Virginia jail. This powerful narrative, steeped in the brutal and tragic history of American slavery, reveals a Turner who is neither a hero nor a demon, but rather a man driven to exact vengeance for the centuries of injustice inflicted upon his people. Nat Turner is a galvanizing portrayal of the crushing institution of slavery, and Styron’s deeply layered characterization is a stunning rendering of one man’s violent struggle against oppression. This ebook features a new illustrated biography of William Styron, including original letters, rare photos, and never-before-seen documents from the Styron family and the Duke University Archives.