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Historical FAQs

about the Southampton Revolt

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 In some respects, the historical documents available about the revolt raise as many questions as they answer.


The collection of primary sources in this archive allows you to create your own interpretations of the rebellion, its participants, its targets, and its enigmatic leader.


Below are some of the questions you might think about as you explore the documents in this site. For decades, historians have wrestled with these same questions.  They, too, face inconclusive and conflicting evidence from unreliable, and heavily biased sources. 


What kind of person was Nat Turner? Was he a heroic freedom fighter? A misguided religious fanatic? A cold-blooded killer?

Did slaves beyond the Cross Keys neighborhood know about the rebellion beforehand? Were slaves from several counties involved in a plot to overthrow the slave system?

What were Nat Turner's motives in starting the revolt?

Why did the original band of rebels decide to join the revolt?

Did the enslaved people the rebels encountered as they moved from house to house support the revolt? Were they horrified by it?

How many slaves joined the rebels? How many took action to protect their masters and mistresses, and why did they do so?

Were there free African Americans involved in the revolt? If so, what was their role? Why and how did they become involved?

Did Turner and his confidantes have a clear plan and a clear objective in mind when planning the rebellion?

Were Nat Turner and his men part of a more extensive plot to overthrow the system of slavery that involved slaves from all over Southeastern Virginia and North Carolina?

How widespread was the destruction of black lives in the aftermath of the insurrection? How many slaves and free blacks not directly involved in the rebellion did whites kill indiscriminately?

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