The History of Black Abolition Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831)

‘Was not Christ crucified.’
Nathaniel Turner

Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831) was a revolutionary philosopher, religious leader, radical activist, military general, freedom-fighter, and prophet who was born into slavery in Virginia, USA. A Founding Father of Black revolutionary heroism, he led one of the most renowned wars against slavery by enslaved men in United States history. After Turner was executed by a white enslaving and white supremacist United States government, a white lawyer, Thomas R. Gray published ‘The Confessions of Nat Turner’, in 1831. He wrote this book after interviewing Nathaniel Turner during his last days in jail and while he was awaiting his execution. In hard-hitting condemnation of the persecutions he endured at the hands of his white enslaving torturers, Turner powerfully stated, ‘Was not Christ crucified.’


‘Agreeable to his own appointment, on the evening he was committed to prison, with permission of the jailer, I visited NAT on Tuesday the 1st November, when, without being questioned at all, commenced his narrative in the following words:--

SIR,--You have asked me to give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it--To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born. I was thirty-one years of age the 2d of October last, and born the property of Benj. Turner, of this county. In my childhood a circumstance occurred which made an indelible impression on my mind, and laid the ground work of that enthusiasm, which has terminated so fatally to many, both white and black, and for which I am about to atone at the gallows. It is here necessary to relate this circumstance--trifling as it may seem, it was the commencement of that belief which has grown with time, and even now, sir, in this dungeon, helpless and forsaken as I am, I cannot divest myself of. 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 I born--I stuck to my story, however, and related somethings which went, in her opinion, to confirm it--others being called on were greatly astonished, knowing that these things had happened, and caused them to say in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet, as the Lord had shewn me things that had happened before my birth. And my father and mother strengthened me in this my first impression, saying in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose, which they had always thought from certain marks on my head and breast… my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house, and whom I often saw at prayers, noticing the singularity of my manners, I suppose, and my uncommon intelligence for a child, remarked I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave...

The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet--but to the astonishment of the family, one day, when a book was shewn me to keep me from crying, I began spelling the names of different objects--this was a source of wonder to all in the neighborhood, particularly the blacks--and this learning was constantly improved at all opportunities--when I got large enough to go to work, while employed, I was reflecting on many things that would present themselves to my imagination, and whenever an opportunity occurred of looking at a book, when the school children were getting their lessons, I would find many things that the fertility of my own imagination had depicted to me before; all my time, not devoted to my master's service, was spent either in prayer, or in making experiments in casting different things in moulds made of earth, in attempting to make paper, gunpowder, and many other experiments...

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.’

...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.’