Year
1831
Month Day
August 21

Nat Turner launches massive insurrection in Virginia

Believing himself chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery, Nat Turner launches a bloody insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner, an enslaved man 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 owner, and Travis’ family, and then set off across the countryside, hoping to rally hundreds of enslaved people 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 enslaved people 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 rebellion of enslaved people in U.S. history and led to a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the movement, assembly and education of enslaved people.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Tags
terms:
Riots

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is founded

On August 21, 1980, animal rights advocates Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco found People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Rising from humble beginnings, PETA will soon become the world’s foremost and most controversial animal rights organization. Newkirk’s interest in ...read more

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect on August 21, 1974. The new law addressed civil rights issues in education, barring states from discriminating against students based on gender, race, color, or nationality and requiring public schools to provide for students ...read more

Bloody Ban Tarleton born in Britain

On August 21, 1754, Banastre Tarleton is born as the fourth child of John Tarleton, the former lord mayor of Liverpool, and a money lender, merchant and slave trader. After completing his education at Oxford, Tarleton became the most feared officer in the British army during the ...read more

Jomo Kenyatta, Kenyan independence leader, is freed from prison

Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenyan independence movement, is released by British colonial authorities after nearly nine years of imprisonment and detention. Two years later, Kenya achieved independence and Kenyatta became prime minister. Once portrayed as a menacing symbol of ...read more

Lincoln-Douglas debates begin

Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and one-time U.S. representative from Illinois, begin a series of famous public encounters on the issue of slavery. The two politicians, the former a Northern Democrat and the latter a Republican, ...read more

Hawaii becomes 50th state

The modern United States receives its crowning star when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs a proclamation admitting Hawaii into the Union as the 50th state. The president also issued an order for an American flag featuring 50 stars arranged in staggered rows: five six-star ...read more

Antiwar protestors raid draft offices

Antiwar protestors associated with the Catholic Left raid draft offices in Buffalo, New York, and Camden, New Jersey, to confiscate and destroy draft records. The FBI and local police arrested 25 protestors. ...read more

Michael Phelps wins eighth medal

On August 21, 2004, American swimmer Michael Phelps wins his eighth medal of the 2004 Athens Olympics in spite of sitting out his eighth scheduled event, the final of the 4 x 100-meter medley relay. Phelps left Athens with six gold and two bronze medals. His eight total medals ...read more

Christopher Robin’s birthday

Daphne Milne, wife of writer A.A. Milne, gives birth to a son, who the couple name Christopher Robin Milne on August 21, 1920. Christopher Robin will be immortalized in A.A. Milne’s books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. A.A. Milne was born in London in 1882, the ...read more

Gas cloud kills Cameroon villagers

An eruption of lethal gas from Lake Nyos in Cameroon kills nearly 2,000 people and wipes out four villages on August 21, 1986. Carbon dioxide, though ubiquitous in Earth’s atmosphere, can be deadly in large quantities, as was evident in this disaster. Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun ...read more

Theft of "Mona Lisa" is discovered

An amateur painter sets up his easel near Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, only to discover that the masterpiece is missing. Earlier in the day, in perhaps the most brazen art theft of all time, Vincenzo Perugia had walked into the Louvre, removed the famed ...read more

Attempted coup against Gorbachev collapses

Just three days after it began, the coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev collapses. Despite his success in avoiding removal from office, Gorbachev’s days in power were numbered. The Soviet Union would soon cease to exist as a nation and as a Cold War threat to the United ...read more

Guerillas massacre residents of Lawrence, Kansas

The vicious guerilla war in Missouri spills over into Kansas and precipitates one of the most appalling acts of violence during the war when 150 men in the abolitionist town of Lawrence are murdered in a raid by Southern partisans. The Civil War took a very different form in ...read more

Olds Motor Works founded

Ransom Eli Olds of Lansing, Michigan, founds Olds Motors Works—which will later become Oldsmobile—on August 21, 1897. Born in Geneva, Ohio, in 1864, Olds went to work for his family’s machine-repair and engine-building business in 1883. In 1896, Olds completed his first ...read more

The seeds of the United Nations are planted

On August 21, 1944, representatives from the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China meet in the Dumbarton Oaks estate at Georgetown, Washington, D.C., to formulate the formal principles of an organization that will provide collective security on a worldwide ...read more