Home > "Nat Turner’s Massacre" from the Richmond Daily Dispatch

"Nat Turner’s Massacre" from the Richmond Daily Dispatch

Nat Turner's Massacre

At the third annual meeting of the Colored Shiloh Baptist Association in Virginia in August 1867, Nat Turner was hailed as an abolitionist hero. According to the minutes printed in the Dispatch on August 9, 1867, when a church from Southampton County was mentioned, “Elder Williams requested the delegates to arise, stating that this ‘church was located where Nat Turner first struck for freedom.’” This angered the editors of the Richmond Daily Dispatch who argued that in fact, Turner’s rebellion was “the deadliest blow to kind feeling for the blacks and to the growing sentiment in favor of abolition which could have been inflicted.” They contended that the abolition of slavery in Virginia was moving forward until the “horrors of Southampton County reversed the tide of sentiment in the Legislature which succeeded the Convention, and abolition was postponed indefinitely.”  

The editors of the Dispatch not only argued that Turner was a detriment to the cause of abolitionism, but also dehumanized him and painted him as a false prophet.

Nat Turner’s rebellion was the most barbarous and brutal of all the human butcheries of the century. Studying the moon more than he did the Bible and the fantastical shapes in the clouds more than the principles and sentiments of justice and humanity, the poor monomanic Turner set on foot the bloody and savage massacre, in which men, and women, and innocent girls, and even helpless babes, were slaughtered by his insensate followers. It was a horror of horrors, a brutal and phrensied shedding of human blood, such as has never been exceeded in its unprovoked and brutal character.

The editors of the Dispatch went on to argue that by allowing Turner to be treated as a hero, the Colored Shiloh Baptist Association was committing a disservice to the black community: “They will curse the day when they listened to the cunning and heartless stories of the hypocrites now misleading them.”

Nat Turner’s Massacre,” Richmond Daily Dispatch. From the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.