August 22, 1831 – Nat Turner’s Rebellion

In late August of 1831 in Southampton County Virginia, the 30-year-old slave Nat Turner, inspired by visions and signs, led a group of other slave rebels –eventually more than forty – who began to kill all of the white people they encountered.

By the time the rebel force was captured, some 55-60 white people had died. White mobs responded by rounding up some 200 blacks (none of whom were known to have been involved at all), who were burned alive, beheaded, and/or lynched. Severed heads were mounted on stakes along a country road, the location of which is still identified as Blackhead Signpost Road.

Turner had initially escaped, but was eventually discovered, tried, and sentenced to die. He was hanged on November 11, 1831, decapitated, and skinned. Strips of his skin were used to make souvenir purses.

In the aftermath of the slave rebellion, the Virginia General Assembly passed new legislation making it unlawful to teach slaves, free blacks, or mulattoes to read or write. The General Assembly also passed a law restricting all blacks from holding religious meetings without the presence of a licensed white minister. Other slave-holding states across the South enacted similar laws restricting activities of slaves and free blacks.

In 1991, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources erected the not entirely accurate marker shown below in Cross Keys, Virginia, in Southampton County.

Partially Truthful Road Marker on Maherrin Road (Virginia Route 35) south of Cross Keys Road in Southampton County, Virginia

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13 Responses to August 22, 1831 – Nat Turner’s Rebellion

  1. Julie P. says:

    I think I was only taught the sanitized version of this story!

  2. zibilee says:

    I have never heard this story before, so thanks for sharing it with us. It seems like a shame from both angles, really.

  3. Sandy says:

    OMG. It isn’t enough that they hanged him, but they had to desicrate his body too? Makes you wonder if the world was run by sociopaths. Thank you, as ever, for educating us!

  4. Oh wow, this is a really interesting post. Thanks for this as well as the photos.

  5. Margot says:

    I wonder about the sign maker. Looks like a state PR person wrote it. My other thought concerned the purses. What kind of person could carry a purse made of human skin? Yuck.

  6. Jenners says:

    Oh that sign is just something else. And souvenir purses made out of skin?

  7. Jenny says:

    Ew, I must have blocked this out. I remember this story being pretty appalling in history class, but nothing about peeling off skin for purses.

  8. This was just so shocking to read. Just unbelievable when some endured at that time.

  9. Care says:

    yowza. Apalling. and sad.

  10. Barbara says:

    One of the old books on my shelves is The Confession of Nat Turner but I can’t seem to find it right now. I read the story years ago and found it fascinating. Brave man but very tragic ending to his story.

  11. Matthew says:

    Thank you for the reminder of this event. It was taught in passing in my high school US history course. All I remember is that the rebels spared almost no one whom they encountered. A small child who hid in a fireplace was among the few survivors.

  12. Veens says:

    Horrible and shocking. I had no idea about this.

  13. Ceri says:

    So fascinating. I always learrn so much about your blog … especially when it comes to American history. We learned barely anything about US history in school.

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