A Bio-Religious TIMELINE
Compiled by Rudolph Lewis
Nathaniel Turner's mother (about sixteen or
seventeen years old girl, recently arrived from the coast of
Africa, named Nancy by her buyer and owner Benjamin Turner) arrives in Cross Keys and becomes pregnant immediately.
Reason and respect for humanity forces us to conclude that after
being kidnapped and transported to Virginia, the female captive
was bought and then raped by her owner Benjamin Turner. In
short, Nathaniel had an African mother and a white American
Nathaniel Turner is born in Cross Keys,
Virginia, and named by his owner and father Benjamin Turner. His
African mother startled by his pinkish color and reminded of her rape by Benjamin Turner,
with indignation, attempted to kill
the child. Benjamin Turner thus placed the child into the hands of
Harriet and Tom (middle-aged and seasoned slaves, probably
inherited slaves from his father). They became the surrogate parents (or
Nathaniel is a Biblical Jewish name, meaning
roughly "gift of God" or "God has
given." This name occurs only in the New Testament in
the Gospel of John: His "initial unbelief was overcome by a
demonstration of the superhuman knowledge of Jesus, so that he
confessed that Jesus was the Messiah" (John 1:45-51) and (2) this
biblical Nathaniel "saw the apparition of Jesus at
the Sea of Galilee" (John 21:1). Nathaniel, however, is not
usually listed among the Twelve Disciples. According to John L.
McKenzie (Dictionary of the Bible, p, 607), this
situation put before us by John creates an "exegetical
problem." Nathaniel is "most easily identified with
Bartholomew, but some scholars suggest that he is the same as
Matthias." Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts
of the Apostles 1:23-26).
The aspects of "superhuman knowledge" and
experiencing a vision (or "apparition") of Christ
were central to the identity Nathaniel Turner sketched of
himself in the 1831 Confessions.
Harriet, Nathaniel's spiritual mother,
concludes that her stepchild is a miracle child, for he knows of events that
occurred before his birth. He thus becomes a marvel for the
religious of Cross Keys who generally have a biblical sense of
the world. One
should also keep in mind that this is an agrarian society in which
there is great attention paid to natural and unusual events, which are
usually ascribed to God working in history. This
perspective is one that is shared by the descendants of both
Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans. This view is indeed
Common Ground. That is, we should keep in mind that the Rationalism and the Scientism of the Modern period had not yet
taken root among the masses of America, though
religious skepticism had began to take a foothold among the more
educated, like Thomas Jefferson.
Harriet and Tom discover that Nathaniel knows how to read
though he had not been taught. His literary talents improve
quickly and measurably.
Harriet sets up an interview with the white religionists of
Turner's Meeting House which had been recently founded in the
home of Benjamin Turner. Though Benjamin Turner was a Methodist,
probably second-generation, one might speculate that Benjamin's
founding of a church was a kind of repentance for his sins --
rape, adultery, and enslavement of his own flesh and blood.
These sins reached the high level of crimes found in the Old
Testament and in the "Old Patriarchs." To state that Benjamin
Turner was in need of some act or acts of repentance in such a
small and isolated community in which everyone knows every one's
personal sins ("business") would not, however be
reckless speculation. Such secret pains must indeed be reckoned
and publicly amended.
In any event the elders of Benjamin Turner's Meeting House
concluded that because of the child's intelligence and quickness
of perception he would never be suitable as a slave. Harriet and
later the child was led to believe that Nathaniel's freedom
would be granted at age 21.
Maybe aware of the approach of his own death or as a means of
putting his sins at arm's length or displacing his sins,
Benjamin transfers the ownership of Nathaniel to his white son
Benjamin Turner dies. Tom, Nathaniel's spiritual father, runs
away and escapes the slavery regime and disappears into the
black hole of history. Nathaniel is doubly abandoned. Further he
is no longer the pampered slave but is assigned to the fields
as a plow boy. Patiently, he endures as his powers of insight
increases and his knowledge of the Bible expands.
In the midst of his formal study of the Scriptures with the
Methodist society in Cross Keys, Nathaniel experienced his first
revelatory message from the Holy Spirit, namely, "Seek ye
the kingdom of heaven."
