Slave Rebellion Comparison: The Nat Turner RevoltTerm Paper

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¶ … Slave Rebellion Comparison: The Nat Turner Revolt of 1831 and the Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia

World History mandates that as the human race, we are apt to repeat our actions over a period of time. One issue that appears throughout history and does not discriminate to any race, religion or creed is slavery. Starting in Biblical times with Egypt's enslavement of the Jews to the more recent time of African-American slavery in the southern states of the United States, slavery has played a key role in inhumanity. In fact, it is the severest form of man's inhumanity to man and woman. Call it a human issue, social or political but slavery was born out of commerce. The act of doing business in the world throughout history has meant businessmen have had to keep up with supply and demand of their products. This has meant a need for labor to produce such product. There is no cheaper form of labor than slavery. Owning a slave reduced the investment to the businessman for labor and increased production because slaves had no rights. They could be worked until exhaustion. This rationale does not excuse such action of economic influence. Still it seems in times past and even presently in of the worst human right's situations found in China and even New York City, slavery has seemed socially acceptable. Sometimes people do not see beyond the value of a dollar. In that of the Old South for White men of the upper class, it seemed the norm to own slaves.

In Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present:

Slavery is also presented to us as a paradigm of how most people behave when they are given absolute power over other people. The first effect, of course, is that they start believing in their own superiority and justifying their actions by it. The second effect is that they make a cult of the inferiority of those they subjugate. (Gates, p.34)

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines slavery as "submission to a dominating influence or the state of a person who is a chattel to another" (Mish, p. 1171). The dictionary also defines the word rebellion as an "opposition to one in authority or dominance" but also as "open, armed and unsuccessful defiance of or resistance to an established government" (Mish, p. 1037). This paper will explore these two definitions in relation to two significant slave rebellions in world history. This paper will focus on the Nat Turner Revolt of 1831 and the Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, also known as Brazil. This paper will outline the history of each region and go into detail of the how and why these rebellions took place when they did. This paper will compare and contrast the social, political and economic reasons and the consequences of these rebellions. This paper will also elaborate on the success or failure of both rebellions.

The Nat Turner Revolt of 1831

History of the Region

In 1830 there were 24 states in the United States and the population stood at 12, 866, 020 people. There 1200 miles of canals and only 23 miles of railroad tracks. About 25,000 new Americans arrived each year, mostly from Europe. The mean center of population in the United States was at 38° 57' 54" North Latitude, 79° 16' 54" West Longitude in Grant County (at the time, Hardy County), West Virginia, 19 miles west-southwest of Moorefield ( The mean center of population is the point at which an imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the United States would balance if weights of identical value were placed on it so that each weight represented the location of one person. Virginia was not far behind in population especially in its seaports. Still the expansion westward in the state was increasing yearly.

In the 1830s, America was still a new country. This was a period of great expansion and building of what would become America's infrastructure of roads, canals and buildings. With the acquisition of the Louisiana territory and it becoming a state in 1812, the internal traffic of human bondage skyrocketed despite the official closing of Atlantic trade in America.

America was in the process of defining its own culture and at this time many Americans believed in God's Divine Intervention. They believed America was the Kingdom of God (Greenberg, p. 80). This ideology contributed to the Americans' "part of the comfortable cloud of unknowing that helped preserve a white sense of unreality" (Greenberg, p. 79). It was a period of great movement where families uprooted daily to pursue opportunities of wealth in the West. Also whites from were creating waves of immigrants into the seaports of Virginia and its towns inland. This is the atmosphere in which the Nat Turner Revolt took place.

Blacks first inhabited Virginia in 1619. They came to the sparsely settled Rappahannock Valley long before Fredericksburg was officially founded in 1728. In colonial times, Fredericksburg and Falmouth, across the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, were important centers of trade and commerce. The towns were considered the gateway to the mountains and the way west, but they also served as major seaports. Because of the thriving import-export business in Virginia, there were always many slaves in the area, both owned by local residents, or en route to the interior.

Free blacks also lived in the Fredericksburg area, especially after the Revolutionary War. Some slaves were freed for their participation in the Revolutionary War. Benevolent owners freed some slaves and others were allowed to purchase their freedom. Still others were free because of the legal status of their mothers. Slowly the times were changing but still it would an enormous act of violence to inspire any major changes in the system. It seemed the further north one went the more liberal to cause of freed slaves, people became. Still it would be for the sake of the economy and import/export of goods that would rule the South and its view on slavery politics.

Slavery in the Region

Since the 1790's when slaves rebelled in Haiti and Santo Domingo and slaughtered over 60,000 people, Southerners worried that their own slaves might rise up against them. A number of slave revolt conspiracies were uncovered in the South between 1820 and 1831 but none frightened Southerners as much as Nat Turner's rebellion. At the time, Virginia landowners comprised 20% of the slave-owners in the region. While cotton was king in the south, many of these slave-owners were planters mainly harvesting tobacco and indigo (Lyons, par. 5). Greenberg writes:

the nation had committed itself to slavery, and the South was the keeper. In the 1820's the Southern black population grew from 1.6 million to more than 2 million persons, compromising some 40% of the section's total population, and ranging as high as 70 to 90% in some plantation counties and parishes. (p. 81).

There was a growing consensus that the slave population of America could not be ignored because black people were everywhere. Even the busyness of the South, could shield white men and woman from this growing reality. Still could the white population have foreseen the character of Nat Turner leading a rebellion to start of movement of change? At this time, it was difficult for white people to envision such a threat. Maybe in someone else's county but not his or hers. Why because they were blind to their surroundings.

Who was Nat Turner?

It is thought by many historians that Nat Turner was his original name but that his identity changed with his owners. As much as enslaved people resisted the renaming process, this practice continued. It was typical for a slave to take on the name of his master immediately upon sale. Later in larger slave populations, the slaves were able to assert authority over the naming of their children. This is mainly because at this time, too many whites names were all too common and therefore, too many slaves had the same name, causing confusion in the white community. What sets Nat Turner apart at this time from other slaves is his adoption of a surname or last name. Typically that was the first technique used by the master to gain control of his slaves; they did not have surnames. After all, this would create a sense of humanity for them and that was the last thing the white man wanted. This lack of a surname also made it easier for the slave to be sold because it was only considered property under the eyes of the law. Still Nat Turner before the Revolt, was commonly called in circles "Nat." "Some accounts certainly called the rebel leader 'Nat,' but he was more frequently known as 'Nat Turner'. Also, quite often, his name appeared as 'Gen. Nat Turner,' or 'General Nat Turner,' 'Gen. Nat,' 'The Preacher-Captain,' 'The General,' or 'Capt. Nat'" (Greenberg, p. 6). This only emphasizes his mass-appeal with his people. The fact that he was referred to as Nat Turner… [END OF PREVIEW]

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