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Nathaniel Turner 

Christian Martyrdom in Southampton

A Theology of Black Liberation

By Rudolph Lewis



Sec. 4, Ch. 22 Trouble Coming Down the Road


Wrestling with Spiritual Wickedness


Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report,

full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this businessActs 6.3



The Spirit of God from his holy realm said, "I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons," Nathaniel told Gray. Though it had been intimated in previous revelations, here, specifically, the divine commanded violence, a blood sacrifice, of both the guilty and the innocent, blood of both the true and false apostles, Christian slave and Christian slaveholder. 

The "enemies" of God in Turner’s revelation were the slaveholders of Cross Keys, who included men, women, and children. Those who have been grievously troubled that Turner did not conduct a gentleman’s war must keep ever in mind that American slavery was an hereditary system. The system of American slavery was an evil that possessed entire families—mother, father, and child. And slavery had directed its evil at men, women, and children—indiscriminately. 

Nathaniel Turner had been inherited by the six-year-old Putnam Moore. John Barrow’s widow condemned her young female Christian slave, Lucy Barrow, who killed no one, to the gallows, without sympathy or regard. As in the plagues sent against Egypt and its Pharaoh, gender nor age is pardoned in divine punishment.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah also provides lasting testament to the manner of God’s justice. American history is replete with bloody Indian wars and the wiping out of entire villages and peoples from the face of the earth. In modern wars, for the last fifty years, generations have been born and come of age under the threat of total annihilation. 

The slaughter that was Cross Keys pales in comparison to the great horrors we have viewed in contemporary times. Millions of peoples have been caught up in mass murder and wiped from the face of the earth without a whimper from the pious and the powerful. Holocausts beyond count have been more numerous in the modern Christian era than ever existed in biblical history.

Though horrendous, there is divine irony in Turner’s revelation on several levels. The Cross for the remission of sins became the sword for the punishment of disobedience. As the children of Africa were sacrificed to the man-made abomination that was American slavery, the spawn of Satan, so European children would be subjected to God’s divine wrath. As slaveholders had used weapons to subjugate the people of God, those very same weapons would be their destruction. This divine directive, also a tactical military consideration, was extremely elemental to the success of Turner’s mission.

Laying up weapons and gunpowder contributed to the failures of Prosser and Vesey, for such preparations needed the tactical involvement of numerous persons. In contrast to Richmond or Charleston, Cross Keys was a much smaller community in which the least deviations in the accounting of weapons and gunpowder would have been more easily discovered. 

Turner’s inspired strategy, however, allowed more flexibility of movement and dynamism in the release of pent-up frustrations. The more people who knew particulars, the greater the likelihood of exposure and failure before the "great work" got under way.

In the community of Cross Keys, Turner did not expect Christian slaveholders to be "perfected" saints. He did not expect that every slaveholder should immediately free his slave. Slavery in itself was not the crux of the problem in Virginia. It was not even a question of working hard and not receiving just payment. The sins of Cross Keys slaveholders went far beyond such injustices. 

They had become breeders of Christian men and women; they had few qualms about flesh peddling if it sustained their families. They corrupted the very foundations of society and human civility. They were killing Christ in a great portion of humanity.

Turner continued to preach the Coming of the Lord. Though Turner tread a fine tightrope, such pre-millenarian sermons were common fare for the times. In the fashion of the times, Christian slaveholders viewed him as merely an imitator of great men who did in truth converse with God. In those three years, 1828 to 1831, Turner, however, persuaded the slaves of Cross Keys to expect the fulfilling of the promise of salvation. 

Jesus answered the prayers of the bondsman, of the pure in heart. God warned Turner about the importance of secrecy, so as to avoid betrayal: "Until the first sign, I should conceal it [‘the great work’] from the knowledge of men." The Spirit directed Turner to keep God’s plan of divine retribution from his enemies in Southampton The time chosen, God would direct the slaughter, as a divine warning and retribution.

As he had with Isaiah before him, the divine required Turner "to make the heart of this people sluggish,/to dull their ears and close their eyes;/Else their eyes will see, their ears hear,/their heart understand,/and they will turn and be healed" (6.10). Christian slaveholders must be reprimanded by a blood sacrifice. For the people of Southampton, especially those of Cross Keys, did not want to humble themselves before God’s truth. 

Blind and twisted by their own greed and conceit, the Cross Keys Methodist slaveholders were not willing to listen to God’s messenger and his revelation: "For I will stretch forth my hand against those who dwell in the land, says the Lord. Small and great alike, all are greedy for gain, prophet and priest, all practice fraud" (Jeremiah 6.13).

To the slaves, from 1828 onward, Turner no longer preached repentance and God’s mercy, rather he emphasized God’s wrath. His judgment prophecy declared, as did Isaiah’s, that "the old ways were not working and that God was about to bring them to an end" (Gowan, pp. 62-65). As the Master reminded us in the gospel of Matthew, all should make themselves ready, for none knows the day when there will come "wailing and gnashing of teeth." 

And when the sign of the solar eclipse came, noon 12 February 1831, Turner told Gray, "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 Turner’s twelfth reported communication with the divine.

<<<  -- Laying Down the Yoke Of Salvation  /  Prophet & Apocalypse Now -->>>

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Sonnets in Memory of Nathaniel Turner  / A Defeat Sweeter than Victory

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update 4 February 2012




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