Carolyn Shuttlesworth
Literature & Culture
Material Type:
Primary Source
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Creative Commons Attribution

19th Century: 1831


African American Literature 1619-1926

Nat Turner (1800-1831)

                                                    Statement November 1, 1831

Sir,  You have asked me to give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it- To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born.  I was thirty-one years of age the 2nd of Ocober last, and born the property of Benj. Turner, of this county.  In my childhood a circumstance occurred which ade an indelible impression on my mind, and laid the ground work of that enthusiasm, which has terminated so fatally to many, both white and black, and for which I am about to atone at the gallows.  It is here necessary to relate this circumstance- trifling as it may seem, it was the commencement of that belief which has grown with time, and even now, sir, in this dungeon, helpless and forsaken as I am, I cannot divest myself of.  Being at play with other children when three or four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother overhearing, said it had happened before I was born- I stuck to my story, however, and related somethings which went, in her opinion, to confirm it- others being called on were greatly astonished, knowing that these things had happened, and caused them to say in my hearing, I would surely be a prophet, as the Lord had shewn me things that happened before my birth.  And my father and mother strengthened me in this my first impression, saying in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose, which they had always thought from certain marks on my head and breast-  My grandmother, who was very religious, and to whom I was much attached- my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house, and whom I often saw at prayers, noticing the singularity of my manners, I suppose, and my uncommon intelligence for a child, remarked I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave--  To a mind like mine, restless, inquisitive and observant of everything that was passing, it is easy to suppose that religion was the subject to which it would be directed, and although the subject principally occupied my thoughts- there wa nothing that I saw or heard of to which my attention was not directed-- The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet- but to the astonishment of my family, one day, when a book was shewn to me to keep me from crying, I began spelling the names of different objects-  This was a source of wonder to all in the neighborhood, particularly the blacks- and this learning was constantly improved at all opportunities-  When I got large enough to go to work, while employed, I was reflecting on many things that woud present themselves to my imagination, and whenever an opportunity occurred of looking at a book, when the school children were getting their lessons, I woud find many things that the fertility of my own imagination had depicted to me before;  all my time, not devoted to my master's service, was spent either in prayer, or in making experiments in casting different things in moulds made of earth, in attempting to make paper, gun powder, and many other experiments, that although I could not perfect, yet convinced me of its practicality if I had the means.  I was not addicted to stealing in my youth, nor have ever been-  Yet such a the confidence of the negroes in the neighborhood, even at this early period of my life, in my superior judgement, that they would often carry me with them when they were going on any roguery, to plan for them.  Growing up among them, with this confidence in my superior judgement, and when this, in their opinions, was perfected by Divine inspiration, from the circumstances allude to in my infancy, and which belief was ever afterwards zealously inculcated by the austerity of my life and manners, which became the subject of remark by white and black.- Having soon discovered to be great, I must appear so, and therefore studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer-  By this time, having arrived to man's estatem abd hearing the scriptures commented on at meetings, I was struck with that particular passage which says: "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you."  I reflected much on this passage, and prayed daily for light on this subject--As I was praying one day at my plough, the spirit spoke to me, saying  "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added to you."