This sentiment in which Jesus encourages his followers to
"seek the kingdom" is found at Matthew 6: 33 and Luke
12: 31. Mark and Luke, however, always used the "kingdom of
God" rather than the "kingdom of heaven" used by
Matthew. Jesus, it seems, taught that the "kingdom" was at
once to come and at hand. Those who are "in Christ,"
who share his vision were already apart of that which would
appear to all. The point here is that here in this initial
revelatory experience we already have the suggestion of the apocalyptic. Of course, the
Apocalypse, which is emphasized heavily in the Book of
Revelation, becomes a major theme as Turner approaches his
thirty-first birthday. Images of the Apocalypse began to appear regularly by 1828.
Nathaniel received his second revelation from the Holy
Spirit, again, "Seek ye the kingdom of heaven."
Clearly, Nathaniel is struggling to know the
significance of these scriptural words and their application to his own social and
religious context. From Turner's narrative, it is evident that
he associated the words of this parable by Christ, this biblical
inspiration, with the childhood promise and his own quest
and personal desire for freedom from slavery to improve
his status and situation.
Nathaniel asked Samuel Turner for his freedom
and is whipped. He runs away, disappears in the wilderness of
Southampton. Most believed he had escaped to freedom as Tom, his
spiritual father before him. But Nathaniel returns after thirty
days stating that the Holy Spirit reminded him of the Lukean
passage that servants (disciples) should be obedient to Christ
(their God) or they would be beaten with many stripes (Luke
12:47). Essentially, disciples of Christ cannot follow their
narrow, selfish interests. They had a higher calling to
We should keep in mind that Jesus too, like
John the Baptist, had a wilderness experience before he
began his public ministry (Matthew 4:1ff; Mark 1:12 ff; Luke 4:1
On his return from the wilderness, Samuel Turner forced
Nathaniel into a "marriage" with a young slave woman
named Cherry. Of course the sacrament of marriage had no
standing in Virginia slavery, which at this time was involved in
the nefarious business of breeding Christian slaves and
thereafter selling them to the developing states of the deep
South. Keep in mind, contrary to the popular belief, in his 1831 "Confessions"
Turner makes no mention of a wife nor of any progeny. The myth
however continues he himself had a wife and children. We must
then conclude that this so-called marriage is bogus a
creation of whites,
a cynical scheme concocted and promoted by Samuel Turner, his
white family, and co-religionists.
This marriage had two purposes. One, Samuel Turner
wanted to assure that Nathaniel in his return would be properly
obedient. Nathaniel's agreement to this "marriage"
would be a sign of that obedience. Two, like his father Benjamin
before him, Samuel Turner had "jumped the fence" and
had been involved in an extramarital relationship with one of
his slaves, namely, Cherry. The "marriage" was a means
of covering, concealing his indiscretion -- his sins. At this
is the main trustee of Turner's Methodist Church in Cross
In his early or mid forties, Samuel Turner dies. The
precarious situation of the Turner family is thrown into
disarray. Southern Virginia is in the midst of an economic downturn.
Middling-sized slaveowning estate -- thirty or so slaves or less
-- are most affected. Samuel's widow and her children are in need of some economic assurances.
In short, they cannot afford to be slaveowners. They do not have
enough capital and thus to maintain a respectable lifestyle they
are forced to place their slaves on the auction block.
Nathaniel and Cherry are sold to different owners. That is,
they are now owned by persons who are not a part of the Turner
family, yet to members of the Cross Keys community. Nancy,
Nathaniel's mother, however remained in the ownership of the Turner family.
It must be noted that unlike Frederick Douglass we have little
direct knowledge of Turner's family and personal ties.
however black Turners in Southampton who still claim kinship with
Turner. But nothing certain has been sustained.
We cannot be certain that Nathaniel had any children by
Cherry or by any other woman. From what he relates in the 1831 Confessions,
Nathaniel comes off as rather monkish. He may have indeed
chosen the Paulean religious route and refrained from any sexual
contact with women. One practical aspect of this decision was
that he did not want to produce children for the slave market.
