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New book examines historical context of Nat Turner’s Rebellion
“The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner In American Memory” To Be Featured At Book Festival

March 23, 2004 -- In August 1831, a small army of slaves from Southampton County, Va., embarked on a two-day rampage that left 55 white people dead and the slaveholding South panic-stricken. Nat Turner, the leader and a slave preacher, eluded capture for nearly two months before surrendering to a farmer who found him hiding in a makeshift cave. Turner's "Confessions," recorded for posterity and published shortly after his execution, put to rest unsettling rumors of a wider conspiracy and allowed for the restoration of order throughout the region.

In "The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory" (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), the University of Virginia’s Scot French looks at how Americans have understood Nat Turner through narratives that explore issues surrounding the more than 170-year-old massacre. He examines important questions, such as, How did the bloodiest slave rebellion in America — once thought to have involved hundreds of conspirators, black and white, free and enslaved — come to be known as "Nat Turner's Rebellion"? And, Why does the enigmatic figure of the rebellious slave resonate so powerfully across American history? Where most historians accept "The Confessions" as gospel, in his book French examines evidence pointing to a wider conspiracy.

French, an assistant professor and associate director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies, will discuss excerpts from the book on March 27, at noon, in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. His talk is part of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

The 379-page book about slavery is an outgrowth of French’s doctoral dissertation in history, completed at U.Va. in May 2000. Scholars of cultural history and African American studies will find the book necessary and important, yet it is intriguing enough for the casual reader. French places the contested history and enduring memory of Nat Turner’s rebellion within the broader context of the black freedom struggle. French’s account is based on historical readings, including William Styron’s 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Turner, as well as what he terms “quasi-official narratives,” such as Thomas R. Gray’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” Gray, a white lawyer who recorded Turner’s confessions for posterity, claims that Turner admitted to leading the revolt at the direction by God, who appeared to Turner through dreams.

French disputes Gray’s claim of a confession. “I devote considerable attention to Gray’s motives in writing ‘The Confessions’ and the social and political context in which it was a received,” French said. “Nat Turner was neither the first nor the last American slave to rise in arms against his oppressors. Yet, he stands alone in American culture as the epitome of the rebellious slave, a black man whose words and deeds challenged the white slaveholding South and awakened a slumbering nation.”

For more information, call Scot French at (434) 924-8889.

Contact: Katherine Thompson Jackson, (434) 924-3629

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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