Nat Turner and the Haitian Revolution

In consequence of the alarming increase of the Black population at the South, fears have been long entertained, that it might one day be the unhappy lot of the whites, in that section, to witness scenes similar to those which but a few years since, nearly depopulated the once flourishing island of St. Domingo of its white inhabitants — but, these fears have never been realized even in a small degree, until the fatal morning of the 22d of August last, when it fell to the lot of the inhabitants of a thinly settled township of Southampton county (Virginia) to witness a scene horrid in the extreme! — when FIFTY FIVE innocent persons (mostly women and children) fell victims to the most inhuman barbarity. The melancholy and bloody event was as sudden and unexpected, as unprecedented for cruelty — for many months previous an artful black, down by the name of NAT TURNER, (a slave of Mr. Edward Travis) who had been taught to read and write, and who hypocritically and the better to enable him to effect his nefarious designs, assumed the character of a Preacher, and as such was sometimes permitted to visit and associate himself with many of the Plantation Negroes, for the purpose … of christianizing and to teach them the propriety of their remaining faithful and obedient to their masters; but, in reality, to persuade and to prepare them in the most sly and artful manner to become they instruments of their slaughter! — in this too he well succeeded, by representing to the poor deluded wretches the Blessings of Liberty, and the inhumanity and justice of their being forced like brutes fro the land of their nativity, and doomed without fault or crime to perpetual bondage, and by those who were not more entitled to their liberty than themselves! — he too represented to them the happy effects which had attended the united efforts of their brethren in St. Domingo, and elsewhere, and encouraged them with the assurance that a similar effort on their part, could not fail to produce a similar effect, and not only restore them to liberty but would produce them wealth and ease!

Samuel Warner. Authentic narrative of the tragical scene which was witnessed in Southampton Country, Virginia, on Monday the 22d of August las, when fifty-five of its inhabitants were massacred by the Blacks, etc. (1831).

Another startling document that linked the events in the French West Indies with the violent overthrow of slavery in the United States was the letter received in Southampton County, Virginia, shortly after the Nat Turner revolt. It was forwarded to the governor of Virginia, James Floyd, who used it in his annual message to the state legislature to prove that outsiders were bent upon destroying Slavery in the South. “Nero” begins the letter pointedly: “Oppression and revenge are two prominent traits in human character; and as long as the former exists, the latter is justifiable.” The author, referring to both St. Domingue and Haiti, state the “our object is to seek revenge for indignities and abuses received– and to sell our live[s] at as a high a price as possible.” Nero assured blacks that they were strong enough and well armed enough to begin their retribution, and that “Hayti offers an asylum for those who survive the approaching carnage.

Alfred N. Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America (1988)

…the recollections of St. Domingo were still vivid in 1831.

William Sidney Drewry, The Southampton Insurrection (1900).

Also see:

Southampton County, Virginia: Court of Oyer and Terminer Trials, August 31 – November 21, 1831, The Nat Turner Project.

Thomas R. Gray, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831).

Henry Bibb, Slave Insurrection in Southampton County, VA., headed by Nat Turner (1850)

The Nat Turner Insurrection, Anglo-African Magazine (1859)

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Nat Turner’s Insurrection,” The Atlantic (1861) and Black Rebellion: Five Slave Revolts (1998)

“After Nat Turner: A Letter from the North,” The Journal of Negro History (1970). [$$]

Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “Nat Turner & his confederates in conference.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1863.

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