DBQ: Nat Turner’s Revolt Shakes the South
How did Nat Turner’s revolt affect the lives of slaves and the ongoing debate about slavery in the United States?
Nat Turner’s Revolt Shakes the South
In August 1831, Nat Turner led one of the most deadly slave revolts in American history. He and about 50 followers killed nearly 60 white people in Southampton County, Virginia, in a bloody three-day rampage. Although Turner and many of his followers were quickly caught, tried, and executed, his revolt had far-reaching repercussions.
Use your knowledge of the postwar era, and documents A, B, C, and D to answer the questions at the bottom and the essential question below.
“A fanatic preacher by the name of Nat Turner (Gen. Nat Turner) who had been taught to read and write, and permitted to go about preaching in the country, was at the bottom of this infernal brigandage. . . . We cannot say how long they were organizing themselves—but they turned out on last Monday early (the 22d) upon their nefarious expedition. . . . They were mounted to the number of 40 or 50; and with knives and axes— knocking on the head, or cutting the throats of their victims.”
—An account of the revolt from the newspaper The Richmond
Enquirer, August 30, 1831
“I have received this day another number of The Liberator, a newspaper printed in Boston, with the express intention of inciting the slaves and free negroes in this and the other States to rebellion and to murder the men, women, and children of those states. Yet we are gravely told that there is no law to punish such an offence. . . . If this is not checked it must lead to a separation of these states.”
—Diary entry of Virginia Governor John Floyd, September 27, 1831
“Not far from this time Nat Turner’s insurrection broke out; and the news threw our town [in North Carolina] into great commotion. . . . Those who never witnessed such scenes can hardly believe what I know was inflicted at this time on innocent men, women, and children, against whom there was not the slightest ground for suspicion. Colored people and slaves who lived in remote parts of the town suffered in an especial manner. . . . Every where men, women, and children were whipped till the blood stood in puddles at their feet.
Some received five hundred lashes. . . . The dwellings of the colored people, unless they happened to be protected by some influential white person, who was nigh at hand, were robbed of clothing and every thing else the marauders thought worth carrying away.”
—Harriet Jacobs, from her slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a
Slave Girl, Written by Herself
1. How might Nat Turner’s role as a preacher have been to his advantage in planning the revolt?
2. What attitude towards William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator do both Documents B and D show?
3. How did Nat Turner’s revolt affect Harriet Jacobs’ town in North Carolina, according to Document C?
4. Writing Task How did Nat Turner’s revolt affect the lives of slaves and the ongoing debate about slavery in the United States? Summarize the effects of the revolt. Use your knowledge of the time period and the documents above to support your main points.