Turner, an enslaved man and educated minister, believed that he was chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery. On August 21, 1831, he initiated his uprising by slaughtering Joseph Travis, his owner, and Travis’ family. With seven followers, Turner set off across the countryside, hoping to rally hundreds of enslaved people to join his insurrection. Turner planned to capture the county armory at Jerusalem, Virginia, and then march 30 miles to Dismal Swamp, where his rebels would be able to elude their pursuers.
During the next two days and nights, Turner and 75 followers rampaged through Southampton County, killing about 60 white people. Locals resisted the rebels, and then the state militia—consisting of some 3,000 men—crushed the rebellion. Only a few miles from Jerusalem, Turner and all his followers were dispersed, captured, or killed. In the aftermath of the rebellion, scores of African Americans were lynched, though many of them had not participated in the revolt. Turner himself was not captured until the end of October, and after confessing without regret to his role in the bloodshed, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. On November 11, he was hanged in Jerusalem.
Turner’s rebellion was the largest revolt of enslaved people in U.S. history and led to a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the movement, assembly and education of enslaved peoples.