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.
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
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.
an assistant professor and associate director of the Carter
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
more information, call Scot French at (434) 924-8889.
Katherine Thompson Jackson, (434) 924-3629