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Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County

, 416 pages

4 maps

March 2017



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Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County

Appendix & Works Cited


In August 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner led a bloody uprising that took the lives of some fifty-five white people—men, women, and children—shocking the South. Nearly as many black people, all told, perished in the rebellion and its aftermath. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County presents important new evidence about the violence and the community in which it took place, shedding light on the insurgents and victims and reinterpreting the most important account of that event, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Drawing upon largely untapped sources, David F. Allmendinger Jr. reconstructs the lives of key individuals who were drawn into the uprising and shows how the history of certain white families and their slaves—reaching back into the eighteenth century—shaped the course of the rebellion.

Never before has anyone so patiently examined the extensive private and public sources relating to Southampton as does Allmendinger in this remarkable work. He argues that the plan of rebellion originated in the mind of a single individual, Nat Turner, who concluded between 1822 and 1826 that his own masters intended to continue holding slaves into the next generation. Turner specifically chose to attack households to which he and his followers had connections. The book also offers a close analysis of his Confessions and the influence of Thomas R. Gray, who wrote down the original text in November 1831. The author draws new conclusions about Turner and Gray, their different motives, the authenticity of the confession, and the introduction of terror as a tactic, both in the rebellion and in its most revealing document.

Students of slavery, the Old South, and African American history will find in Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County an outstanding example of painstaking research and imaginative family and community history.

David F. Allmendinger Jr. is professor emeritus of history at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Paupers and Scholars: The Transformation of Student Life in Nineteenth-Century New England and Ruffin: Family and Reform in the Old South.

"[David Allmendinger] has dug deeply into property records, wills, and court judgments, some extending back to the eighteenth century, to provide a scaffolding of information about the web of anonymous lives amid which Turner grew to maturity. A remarkable amount of fresh research undergirds this volume."

"In this long-awaited study, based on prodigious archival research, University of Delaware professor emeritus of history David F. Allmendinger Jr. presents a richly detailed, country-level microhistory of the 1831 Virginia slave uprising commonly known as Nat Turner's Rebellion."

""The exhaustive research Allmendinger presents greatly enriches our historical understanding of the Southampton Rebellion through the eyes of its key victims. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County reveals important dimensions of the rebellion's local history and contextualizes the event, as Nat Turner did, within the context of slavery in Southampton County."

"Allmendinger’s great achievement is that he made full use of ‘new’ primary sources related to the uprising of 1831—new sources hitherto hidden in plain sight. Most importantly, he understood the significance of this material and knew exactly how to mine it for valuable new insights into virtually every aspect of Nat Turner’s rebellion."

"No one has done more to corroborate and sync the details, nor to illuminate Turner’s inspirations and goals. Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County is a model of historical methodology, and goes further than any other previous work in helping readers understand Turner’s motives and meaning"

"We are all in David Allmendinger's debt for the labor of research that has given Nat Turner and The Rising in Southampton County its absent material context."

"Though the subject of countless histories, novels, videos, and websites, Nat Turner, the leader of the largest slave insurrection in U.S. history, remains an enigma; yet, in this new and challenging study, the life and times of the legendary revolutionary come into much better focus. A must-read for historians of slave resistance and all others interested in the history of antebellum Virginia and in particular Southampton County."

"Allmendinger approaches a well-trodden historical event from a distinctive perspective. [He] provides the most complete historical context surrounding the rebellion. Ultimately, Allmendinger succeeds in providing a more complete understanding of the community of Southampton, Virginia, and offers a better explanation for the motivations that led Turner and his followers down such a bloody path in 1831."

"Impressive archival work that adds a rich body of substantive evidence to a topic many felt had been mined exhaustively."

"Meticulously researched and deftly argued, Allmendinger’s account of Nat Turner’s rebellion sheds new light on one of America’s bloodiest slave revolts. It illuminates the desperate, violent world of Virginia slavery and reveals in exceptional detail the motives, alliances, tactics, and confessions of Turner’s enslaved rebels and their white prosecutors."

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