Slavery in the Nineteenth Century

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Who was Nat Turner, and why was he significant to this resistance?

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Nat Turner was a Virginian slave. In 1831, he spearheaded one of the deadliest slave revolts in the United States. Nat Turner's contribution to the slave resistance was significant for this reason: his efforts sparked future slave rebellions in the South and precipitated the advance of the Civil War.

On the night of August 21, 1831, Nat Turner and his peers killed their slave owners with axes. They then made their way to other plantations to free other slaves. The slave revolt sent a shock wave through Virginian society, and the call went out to the militia and army to quell the rebellion.

Turner and his peers closely guarded their plan to revolt. This is because previous rebellions were quashed after word got out. On August 21, 1831, Turner put into motion a surprise attack. He gathered a trusted few and began killing slave owners and their families. None in their path were spared; women and children were killed alongside the men. As Turner and his group arrived at each plantation, they begged the slaves to join them. Many did. However, many others balked at killing women and children.

For example, at Catherine Whitehead's plantation, the slaves actually foiled a rebel plan to kill Harriet Whitehead. Nat's men were only able to convince one slave to join them in their resistance. At another neighboring plantation, Nat's group failed to galvanize even a single slave to join them. In all, the Northampton County resistance was a small group effort at best.

On August 22, 1831, Nat Turner and his men met with violent resistance from the militia and military. Many of Nat's peers were captured. By the end of the next day, August 23, Turner's group was completely defeated. Turner himself remained at large. He was not captured until August 30. Immediately after his capture, he was interrogated and soon released what is today known as the Confessions of Nat Turner.

Nat Turner was significant to the antislavery resistance movement because his efforts constituted one of the first influential slave revolts in the country. His Northampton rebellion also precipitated the advance of the Civil War in the fight to eradicate slavery from the South.

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