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The Southampton Insurrection
(Part 2)
By Nancy E. Sheppard

SHI2 imageNat Turner was a fervently religious man who inspired many of his fellow enslaved blacks in Southampton County, Virginia during the 1820's into the first two years of the 1830's. After generations of the cruelty, oppression, and inhumane treatment under the horrific institution of chattel slavery, Nat Turner believed he was given a sign from God to lead a charge against the white slaveholders of the county; to do God's bidding by making the them pay for the sins of slavery. No one would be spared, regardless of if they were a man, woman, or child.

On the evening of August 20, 1831, Nat met with several other fellow slaves in the woods near the plantation of his owner, Joseph Travis. They indulged in a meal of roasted pork and brandy;finalizing their plans for the grizzly bidding they were driven to do that night. As the sun fell in the horizon and the hot August day turned into a humid summer night, They crept towards the Travis home. Around two o'clock the next morning, Nat and fellow conspirator, Will, climbed a ladder propped against the home's brick chimney and in through an open second floor window. They quietly walked into their master's bedroom; broad axes clutched in their hands. Standing beside the bed, a glint of moonlight was all brightness to show Mr. Travis and his wife, sound asleep. Nat lifted his ax above his head and swung. He barely scraped the side of Joseph Travis' face. With that, his master leaped from his bed and began calling to rouse his wife. But the words barely left his lips when Will brandished his ax and swung it point blank towards Mr. Travis. The man crumpled to the ground; a pool of crimson blood cascading on the floor beneath him. Mrs. Travis had started stirring but wasn't yet awake when Will carried out the same deed upon her. He then left the room and the Travis children, slumbering soundly in their beds, were killed, along with their infant sibling.

The two met left the house in an eerily quiet state with the bodies of their master and his family left to rot where they slept. Nat could justify the deaths of the children and Mrs. Travis by saying they would have inherited them as property, thus propagating the institution of slavery. No one was innocent that night.

The men moved from farm to farm over the next twenty-four hours; killing, gathering supplies such as clothing and weapons, and inspiring more to join their cause. They rarely met resistance from fellow slaves and freed blacks. On the morning of August 23rd, they arrived at the plantation of Reverend Whitehead, who let Nat preach in his churchyard for many years. They found the man out in the cotton fields; tending to what yielded that season. Upon seeing the insurrectionists, he simply asked Nat, "Why?" Before he could answer, a fellow slave killed Reverend Whitehead; leaving him among his fields in the hot August morning. Inside the home, they killed Catherine and Margaret Whitehead. With the aid of a sympathetic slave, Harriet was able to avoid detection by hiding in a closet.

But with word spreading throughout the county of what the insurrectionists were doing, the local militia formed and began chasing them to their ultimate goal: Jerusalem (now Courtland). Nat thought that there, they could gather more weapons and supplies; leading the charge on a much larger scale. But soon, Nat's macabre "luck" would run out.

Check out next week's Yorktown Crier-Poquoson Post for the conclusion!


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