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"The Southampton slave insurrection" from History of American Conspiracies

History of American ConspiraciesIn 1863, in the midst of the upheaval of the Civil War, Orville J. Victor published History of American Conspiracies, a Compendium of Treasonous and Rebellious Acts from 1760 to 1860, a work encompassing everything from Pontiac's rebellion to the treasons of Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. Nat Turner's rebellion earns an entire chapter, titled "The Southampton slave insurrection." Victor first emphasizes the importance of religion both to Turner as a man and to his success in initiating an uprising. Turner was a of a deeply religious bent, inborn from a young age, and, according to Victor, possessing a fervor and "power" that would have allowed him to be a "veritable Martin Luther" if he had not been born a slave. As it was, Turner saw portents from God that it was his calling to free blacks from oppression through violent insurrection. When the signs told Turner the time was right, he "harangued the men in his earnest, moving rhetoric, depicting the wretchedness of the negroes’ lot, and proving by Scripture that he was called to disenthrall." His religious fervor and impassioned rhetoric was enough to inspire his seven initial followers to join him in the killing of their white masters.

While illustrating Turner's profound religious understanding and charismatic ability to gain followers, Victor consistently highlights the way slavery shaped Turner's intelligence and religion, turning them to purpose of freedom. Victor laments what a man of Turner's skills could have been, if born free. Slavery limited the outlets Turner had for his sharp intelligence and deep religious convictions. Without the constructive uses a free man might have made of such mental advantages, Turner was left no choice but to turn against the institution of slavery. When discussing the tragic aftermath of Turner's ill-fated rebellion, Victor continually circles back to the main cause of such rebellions: the inhumanity of the slave system. "Human nature is rarely so abased as not to love liberty. … So long as there is a slave there will be rebellion." To Victor, Turner, like all slaves, was a victim of the brutality of slavery, his spirit corrupted from birth by his treatment. In the end, he portrays Turner as a tragic figure, doomed to failure.

The full text of this work is available through the Internet Archive.

Orville J. Victor. "The Southampton slave insurrection." History of American Conspiracies. From the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.