The revolt of Nat Turner is among the most tragic and controversial events in the history of America. The massacre in the course of the plot and the bloody consequences terrified our imagination. Quite obviously, this event has attracted a lot of attention from the writers, journalists, and historians. The most well-known book featuring the events of 1831 is the “Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron that has become rather notorious, due to the specific way that the author presents Turner’s motives. The book is initially based on the original confession, that Turner has himself dictated to the white lawyer in the Jerusalem jail. This fact makes the novel semi-historical, based on the real document, but interpreted it in a very special way. The role of slave women in the slave revolts is indeed very interesting to discuss, as it may present the slave movement in a new, unusual manner. This topic, however, is not broadly mentioned in William Styron’s novel and is not described in the original confession at all.
Prior actually describing the ultimate role of Afro-American women in the revolt, we ought to examine the conditions when the black people were forced to exist. The beginning of the 19th century was a hard period for the black. Slave-owning was present on the USA territory but was especially ugly in the southern states. Afro-American people were abused, neglected, exploited and disrespected. The truth is that the lifestyle of a black person was about equal to the lifestyle of a domestic animal. Slaves were forced to work in hard conditions, receiving no money – just food and miserable shelters. The total humiliation of the entire race was considered a norm.
Surprisingly, Afro-Americans tolerated such terrible attitude for rather long. Both males and females took the approach for granted and did little to resist the pressure. For decades, no great insurrections happened, just the minor opposition to the regime. In fact, Nat Turner’s revolt was the first and the only serious confrontation with the slave-owners. As indicated in Turner’s real confessions, no black women ever participated in the bloody massacre of his revolt. Historical evidence proves the same – slave women took no active part in combat and disobeyed their owners extremely rarely.
Black women were in saddening conditions – they were used as a free workforce just as the males, were frequently raped by their owners and even killed. In fact, the murder of the slave was not even a serious crime. Theoretically, it was prohibited, but no real punishment usually followed. Slave women stoically took all the complications and humiliations; they even developed strong affection towards their masters and usually remained loyal. Slave females became great nannies and wet-nurses for the white children. Sometimes, white slave-owners even took Afro-American women as their wives or official lovers. This has actually created quite a lot of complications, as these women were in a very dubious status – they could not be full-fledged wives as well as were not considered slaves anymore. (Li, 2006) As a result, they were not taken seriously by the white people and could not enter the black community anymore, as they were considered traitors.
After the discussion above, one may think that Afro-American women did not participate in the liberation movement at all. This is not exactly right, as fighting for liberty does not necessarily adopt the shape of the severe violence performed by Nat Turner. After all, peaceful life under such stress and oppression is heroic by itself. I think that one of the main and the most terrible results of slavery is the damage to the people’s minds and almost entire destruction of humanism. Nat Turner’s revolt shows devastating degradation of the morale on both sides of the conflict. Firstly, the reader of the book pictures the shocking scenes of the slaves slaughtering the white families, including women and children. Later slave-owners take the same actions, murdering most of the rebels and simply executing the rest. Further, revenge of the slave-owners is also worth mentioning – the aftermath is in no way more civilized than the rebellion itself. Historians claim that in the weeks following the insurrection, over 200 black people were murdered. The period of slavery has twisted the normal views of moral in the south. Both white and black people involved in the activities that are in no way acceptable for the human beings.
The fact that Nat Turner does not mention Afro-American women actively participating in the bloody revolt and that William Styron does not stress this point either leaves the reader with hope that the degradation is not hopeless. (Clark, 2000) Slave females try to preserve the main values of all the mankind. Striving to create and protect the family even under the severe oppression takes real courage, perhaps even greater than the simple revolt.
To sum up, I would like to say in my slave essay that the role of slave women in the revolts is hard to measure as no females took the real part in the two days of Nat Turner’s fighting. Their role is much greater in everyday life, with gradual passive resistance, which eventually significantly contributed to the liberation movement.
- Clark, John. The Second Crucifixion of Nat Turner Black Classic Press, Baltimore, 1988
- Li, Stephanie. Motherhood as Resistance in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. A Journal of American Women Writers, Vol. 23, 2006.
- Gray, Thomas R. The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southhampton, VA. Lucas and Deaver, Baltimore 1831, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/turner/turner.html accessed March 13, 2008