Another was that children and family made one more reserved in
what actions that one might give oneself over to.
At Samuel Turner's death, Cherry had probably one child and
possibly another in her belly. Nathaniel was purchased by Thomas
Moore, who refused to purchase Cherry, a situation which caused
some consternation for the white Turners and caused them to sell
Cherry and her children to Giles Reese for a mere forty dollars.
During the revolt, it is significant to note that, Turner and
his fellow conspirators by-passed the farm of Giles Reese. This
may be viewed in two ways. One that Turner was discriminate in his
killing of whites in Cross Keys. Two, Turner was thankful that
Reese saved Cherry and her children from being sold south out of
Placed on the auction block by his blood relations and his
freedom and family connections again denied, Nathaniel's
religious experience intensifies and deepens. He experiences a
series of visions which he shares with both black and whites,
the free and the enslaved. Many assured him that these visions
were truly from God; others, especially, the slaveowners claim
that they were fabricated by Nathaniel's overactive imagination.
First Vision: Nathaniel observes a cosmic battle of
black and white spirits. This vision, it is my view contrary to
most black theologians and historians, has been interpreted from
a racial, rather than from a religious perspective. The racial
perspective views the vision as the coming of a race war: black
spirits (black people) warring against white spirits (white
people). But such an interpretation limits the religiosity of
Turner's vision. Nathaniel was not a proto-nationalist as
some have claimed.
The color symbolism here must be interpreted in the
traditional symbolism of black as evil (spirits) and white as
holy or sanctified (spirits). Thus what he observes then
is the traditional religious battle of Good versus Evil. Turner
and his fellow spirit become the representatives of the white
spirits or the spirits of goodness. This interpretation will be
sustained by future visions in that Nathaniel becomes a stand in
for Christ, who stand above and beyond race for he is not a
respecter of persons--all are one in Christ.
Nathaniel thereafter receives power over the elements
Second Vision: The Holy Spirit who had been his
conscious companion since he was seventeen years old now
transfigures itself into the Cosmic Christ, hovering in the
heavens. To see God, to have a vision of the Christ is a
significant event. One becomes blessed; one has thus established
a special relationship with God. One has been thus truly called
Significant passages from the New Testament are instructive
in this vision. For Nathaniel's second vision must be liken to
Paul 's conversion experience. There are four instances in which
Paul's experience is recounted: (1) Galatians 1:11-17,
"where the experience is seen to involve two elements: the
revelation of Jesus as God's Son and the commission to preach
him to the Gentiles"; (2) and three times in Acts (9: 1-19;
22: 3-16; and 26: 4-18). One feature was crucial: Paul "had
seen the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1); the Risen Christ had appeared
to him (1 Corinthians 15:8)."
Harpers Bible Dictionary (1985, p. 760) points out
other significant aspects of Paul's conversion that relates to
Nathaniel's conversion experience: "This vision led to the
conviction that the crucified Jesus was the messiah. It also
showed that the events of the end of history had started to
unfold, that in these last days God was accomplishing his divine
purpose through the crucified Christ, as power working in
weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Of course Paul's life and Nathaniel's life it is not the same
in all its points. Nathaniel was a victim of persecution and
Paul was a persecutor. But both had a vision of Christ appearing
in the heavens in broad daylight. But we should see Turner's
second vision as his call to preach, and most likely a call to
preach not only to blacks but more specifically to white
slaveholders who like Saul stood between Christ and his people.
In the language of Acts, the slaveholders were
"persecuting'' Christ in that they impeded or tainted the
true worship of Christ.
Third vision: Nathaniel experienced the fall of blood
falling from the heavens like a mist and landing on the leaves
of corn. Against this revelatory experience must be viewed in
the specific religious context of Cross Keys. After the death of
Benjamin Turner and under the subsequent regime of Samuel
Turner, blacks and whites, the free and enslaved no longer worshipped together, but
rather were forced to worship separately. There was, in short, segregated
worship among the Turners that developed after the death of
Benjamin Turner, a worship which did not represent the true worship of Christ, of
God who is no respecter of persons.
