This Day in History – October 30th, 1831

Have you ever considered what British History books would have said about George Washington had the revolution failed? Would a captured Washington have been tried as a traitor and a murderer? Would he have been hanged? Would his lifeless body have been flayed, beheaded and quartered to set an example for other would be “traitors” in the colonies? 

Those last gory details actually describe what happened to failed American revolutionary Nat Turner, a slave in Southampton County, Virginia. On August 21st, 1831 he and a few other slaves declared their independence with actions and revolt. Through a series of coded songs Turner and his comrades made the plan to break free and kill their white captures. Once the revolt began the rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing the white people they found. The rebels ultimately included more than 70 enslaved and free blacks.

Slave Rebellion

Before a white militia was able to respond, the rebels killed 60 men, women, and children. They spared a few homes “because Turner believed the poor white inhabitants ‘thought no better of themselves than they did of negros.'”Turner also thought that revolutionary violence would serve to awaken the attitudes of whites to the reality of the inherent brutality in slave-holding. Turner later said that he wanted to spread “terror and alarm” among whites.


The rebellion was suppressed within two days, but Turner eluded capture until October 30th, 1831 when he was discovered hiding in a hole covered with fence rails. On November 5th, 1831, he was tried for “conspiring to rebel and making insurrection”, convicted and sentenced to death; November 11th Turner was executed and then dismembered. In the aftermath, the state executed 56 blacks accused of being part of Turner’s slave rebellion. Across Virginia and other southern states, state legislators passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free blacks, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free blacks, and requiring white ministers to be present at black worship services. Two hundred blacks were also killed after being beaten by white militias and mobs reacting with violence.

Turner received no formal burial; his headless remains were either buried unmarked or kept for scientific use. His skull is said to have passed through many hands, last being reported in the collection of a planned civil rights museum for Gary, Indiana, despite calls for its burial.

Flourish 3

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