October is Black History Month, and to celebrate, we’re featuring someone who has influenced history every Wednesday and Saturday all through October. Our next instalment features Nat Turner.

Did you know that Nat Turner led a slave rebellion because he believed it was an act of God?

Nat Turner was an African-American slave who led a 2 day rebellion to free black slaves and highlight the brutality they suffered. He is remembered for his bravery and later became a Black Power icon.


Nat Turner’s Story

Nathaniel Turner was born a slave on 2nd October 1800 in Virginia. The plantation owner, Benjamin Turner, owned his mother. He was intelligent as a youth, and deeply religious. He was permitted to learn to read and write, and his studies of the Bible led him to become a minister. Even at this time he believed that he received messages from God in signs and visions.

At the age of 22, after he death of Benjamin Turner, he ran away from the plantation, only to return a month later following a religious vision, telling him that he was a prophet and that he would lead a rebellion.

There was a solar eclipse on 12 February 1831. Turner believed that this was a divine sign from God telling him to act, interpreting it as ‘a black man’s hand reaching over the sun’. He used this time to prepare his fellow slaves, gathering weapons and support, and on August 7 there was another solar eclipse, where the sun appeared to have a blue-green light. For Turner, this was the final sign.

Gathering fellow slaves, Turner led the rebellion that resulted in the slaughter of white people and freeing their slaves, amassing more rebels and weaponry as they went. The group of rebels, now 70 strong, killed around 60 white men, women and children. After 2 days, state militia quelled the rebellion.

Turner hid in the woods to elude capture, but he was discovered by a farmer on October 30. He was sentenced to death and hanged on November 5. In total, the stated executed 55 black people suspected of being involved in the rebellion. The hysteria surrounding the uprising led to fear and anger, and white militias and mobs murdered an estimated 120 black people, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion.

The incident led to harsher laws for slaves, such as prohibiting them from being educated, stemming from Turner’s intelligence. The rebellion marked a turning point in racial tensions, though he has been praised for his bravery and intent on highlighting the brutality against black slaves.