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The Fires of Jubilee by Stephen B. Oates

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Abby Coleman

Mr. Wood

Dual Credit History

6 November 2018

Fires of Jubilee

        The Fires of Jubilee by Stephen B. Oates describes a tragic story about a man named Nat Turner. Nat Turner was an African American who was born and enslaved in Jerusalem, Southampton County, Virginia, where he was able to practice reading, writing, and even religion. He was born October 2,1800 and from 1800 to the 1820s he was sold three different times until someone eventually hired him. His readiness to take extreme measures, including kill those who came in contact with him, to gain his freedom eventually leads him to his own death. This story was not only engrossing, but made me want to keep reading to see what would happen next.

        The story was first based in the 1780s and it ends at the year 1831. Oates recreates both Nat Turner’s life and the world in which he was born into. Born in Southampton County, Virginia, south of Richmond, his parents filled him with self-importance and a desire for freedom. At an early age, he was labeled as an exceptionally bright and gifted child who developed a love for scripture. He used every opportunity he had to learn to read and write with great ease. As he got older, Turner became a preacher to slaves in plantations and farms surrounding him and believed he has been specifically chosen by God to rid of the institution of slavery. He soon became a popular preacher in the slave community and escaped slavery for 30 days, but chose to came back to fulfill what he believed was his calling. A direct quote from Nat Turner states that, “…I surely would be a prophet, as the Lord has shown me things that had happened before my birth.”  Nat continued to receive spiritual messages including hieroglyphic symbols on corn, but he still did not know what his mission was. Another quote from Turner states, “Now finding I had arrived to man’s estate and was a slave, and these revelations being made known to me, I began to direct my attention to this great object, to fulfill the purpose for which, by this time, I felt assured I was intended.”

Growing up, white and black children played together until they were separated at around the age of 12 into “masters” and slaves. Slave culture in Southampton was different than slavery in many other parts of the south. Many slaves were taken to church with their masters, sat in the back of the church, and later would conduct their own service to the slaves that did not attend. Southampton slave owners believed that because they treated their slaves somewhat better than other slaveholders that they did not have to be afraid of a slave rebellion. 60% of the population in Southampton was African American and the white people that did live here liked to praise that slavery was not so harsh compared to other places. Other slaves around him were impressed by him and the feeling that something big was going to happen spread throughout the town. Their hopes and dreams rose but were soon crushed when the 1829 Virginia Convention not only crushed their slight ray of hope of freedom but also imposed much harsher restrictions. Realizing everything was about to get stricter, Turner took initiative and decided to plan a rebellion against the white people.

At around 25 years of age, Turner believed God had sent him a message to lead his people to freedom. He kept his plans to himself but started to build up support in the African American community. A solar eclipse in 1831 was the realization for Turner that he needed to begin plotting his war on the whites. On Sunday, August 21, Nat and six trusted lieutenants plotted their rebellion. They planned for the rebellion to go swiftly, giving the whites no time to react about what was happening. He began his rebellion with only six other lieutenants and by the height of the rebellion, he had around 80 soldiers. The plan was to go from house to house killing all of the white population white freeing and recruiting the slave population. Their goals were to simply kill every white person who they came in contact with and to take over the town of Jerusalem, Virginia. Turner and his followers did not even care who was in the house, men, women, children, and babies, by the time they were out of each house, all of them were dead. However, many slaves were terrified by the fact of going house to house slaughtering white people and fled to warn the other whites.

At two in the morning on August 22, the band of slaves lead by Turner left the woods where they had been planning and headed towards the homes of their owners, killing all the inhabitants. A newspaper article published in 2018 has a quote from Turner saying, "Armed with a hatchet, and accompanied by Will, I entered my master's chamber, it being dark, I could not give a death blow, the hatchet glanced off his head, he sprang from his bed and called his wife, it was his last word, Will laid him dead, with a blow of his ax, and Mrs. Travis shared the same fate, as she lay in bed” (Erickson, 4). After a while, the rebels split up into two groups, Nat and other men on horses and the men on foot. This was perhaps the downfall of the rebellion, the lack of firm leadership lead to many of Turner’s men getting very drunk. He would have to rally his troops back into the fight and since they had already killed a great number of people, decided to march on Jerusalem. They were met by eighteen white men, who did not yield to killing any of the rebels.



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