August 21

This Day in History

General Interest

Aug 21, 1831:

Slave revolt erupts in Virginia

Believing himself chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery, Nat Turner launches a bloody slave insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner, a slave and educated minister, 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. With seven followers, he slaughtered Joseph Travis, his slave owner, and Travis' family, and then set off across the countryside, hoping to rally hundreds of slaves to his insurrection en route to Jerusalem.

During the next two days and nights, Turner and 75 followers rampaged through Southampton County, killing about 60 whites. Local whites 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 were non-participants 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 slave revolt in U.S. history and led to a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the movement, assembly, and education of slaves.

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