The Life of Nat Turner: The Fires of Jubilee

The fires of Jubilee takes place in the 19th century. It’s about an extraordinary man who who lived during this time and all the struggles he faced. It shows why he made the decisions he did while slavery was going on in the world.

Their were different levels of slave owners, this depended on how many slaves a person owned and how big their plantation was. For example, some 15 men owned fifty slaves or more which classified them as aristocrats. Other men who owned large plantations with about 145 slaves placed them in the Old south’s elite. Most of Southampton’s slave owners resided on modest farms, some fighting to climb up the social and economic scale. Some just making a living selling crops and livestock. Average for an entire county was ten or eleven per slave owning family. Whites were generally good to their slaves but little did they know trouble was brewing in Southampton’s backwoods, in the slave cabins northwest of cross keys.

Nat Turner was born on October 17, 1800 in South Hampton county, Virginia. Nancy, his mother, was brought to America in 1795 because of a terrible insurrection raging down on the French island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, she was purchased by a man named Benjamin Turner who was a very wealthy man. When she married another slave and had Nat instead of wanting to watch him grow up she wanted to kill him and end his life so he didn’t have to grow up a slave. As he grew up he played with Turners sons just like any other innocent kid people started to see that he wasn’t a normal boy. He could remember things from when he was younger and he had these strange markings on his body. There was a legend that stated he would become a leader based on the markings he had. One day when Nat was crying, to stop him from doing so one of the slaves handed him a book from the big house to play with. Nat proceeded to spell out the names of objects in the volume. This was shocking because he had never been taught anything like being able to read. He caught Benjamin Turners eye, his owner. He stated, “he would never be of service to anyone as a slave.” (pg. 13)

After this Nat’s life changed completely. One surprise was when his father escaped slavery and was never to be seen again. The other surprise was when Nat turners owner Benjamin Turner past away. All the slaves, including Nat, and the farm was given to Benjamin’s oldest son Samuel turner. He was about twenty years old and used his religious beliefs to scare his slaves into listening to him. He taught the slaves that God was superior and that he actually encouraged slavery because whites were better than blacks. It was mainly for the slaves who didn’t obey and didn’t want to do anything.

A lot of Owners used religion to make their slaves cooperate but there were also some owners who didn’t feel right about the whole slave situation. This made them even more uneasy when the first slave rebellion happened, two white men were killed while transporting slaves. (pg. 15) This started the Gabriel Prosser conspiracy, which was an attempt to burn down Richmond and take the Governor hostage, though he was caught before he could even do anything. (pg. 17)

Nat worked for many years and years and grew more and more unlikeness to with how he lived. His only freedom was his religious beliefs. He spent ours a day preaching and praying and teaching other slaves about what he believed in. After a while Turner hired and overseer to watch over the slaves and make sure they were doing their job. This heavily angered Nat and he ran away that year. thirty days later he decided to return to the farm, he claimed a spirit told him to stay and serve his master. (pg. 26) Soon after, Samuel Turner died and along with his wife, cheery, were to be sold. (pg. 29) Nat was sold to a man named Thomas Moore for four hundred dollars. Moore was very kind but Nat was unfortunate because it stopped him from having any chance of becoming free, which his first owner talked to him about often. (pg. 31)

Now it was the summer time and Nat was more distant than he has ever been before. He spent his time in a cabin back in the woods study his religion. He tried to tell all the other slaves about how slavery was bad and that God had something better for them. He had visions where he saw blacks defeating whites. (pg. 36) He believed that one day this vision would actually come true and he would become free. He was waiting for the perfect moment. Although he told the slaves all about this his owners didn’t think anything of it. As long as he did his work every week they had nothing to complain about. He had slaves everywhere from different plantations to blacks all over the country
listening to him and talking about his rebellion. When he thought it was the right time all slaves were ready to back him up.

The next major thing has to do with the governor John Floyd. He was a supporter of states rights and favored abolishment in his states. On this day, however he would face a difficult challenge of his career. (pg. 61) Back in Southampton County, Nat’s master is on his way to church, Slaves were usually left unwatched at this time because their owners were socializing after church. Nat met with some of his friends at cabin pond back in the woods. They were all different but had one thing in common, they hated whites. This is what brought all of them together. (pg. 66) Their were seven friends that met with him that day, and they had very simple plans. They would get up at night a murder white people, no one would be aloud to get away. Nat was sure that all blacks would join him in this raid and help him defeat the whites. He thought that good would begin to help him after he started to do what he planned.

