Historical FAQs #8:
Did Turner and his confidantes have a clear plan and a clear objective in mind when planning the rebellion?
As leader of the conspiracy Nat was the one who ultimately chose the plan of attack. His strategy was simple. First, start with a small group of core conspirators to reduce the risk that their masters would find out. Second, steal the weapons held by their masters and use them to kill the slaveholding families. Third, as the masters were killed other slaves would rise up and join them. Fourth, move on to the city of Jerusalem and retrieve the stockpile of supplies and weapons in the city. The rebels never made it to the city, but along the way they cut a bloody path through the area. What the plan was after taking Jerusalem is up for debate.
“’General Nat,’ who was the principal instigator of the revolt, and the principal in command, was for the total extermination of the whites, without regard to age or sex! that by doing so, they should soon be able (in imitation of the example set them by their brethren at St. Domingo) to establish a government of their own, and that he had been promised the aid of many of their enslaved brethren in North Carolina, Maryland, ect. The next in command was in favour of sparing the lives of the females, that if success attended them, they might become their wives!—and the third was of opinion that plunder alone should be their object, with which they might secret themselves in the dark recesses of Dismal Swamp, until opportunity should present to escape to the free States, or to some foreign country.”
“He still pretends that he is a prophet, and relates a number of revelations which he had said he had, from which he was induced to believe that he could succeed in conquoring the county of Southampton (what miserable ignorance!) as the white people did in the revolution."
After reading these recommended documents or browsing the website, do you think Nat Turner and the other leaders of the rebellion had a clear plan? Why?
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In the Nat Turner Project digital archive, you can read original documents related to the only large-scale slave revolt ever to occur in the United States. Explore newspaper articles, diary entries, letters, maps, trials transcripts, census records, pamphlets, petitions, and other types of sources created at the time the revolt occurred. The archive also contains later accounts of the revolt, including interviews with former slaves and memoirs of former slaveholders. In the Memory section, you will also find visual and fictional representations of Nat Turner and the revolt that were created long after the revolt was suppressed and the people involved were gone.
For nearly two hundred years, controversy has surrounded Nat Turner and the Southampton Rebellion. In some respects, the historical documents available about the revolt raise as many questions as they answer. This collection of primary sources will allow you to create your own interpretations of the rebellion, its black participants, its white targets, and its enigmatic leader.
This site was created in 2015 by Sarah Roth, and is sponsored by Meredith College School of Arts & Humanities. Sarah Roth is Dean of Arts and Humanities at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has taught U.S. history since her graduate school days at the University of Virginia, where she received her M.A. and Ph.D. Her book Gender and Race in Antebellum Popular Culture was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. Dr. Roth created the Nat Turner Project in 2015 with significant assistance from her undergraduate research assistant at Widener University, Taylor O'Connor. She has written about the revolt for the History News Network and appeared in the documentary Rise Up: The Legacy of Nat Turner on National Geographic.
Sarah N. Roth, Ph.D.
Professor of History