The Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia),
November 25, 1831
THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER:
Mr. T.R. Gray’s pamphlet of “The Confessions of Nat Turner, the leader of the late Insurrection in Southampton,” has been published at Baltimore. It makes 22 pages. – It professes to give, from the Bandit’s own lips, the circumstances which formed him a leader and fanatic. It sketches the commencement, progress and termination, of an Insurrection, the bare recital of which makes the blood run cold. The description of the butchery of the whites is terrific. We cannot make copious extracts from it, because it is put under a copy right. But we may be permitted, without infringing on the author’s privilege, to copy the following incidents:-
“And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work – and until the first sign appeared, I should conceal it from the knowledge of men. – And on the appearance of the sign, (the eclipse of the sun last February.) I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons. And immediately on the sign appearing in the heavens, the seal was removed from my lips, and I communicated the great work laid out for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence. (Henry, Hark, Nelson, and Sam.) – It was intended by us to have begun the work of death on the 4th July last – Many were the plans formed and rejected by us, and it affected my mind to such a degree, that I fell sick, and the time passed without our coming to any determination how to commence. – Still forming new schemes and rejecting them, when the sign appeared again, which determined me not to wait longer,” [the strange appearance of the sun!]
“Hark got a ladder and set in against the chimney, on which I ascended, and hoisting a window, entered and came down stairs, unbarred the door, and removed the guns from their places. It was then observed that I must spill the first blood. On which, armed with a hatchet, and accompanied by Will, I entered my master’s chamber: it being dark, I could not give a death-blow, the hatchet glanced from his head, he sprang form the bed and called his wife: it was his last word. Will laid him dead, with a blow of his axe, and Mrs. Travis shared the same fate, as she lay in bed. The murder of his family, five in number, was the work of a moment, not one of them awoke: there was a little infant sleeping in a cradle, that was forgotten, until we had left the house and gone some distance, when Henry and Will returned and killed it; we got here, four guns that would shoot, and several old muskets, with a pound or two of powder.”
“From Mr. Reese’s we went to Mrs. Turner’s a mile distant, which we reached about sunrise, on Monday morning. Henry Austin and Sam, went to the still, where, finding Mr. Peebles, Austin shot him, and the rest of us went to the house; as we approached, the family discovered us, and shut the door. Vain hope! Will, with one stroke of his axe, opened it, and we entered and found Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Newsome in the middle of a room, almost frightened to death. Will immediately killed Mrs. Turner, with one blow of his axe. I took Mrs. Newsome by the hand, and with the sword I had when I was apprehended, I stuck her several blows over the head, but not being able to kill her, as the sword was dull. Will turning round and discovering it, dispatched her also. – A general destruction of property and search for money and ammunition, always succeeded the murders.”
“All the family were already murdered, but Mrs. Whitehead and her daughter Margaret. As I came round to the door I saw Will pushing Mrs. Whitehead out of the house, and at the step he nearly severed her head from her body, with his broad axe. Miss Margaret, when I discovered her, had concealed herself in the corner, formed by the projection of the cellar-cap from the house; on my approach she fled, but was soon overtaken, and after repeated blows with the sword, I killed her by a blow on the head with a fence rail.”
What wretches! This monster Will, furnishes deeds that would suit the pencil of Salvator Rosa.
One confession of Nat Turner is important:
He was asked, “if he knew of any extensive or concerted plan. His answer was, I do not. When I questioned him as to the insurrection in North Carolina happening about the same time, he denied any knowledge of it; and when I looked him in the face as through I would search his inmost thoughts, he replied, “‘I see sir, you doubt my word; but can you not think the same ideas, and strange appearances about his time in the heavens might prompt others, as well as myself, to this undertaking?’"
The pamphlet has one defect – we mean its style. The confession of the culprit is given, as it were, from his own lips – (and when read to him, he admitted its statements to be correct) – but the language is far superior to what Nat Turner could have employed – Portions of it are even eloquently and classically expressed. – This is calculated to cast some shade of doubt over the authenticity of the narrative, and to give the Bandit a character for intelligence which he does not deserve, and ought not to have received. – In all other respects, the confession appears to be faithful and true. The who pamphlet is deeply interesting! – It ought to warn Garrison and the other fanatics of the North how they meddle with these weak wretches.