It was sometime after midnight when they set out, Nat and his small army set out for their first person. He started with his own owner, as they were walking they stopped at the slave quarters so gather more people to help in his plan. Nat did not want to be the first one to kill so he had a man named Will to murder his owner while he was sleeping, Nat just watched. (pg. 70) For the first time in his life Nat was a free man. And now they continued, they moved from farm to farm murdering any whites they had encountered. Each farm they went to they gathered more blacks to join in on this massacre and kill all the whites. At this point he had a pretty big army who were armed with better weapons which had been stolen from every house they took over. When his army had grown even more he split it so they could increase the amount of killings they were doing. Sometimes, when he arrived at other farms, slaves would refuse to help in and actually fight back. He was surprised that the rebellion didn’t sink in to a lot of other slaves. A couple slaves escaped from the raid to tell friends and family what was going on before it was too late. The next day word had spread about the rebellion and when they arrived at most of the farms they were vacant from families fleeing to get away. (pg. 77) They stayed in Jerusalem, hoping to save themselves from Nat Turners army. Meanwhile they finished their attacks.

Nat stayed behind the entire time planning what he could do next. During this whole act he had only killed one person, a young girl who he beat with only his hands. By now the army’s were headed towards Jerusalem but many of Nat’s troops, about fourty, were to drunk to fight. They could barely shoot guns and even ride their horses. This angered him because they were not disciplined but he kept on moving forward. The Virginia militia were ready to fight off all the rebels, they had about two hundred men. When they had finally met Nat’s forced were pummeled, about twenty men including Nat Turner retreated to a plantation close by. He tried to get more slaves but to his surprise they turned on him. Soon the only person left in his rebellion was himself. (pg.82) Back in Jerusalem all the blacks captured were hung to their death. After a couple weeks Nat was still at large with many whites looking for him to get revenge. (pg. 103-107)

On September 17th Floyd issued an official proclamation reward of Nat’s capture, he offered five hundred dollars to anybody who would help out with getting Nat into the Southampton County jail. One night Nat was walking through the woods, thinking about what he was going to do next with his life and how he was going to survive when he heard something. He stopped and looked around to see what it but it was just a dog. He knew their would be people looking for him and that he had to be more careful. On October 30th Nat decided to dig another cave to hide in while the white men were out searching for him. He got out to fix his cave and peaked his head out only to find a white man pointing a shot gun at him. He stopped and looked around to see what it was and was startled when he saw a white man pointing a shotgun at him. The man captured him just like the other blacks and took him back to Jerusalem to await his trial.

While he was in prison, his lawyer, Thomas Gray asked Nat if he would agree to being interviewed. ( pg. 120) Nat thought this to be and opportunity to tell the world why he wanted to do this and to be accepted by everyone again. With Grey writing as rapidly as he can, Nat began. He began to explain his whole story and how god and all the people affected his life. The interview was published in 1831 then convicted and executed on November 11. Nat was not the last black man tried for the Southampton insurrection. In all some fifty blacks stood trial in Southampton’s courts, and twenty-one including Nat Turner were hung. Everyone says his rebellion was the cost of the lives of 60 whites, and over 200 blacks. Many were killed after word of the rebellion got out and whites tried to get revenge by murdering as many blacks as they could.

The effects of Nat Turner’s Rebellion were astonishing. The thoughts of many plantation owners totally changed as a result of what he did. Many owners thought that slaves would never think about hurting them, until Nat came along. He scared all the owners and took away the trust slaves received. From then on they were thought of as bad people who had to be watched. The Virginia state legislature actually considered freeing all slaves to avoid future conflict so this would never happen again. Of course it never happened but it was the first time they had ever had a discussion about this. Many slave holders blamed the rebellion on the abolishment movement.

The rebellion did not end with the public hangings of the blacks in Virginia and North Carolina. It was still talked about because of a man named William Loyd Garrison who began publishing “The Liberator”. In this he wrote many things that some southerners couldn’t bare to hear. He demanded that slaves deserved life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just like white people and asserted that slavery violated the sacred ideals of the Declaration of Independence. For Floyd, these documents were incriminating and profoundly revealing. Some thought this attributed to the killings. Laws were passed teaching slaves to read and write. An educated slave could be a dangerous slave. And after a while, Nat’s rebellion was finished with.

Many people didn’t really care about it anymore. People only had a couple of slaves anyone and didn’t really worry about this happening again. Newspapers also joined into the debate, prompting the Richmond Whig to announce that “Nat Turner and the blood of his innocent victims have conquered the silence of fifty years. Nat Turners rebellion was a critical turning point in American history, especially to Southern history. It changed the thoughts of many people and some people lived like nothing happened. If this event never happened just think how America would be right now.