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Nat Turner: Baptist preacher, Rebel leader

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by rlvaughn, Feb 21, 2018.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Mar 20, 2001
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    Some stories from Baptist history are not as “pretty” as others (though it might be argued that the following as Baptist history is unconfirmed). I find the story of the rebellion incited by slave exhorter, preacher Nat Turner very intriguing.

    According to most accounts, Nat Turner was a Baptist preacher (though there is at least one statement by Turner that calls that into question). Drewry wrote, “He was a careful student of the Bible, a Baptist preacher, read the newspapers and every book within his reach, and listened attentively to the discussions of political and social questions by the best and most enlightened men of the country.” (p. 113; cf. also p. 26) Turner believed in signs and visions – which would not necessarily be unusual for a Baptist preacher in the 1830s – and it was through these that he eventually interpreted his mission of insurrection. In 1825 he had a vision of a conflict between black and white spirits, where “the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams.” In his confession, Turner explained another message from God: “the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent.” Later he would view an eclipse of the Sun in February 1831 as a sign to plan the insurrection. It would ultimately be scheduled for August 21, 1831.

    The bloody revolt planned and guided by Turner began in the early morning hours of August 21, 1831. With his followers Turner led a series of attacks – going from house to house killing men, women, and children – beginning with his own master’s household. Most sources (including Confessions, p. 22) relate that about 55 people were killed in Turner’s rebellion. Within two days the rebellion was broken, but Turner hid successfully for nearly two months before being captured. He was tried and hung at Jerusalem, Virginia on November 11, 1831. It might be (and has been) argued that in the long view the Turner Rebellion helped the anti-slavery cause, but its most immediate effects were executions of blacks (some of whom probably had no connection to the rebellion, and some who were not slaves), harsher laws against slaves, and stiffening of pro-slavery resolve. Turner had not led his followers from bondage, but led them to dispersion, death, destruction, and denigration. Whites lived in fear more slave rebellions. Blacks lived in fear of being lynched.

    Excerpted from: Nat Turner: Baptist preacher, Rebel leader
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  2. Thomas V

    Thomas V New Member

    May 2, 2017
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    N 1825, THE slave and lay Baptist preacher Nat Turner had a vision. He saw “white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened—the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams.” The troubling apparition made Turner long for holiness and true spiritual knowledge before the advent of Judgment Day. Then, in a Virginia field where he was toiling, he saw blood on the corn. He told both white and black neighbors about these miraculous portents of the Day of the Lord. Wandering in the woods, “hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes, portrayed in blood” appeared to him on the leaves of trees. One white man, Etheldred Brantley, was impressed by Turner’s prophecies. When white Baptists would not allow Turner to baptize Brantley, he and Turner took to the waters themselves. There they “were baptized by the Spirit.” - Baptists in America: A History - Thomas S. Kidd

    When I first started reading this chapter, I, not knowing anything about Nat Turner, thought it impressive that Turner seemed to be having visions concerning the imminent Civil War almost 40 years before it occurred. Reading the next paragraph I learned that Nat began hearing noises and voices, and looking for divine signs in order to act. On August 7th 1831 he gathered a mob of blacks, slave and free, “who used axes and clubs to murder sixty white men, women, and children, mostly members of slave-owning families.” Nat Turner was severely punished and executed.

    His visions concerned racial justice stemming from a conviction that men were equal before God.

    The response to Nat’s uprising was to sanitize slavery, while other agitated for abolition.

    One thought in this is how God is able to use people’s evil actions for his good cause. Slaves were brought from Africa to America where they were sometimes evangelized, repenting of their tribal religions. Baptists especially were quite effective at reaching blacks. Some eventually preached, pastored, and planted churches. Some returned to Africa, while some Africans (Coptics) came to visit America.

    The economy of the South would have been underdeveloped without chattel slavery. The production coming from plantations greatly benefited the U.S.

    Opposite the benefits of evangelism and economy were the revolting actions of slaveholders. The Southern Baptist argument of the day was that slavery was biblical, but that the inhumane treatment which commonly accompanied it was diabolical.

    I suppose my question would be, much as the tenth plague brought divine retribution against the Pharaoh’s murder of male infants, and Egypt’s plundering was payback for the hard labor of the Israelites, there must be some divine justice for American slavery, namely, as mentioned, land developed and opened for future use, even if performed under unjust auspices, and a gospel witness and spiritual blessings unavailable in their homeland, even if surrounded by bitter oppression.

    Nat Turner’s vision was realized, but emancipation did not come from a violent uprising but the pricked conscience of citizens and uniformed soldiers.

    Baptists should not be rioters or inciters, and violence by means of war should be a last choice. Nat Turner sounds more like the guy who started the TaiPing Rebellion in China.