USW34: The Civil War from Nat Turner to Birth of a Nation Lecture 3: Slave Revolts
Two types of slave rebellions: 1.Slaves attack masters (prior to rise of antislavery thought in 18 th century). a.Spartacus, near Rome (71 C.E.) b.Zanj, North Africa (869 C.E.) c.Caribbean Maroons before 18 th century. 2.Slaves attack masters & slavery as an institution— from Slave Rebellion to Slave Revolution. a.Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) b.“Baptist War, Jamaica (1831-32)
In North America, two major slave rebellions prior to Nat Turner (many conspiracies): 1.Stono Rebellion of 1739 (near Charleston S.C.) a.Possibly a revolution. 2.Louisiana Slave Rebellion of 1811 a.Probably a revolution.
1.Abolitionism is began as an idea of universal freedom, articulated through language, that emerged in the eighteenth century and propelled people to act. It ultimately changed the world. 2.Most abolitionists in America and Britain (black and white, men and women) saw themselves as prophets heeding God’s will, paving the way to a new millennium.
3. Abolitionists’ visions of millennium took different forms: A. Distant future, over long period of time (gradualist, 1770s-1820s). Richard Allen, Prince Hall, Phillis Wheatley B. Impending, at hand (immediatist, 1820s—1860s) Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, David Walker C. Advent peaceful (1000 years of peace and harmony and ending with judgment day and Christ’s Second Coming): postmillenialism. D. Begin with violence (apocalypse and Christ’s Second Coming, then 1,000 years of peace and harmony): premillennialism.
Millennialism is important because: a)Abolitionists defined their struggle against slavery as a holy war; they viewed it in apocalyptic terms. b)Most Americans defined the Civil War as a holy war; they viewed the war in apocalyptic terms—a battle “against Michael and his angels against Satan” (Douglass) c)Millennialist visions encourage people to collapse traditional hierarchies and binaries: 1.Master-slave 2.White-black 3.Civilized-savage 4.Heaven-earth
Being at play with other children, when three or four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother overhearing, said it had happened before I was born—I stuck to my story, however, and related something which went to confirm it. Others... said in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet, as the Lord had shown me things that had happened before my birth.
I was struck with the particular passage which says: “Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.” I reflected much on this passage, and prayed daily for light on this subject. As I was praying one day at my plough, the spirit spoke to me, saying “Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.” I was greatly astonished, and for two years prayed continually, whenever my duty would permit—and then again I had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.
About this time I had a vision—and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened—the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams—and I heard a voice saying, “Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bare it.”
I sought more than ever to obtain true holiness before the great day of judgment should appear, and then I began to receive the true knowledge of faith. And from the first steps of righteousness until the last, was I made perfect; and the Holy Ghost was with me, and said, “Behold me as I stand in the Heavens.”
Shortly afterwards, while laboring in the field, I discovered drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven—and I communicated it to many, both white and black, in the neighborhood—and I then found on the leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes, portrayed in blood, and representing the figures I had seen before in the heavens. Now the Holy Ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me. For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth,... it was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand.
And on the 12 th of May, 1828, I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the spirit instantly appeared to me and said the serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first. The signs in the heavens intended us to have begun the work of death on 4 th July last (1831).
It was observed that I must spill the first blood. Armed with a hatchet, and accompanied by Will [a comrade], I entered my master’s chamber. It being dark, I could not give a death blow. The hatchet glanced from his head. He sprang from the bed and called his wife. It was his last word. Will laid him dead with a blow of his axe, and Mrs. Travis shared the same fate as she lay in bed. The murder of this family, five in number, was the work of a moment. Not one of them awoke. There was a little infant sleeping in a cradle, that was forgotten, until we had left the house and gone some distance, when Henry and Will returned and killed it.
Legacies of Nat Turner’s Rebellion 1)Virginia Legislature considers emancipation 2)Retaliation against blacks (violence begets violence) 3)Rise of proslavery thought. 4)South silences abolitionist voices 5)Southerners link Turner to Garrison and Northern abolitionists 6)Turner embraced by black abolitionists and some whites as martyr. 7)Specter of slave rebellions haunt Southerners. 8)Rebellions are suicidal. 9)Dramatizes prophetic / millennialist influences 10)Higher law.