Friday, May 25, 2012

Nat Turner’s Rebellion Essay

Nat Turner’s Rebellion Essay

Nat Turner’s rebellion was made possible by a unique combination of his personal traits and general and specific circumstances which existed in the American South during his lifetime. As concerns the general situation in the state of Virginia at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, many whites owned slaves who had to work hard, usually on plantations, for mean sustenance and were scared into obedience by religious rhetoric. Slaves had to start working at the age of twelve, and this was the age Nat was separated from his master’s children with whom he used to play. Children of slaves were not getting any of education their white counterparts did.

However, there were sporadic riots in several places, which perhaps contributed to Turner’s determination to start a rebellion. The incident when two white guards were murdered while transporting slaves through the town might have produced the most significant influence. Furthermore, the fact that Blacks were free in the North also had an impact on the frame of mind prevailing in Virginia. When Turner was nine, his father escaped to the North, and nobody heard from him ever since.

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Another factor at play was religion. While most whites were persuading slaves that their condition was created and approved by God, there were certain religious groups who spoke against slavery, for example, the Quakers. As a consequence, some white were choosing to grant their slaves freedom, and this was sometimes happening in Southampton County as well. Some Methodists and Baptist were also against slavery at the beginning, yet that changed as time went by.

The specific situation of Turner and his fellows was changing dramatically several times. When his first master died, and all the slaves became the property of his son, their work routines underwent a significant change. The new master made slaves toil even harder than they had before. However, both masters recognized Turner’s exceptional intelligence and spirit; it was often discussed that Nat should be granted freedom. Yet when Nat was sold to Thomas Moore, it became evident that freedom was a pipe dream for most slaves in the South at that point of time.

While many Blacks were discontent with their personal situation, it took a leader of Turner’s caliber to stage a large-scale rebellion. Even when Nat was a child, he was discovered to have a mark which is regarded as a sign of leadership potential, according to African beliefs. Apart from this quality, Turner’s religiosity was another important factor. He used the word of God to explain to his fellow slaves the principles of civil rights, equality and dignity. Slaves from neighboring plantation flocked to listen to what he had to say. However, these outstanding leadership capabilities did not help Turner to elaborate a detailed plan of the rebellion and think about its ultimate goals.

Perhaps the most interesting question to be answered in the context of this essay is whether Turner’s ways of conducting the rebellion were justified. At first, Nat refused to take a life, so it was Will, one of his closest companions, who killed Turner’s master. As the rebellion unfolded, it became very violent as slaves murdered whites, including children, and plundered their houses. At the end of the night when the rebellion took place, many slaves turned out to be drunk and disoriented; many appeared not to subscribe to the abolition agenda at all and to be motivated by the desire to avenge their masters.

On the one hand, the situation of slaves as intolerable, and their revolt was a sign of desperation. They would not have been able to achieve anything by peaceful means only. However, from a historical perspective, it turned out that the legacy of Turner’s rebellion was not powerful enough to propel a real change. While the state of Virginia has briefly considered abolition as a means of preventing further conflicts of the kind, slavery was not repealed. In fact, the events of 1831 caused a backlash: as more literature in support of abolition was published, slave owners decided that education could be dangerous for Blacks, thus it was prohibited to teach slaves to read or write.

At the same time, it would be incorrect to state that Turner’s rebellion did not produce any important legacy. Changes in the mindset of slaves and slave owners started to take place. It was one of the first instances when Blacks asserted their power in an aggressive and highly visible way. Therefore, Nat Turner has secured a special place in the American history, and he should be recognized as a prominent fighter for slaves’ rights by generations to come.
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