Nat Turner's Bible
Americans held conflicting ideas about the slave system in 1831. Virginia slaveholders in Nat Turner’s time would have been familiar with the argument that slavery should be seen as a benevolent, Christianizing institution. Proslavery treatises encouraged masters to instruct their slaves in Christianity to minimize the risk of slave revolt. Members of the American Colonization Society, on the other hand, believed slaveholders should voluntarily emancipate their slaves and send them to Africa. Many Virginians, black and white, supported the colonization movement, as did Americans from other slaveholding, as well as non-slaveholding, states.
By 1831, some Americans had offered plans for the gradual emancipation of slavery, a notion that originally grew out of the colonization movement. Beginning with free black abolitionists in the North, a small minority of Americans had also recently begun to promote the immediate emancipation of all slaves. Enslaved people themselves, of course—including Nat Turner—used biblical passages to support their own beliefs about freedom for the enslaved and justice for the oppressed, through the use of violence if necessary.