This vision of "blood on the corn" is thus a divine
substitute for the Eucharist celebrated in Turner's Methodist
Church. Corn rather than wheat was the main staple of the poor
and the enslaved. That corn was made holy by the blood of Christ
and in that it was ingested by them they thus partook of the
holiness of Christ and thus became his people. This act thus in
a symbolical manner countered the act of segregated worship
practiced by the Methodists of Cross Keys. In a symbolical
sense, the enslaved went to the head of the worship line and
thus were indeed closer to the divinity.
Fourth Vision: Nathaniel experienced the fall of blood
on the leaves of trees and hieroglyphics written in blood. This
blood represented again the images of white and black spirits engaged
in a cosmic battle. This revelatory experience must be
read in a religious and spiritual context and read in a
symbolical manner. Tt is from the pulp of trees that paper was
and is made. And here we find hieroglyphics (a special
writing--indicative of divinity) and religious material (cosmic
figures -- angels in battle). We thus have a present-day
revelatory writing given to Nathaniel that was relevant to his own times and his
own particular situation. In essence, it is not so different from
the divine inspired writings of Paul's pastoral letters and
other writings of the New Testament.
Turner further demonstrated his divine given powers by his
cure of a drunken slave driver, a brutal white man named
Ethelred Brantley. Brantley refrained from drink, fasted as
advised by Turner. He was cured of his plague of boils by the prayers and the hands of
Turner. This act of reaching out to a
white man, the worst of men within the community, must be
also read symbolically in a religious context. Turner's
discipleship was not merely a racial one, but universal in the
truest sense of the Christian spirit.
After this miraculous event, Turner requested admission into
Turner's Methodist Church for Brantley and himself. Their
petition was rejected, seemingly, at once on a class and racial
basis. Thereafter, Turner performed a baptism in a pond near
a local Baptist church. The location of this baptism have
led many to conclude that Nathaniel was of the Baptist faith.
But there is nothing in the record to sustain such a
Nathaniel lived within a Methodist community and was
Methodist in training and it was in the Methodist church that he
sought admission. With this baptism, it would be more correctly
to state that Nathaniel rose above all denominational prejudices
and restrictions. For God belongs to no particular denomination.
He is neither Jew nor Gentile; Catholic nor Protestant; neither
Methodist nor Baptist.
Fifth Vision: What is significant about this event is
the reported theophany. Unlike Paul, Nathaniel had no sins which
he had to wash away. He had not voted for the execution of
Christians; neither had he hunted them down and persecuted them.
But like Jesus, Nathaniel's baptism was an opportunity for the
"self-revealing of God," to show that he had indeed
been chosen. Those present at this baptism attested that
they observed a dove come out of the heavens and settled upon
Turner's person and that a voice came out of heaven, saying that
"this is my beloved son." See the follow Gospel
passages: Matthew 1:17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21ff; John 1:31-34.
Turner asked Thomas Moore to free him and he is whipped. It
is a repetition of what had occurred seven years before with his
half-brother Samuel Turner. Nathaniel however this time did not
Thomas Moore died and Nathaniel is inherited by the six-year
old Putnam Moore, the son of Thomas. Putnam is among the first
to be murdered during the revolt.
Sixth Vision: The Holy Spirit related a cosmic
vision of Christ "laying down the yoke" of salvation
and issued a command for a holy war: Nathaniel "heard a loud noise in the heavens, and 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, for the time was fast approaching, when the first
should be last and the last should be first."
was at the household of Joseph Travis, who had become the
stepfather of Putnam Moore through his marriage to Putnam's
Seventh Vision: Turner reads an eclipse (a natural
event) as an apocalyptic sign from God to take up arms and
destroy the enemies of Christ: "And on the appearance of the sign, [the
eclipse of the sun last February] I should arise and prepare
myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons. And
immediately on the sign appearing in the heavens, the seal was
removed from my lips, and I communicated the great work laid out
for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence, [Henry, Hark, Nelson and Sam]."
this was the planned day for the beginning of the holy war. But
Nathaniel is sickened by the thought of what he had to do. This
too might be also read symbolically on a number of levels. As all
know, the 4th of July is a U.S. political holiday -- in which the
colonies sought independence from England. But Turner's was was not
one of political independence or of secular importance, one that sought political freedom. His war was
of a religious cast, of religious judgment and punishment.
