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.