October 10, 2023
Starting with several trusted fellow slaves, Nat Turner ultimately enlisted more than seventy enslaved and free Blacks, some of whom were on horseback. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing enslaved people and killing many of the White people whom they encountered.
Muskets and other firearms were too difficult to collect and would gather unwanted attention, so the rebels used knives, hatchets, and blunt instruments. The rebellion did not discriminate by age or sex and the rebels killed White men, women, and children. Nat Turner confessed to killing only one person, Margaret Whitehead, whom he killed with a blow from a fence post.
Historian Stephen B. Oates states that Turner called on his group to “kill all the white people”. A newspaper noted, “Turner declared that ‘indiscriminate slaughter was not their intention after they attained a foothold, and was resorted to in the first instance to strike terror and alarm.'” The group spared a few homes “because Turner believed the poor White inhabitants ‘thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.'” The rebels also avoided the Giles Reese plantation, even though it was in route, likely because Turner wanted to keep his wife and children safe. The Black rebels killed approximately sixty people before they were defeated by the state militia. The infantry defeated the insurrection with twice the manpower of the rebels, reinforced by three companies of artillery.
Turner thought that revolutionary violence would awaken the attitudes of Whites to the reality of the inherent brutality in slave-holding. Turner said he wanted to spread “terror and alarm” among Whites.