Eighth Vision: There is another solar event, the
darkening of the sky at midday. Nathaniel reads this as another
entry of God into history, signaling to commence the holy war.
The time for the holy war is set at a sermon outside Barnes
Methodist Church, which seems to have been south of Cross Keys
about twenty miles or so. Those who would lend their support
were suppose to wear red bandanas. Typically, in this region,
August was the month of religious revivals in which the
religious visited each others churches.
Seven men dined at Cabin Pond: Nathaniel, Henry Porter, Hark
Travis, Nelson Williams, Sam Francis, Jack Reese, and Will
Empty-handed, seven men set out to make a holy war. Turner
spares numerous white families in his war. Attacks were
primarily against the owners of slaves and those who defended
Nathaniel's army dissembles after killing 55 white men,
women, and children. Nathaniel disappears. An army is set out to
bring him to justice. There are numerous sightings of him as far
away as fifty or more miles, near Richmond and south into North
Nathaniel allowed himself to be "captured" after 70
days. He is scourged and brutally abused in his transfer to the
jail in Jerusalem.
Nathaniel and Thomas Gray compile the
At his trial, Nathaniel pleads his innocence but is found guilty as an insurgent and is sentenced to be hanged.
Nathaniel is hanged. He hurries the hangman and dies at noon.
Christian slaveowners and their sympathizers (doctors and
surgeons) desecrate and dismantle Turner's body—skin from
flesh; flesh from bones.
December 1831: The Confessions Nat Turner published in
Baltimore, Maryland, by Thomas R. Gray
* * * * *
Martyrdom in Southampton
Theology of Black Liberation
By Rudolph Lewis
* * *
Nathaniel Turner, the Bible,
& the Sword
Reconsideration of the 1831 “Confessions”
Scholars, Theologians & Other Commentators
Turner of Southampton
of Southampton or Balaam’s Ass
Revelations in the Virginia Wilderness
* * *
* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and hypocritical
world of adults that equally repels and
seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief
anecdotes into history lessons,
conversations into morality plays, memories
into awakenings. Various cultures,
religions, and languages mingled freely in
the Aké of his youth, fostering endless
contradictions and personalized hybrids,
particularly when it comes to religion.
Christian teachings, the wisdom of the
ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that
"God had a habit of either not answering
one's prayers at all, or answering them in a
way that was not straightforward."
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult
snares of cynicism and intolerance. His
stinging indictment of colonialism takes on
added power owing to the elegance of his
* * *
Becoming American Under Fire
Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship
During the Civil War Era
By Christian G. Samito
In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race.
Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a
larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond
between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism.
The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about
recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and
also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its
centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization
of British subjects abroad.
For Love of Liberty
* * * * *
Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher
and Charles Molesworth
L. Locke (1886-1954), in his famous 1925 anthology
The New Negro, declared that “the pulse of the
Negro world has begun to beat in Harlem.” Often called
the father of the Harlem Renaissance, Locke had his
finger directly on that pulse, promoting, influencing,
and sparring with such figures as
Zora Neale Hurston,
Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthé, William Grant Still,
W. E. B. Du
Bois, Ralph Bunche, and John Dewey. The long-awaited
first biography of this extraordinarily gifted
philosopher and writer, Alain L. Locke narrates the
untold story of his profound impact on twentieth-century
America’s cultural and intellectual life. Leonard Harris
and Charles Molesworth trace this story through Locke’s
Philadelphia upbringing, his undergraduate years at
Harvard—where William James helped spark his influential
engagement with pragmatism—and his tenure as the first
African American Rhodes Scholar.
The heart of their narrative illuminates Locke’s heady
years in 1920s New York City and his forty-year career
at Howard University, where he helped spearhead the
adult education movement of the 1930s and wrote on
topics ranging from the philosophy of value to the
theory of democracy.
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 7 April 2012