out of slavery. On August 21, 1831, he initiated his slave uprising by slaughtering Joseph Travis, his slave owner, and Travis’ family. With seven followers, Turner set off across the countryside, hoping to rally hundreds of slaves to join his insurrection. Turner planned to capture the county armory at Jerusalem, Virginia, and then march 30 miles to Dismal Swamp, where his rebels would be able to elude their pursuers.

During the next two days and nights, Turner and 75 followers rampaged through Southampton County, killing about 60 whites. Local whites resisted the rebels, and then the state militia–consisting of some 3,000 men–crushed the rebellion. Only a few miles from Jerusalem, Turner and all his followers were dispersed, captured, or killed. In the aftermath of the rebellion, scores of African Americans were lynched, though many of them had not participated in the revolt. Turner himself was not captured until the end of October, and after confessing without regret to his role in the bloodshed, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. On November 11, he was hanged in Jerusalem.

Turner’s rebellion was the largest slave revolt in U.S. history and led to a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the movement, assembly, and education of slaves.


More than 50 slaves were executed in the rebellion’s aftermath.

Dozens of slaves stood trial for their participation in the rebellion. While some were acquitted, more than 50 were convicted and sentenced to death by a collection of 20 judges—all slaveholders. In addition, revenge-minded white mobs lynched blacks who played no part in the uprising. While some historians have estimated that the mobs killed between 100 and 200 slaves, Breen estimates the death toll closer to 40. He points out that slaveholders wished “to protect their enslaved property” and a week after the revolt the Virginia militia issued an order prohibiting the killing of slaves in an attempt to reign in the vigilantes.

The divinely inspired Turner ironically met his end in a town named Jerusalem.

After his arrest, Turner was taken to the seat of Southampton County, a small town called Jerusalem (present-day Courtland, Virginia). Six days after his capture, he stood trial and was convicted of “conspiring to rebel and making insurrection.” Sentenced to death, Turner was hanged from a tree on November 11, 1831.

Turner may have been skinned after his execution.

Turner’s body did not receive a formal burial, but details about what did happen to the body are not known. As Tony Horwitz reported in the New Yorker, according to several reports, the rebel leader’s corpse was given to doctors for dissection and his body parts distributed among white families. As recounted by John W. Cromwell in a 1920 article in the Journal of Negro History, “Turner was skinned to supply such souvenirs as purses, his flesh made into grease, and his bones divided as trophies to be handed down as heirlooms.”




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