Nat Turner's Early Life

by Timothy Peckinpaugh

Nathaniel Turner led the only successful slave rebellion in the history of the United States. Turner was executed for his efforts, but his rebellion not only led to increased tensions between the two factions of the nation, culminating in the Civil War, it also led to harsher terms for enslaved people, new slave codes that prohibited the education of slaves and increased hostilities between abolitionists and pro-slavery supporters.

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Early Slave Life

Nat Turner was born on October 2, 1800, into a life of slavery in Southampton County, Virginia. He was born on the plantation of Benjamin Turner; the common practice of the time was to give slaves the surnames of their owners. During his young life, he was sold three separate times after the death of Benjamin Turner, and finally hired to work for John Travis. Nat Turner believed he saw prophecies, and even after escaping the Turner plantation, he returned for he believed a prophecy told him to do so.

Early Education

Benjamin Turner allowed for Nat Turner to be educated, which was an uncommon occurrence for the time. Nat Turner became literate and learned religious practices as well. Turner's education led him to be a well-respected and charismatic figure within the slave community at Benjamin Turner's plantation. Turner's claim of witnessing prophecies led many to believe he had a sacrosanct quality, and caused Turner himself to believe he was divinely chosen to lead a slave insurrection.

Turner's Rebellion

In February of 1831, Turner witnessed a solar eclipse which he read as a sign from God that he should begin the rebellion, which he originally planned for July 4th. Due to an illness, Turner postponed the rebellion until the 21st of August of that year. He led a rebellion of around 40 slaves, who killed the entire Travis family, and then went on to kill 55 people before being suppressed by Federal troops.

Consequences of Turner's Rebellion

Turner escaped and hid until October 30, when he was captured and executed. The rebellion led to further tensions between the North and the South, and precipitated the Civil War.

About the Author

A resident of Riverside, California, Timothy Peckinpaugh began writing in 2006 for U.S. History Publishers, based in Temecula, California. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor's degree in English.