Nat Turner, Black Prophet

A Visionary History

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Pub Date 13 Aug 2024 | Archive Date 13 Sep 2024

Description

A bold reinterpretation of the causes and legacy of Nat Turner's rebellion—and the new definitive account.

In August 1831, a group of enslaved people in Southampton County, Virginia, rose up to fight for their freedom. They attacked the plantations on which their enslavers lived and attempted to march on the county seat of Jerusalem, from which they planned to launch an uprising across the South. After the rebellion was suppressed, well over a hundred people, Black and white, lay dead or were hanged. As news of the revolt spread, it became apparent that it was the idea of a single man: Nat Turner. An enslaved preacher, he was as enigmatic as he was brilliant. He was also something more—a prophet, one who claimed to have received visions from the Spirit urging him to act.

Nat Turner, Black Prophet is the fullest recounting to date of Turner’s uprising, and the first that refuses to tame or overlook his divine visions. Instead, it takes those visions seriously, tracing their emergence from the world of nineteenth-century Methodism, with its revivals, camp meetings, interracial churches, and Black preachers. The rebellion and its aftermath would hasten the end of this world, as Southern states further restricted the personal freedoms of the enslaved, even as the ongoing threat of revolt shaped the country’s politics. With this work of narrative history, the late historian Anthony E. Kaye and his collaborator Gregory P. Downs have given us a new understanding of one of the nineteenth century's most decisive events.

A bold reinterpretation of the causes and legacy of Nat Turner's rebellion—and the new definitive account.

In August 1831, a group of enslaved people in Southampton County, Virginia, rose up to fight...


A Note From the Publisher

Anthony E. Kaye (1962–2017) taught history at Pennsylvania State University and was the vice president of scholarly programs at the National Humanities Center. An influential scholar of Atlantic slavery and American history, he served as an associate editor of The Journal of the Civil War Era.

His final book, Nat Turner, Black Prophet, was completed with the assistance of Gregory P. Downs, a professor of history at the University of California, Davis. Downs is the author of After Appomattox as well as other scholarly books, and his writing has appeared in The Atlantic and The Washington Post. He received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is also the author of Spit Baths, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.

Anthony E. Kaye (1962–2017) taught history at Pennsylvania State University and was the vice president of scholarly programs at the National Humanities Center. An influential scholar of Atlantic...


Advance Praise

"A masterwork of historical research, thinking, and writing, Nat Turner, Black Prophet is a remarkable and compelling effort to deepen our understanding of one of America's most important and enigmatic figures—one that places Nat Turner's prophetic vision at the center of this story. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the complex currents of American slavery and the nineteenth century more broadly—a stunning achievement for Anthony Kaye and Gregory Downs alike." —Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Nation Under Our Feet and Illiberal America

"With crisp and energetic prose, Anthony E. Kaye and Gregory P. Downs reveal how the greatest slave revolt in American history was wrought of divine inspiration and pursued with Biblical violence. Far from modern sensibilities of either time or justice, Nat Turner’s famous rebellion rose from ancient ideas of prophecy. A marvelous excavation, this book will long stand as an outstanding exercise in the capturing of a historical consciousness." —Jefferson Cowie, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power

"A short blurb cannot do justice to this stunning book. It is the most challenging attempt to take seriously a self-proclaimed prophet and agent of Divine retribution I have read since Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic The Prophets. It should be read not only by academic historians, political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, and theologians, but also by anyone who appreciates a gripping narrative of a key moment in American history." —Sanford Levinson, professor at the University of Texas Law School and author of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies

"A vivid and erudite reconstruction of Nat Turner as a biblical warrior, framing his thoughts and actions in a distinct Black Christian evangelical tradition. A remarkably compelling piece of scholarship, which provides a fresh perspective on the 1831 revolt." —Sudhir Hazareesingh, lecturer in politics at Balliol College, Oxford and author of Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

"An unfinished historical project of the late Anthony E. Kaye has been brought to an impressive conclusion by Gregory P. Downs. Deep research into the life and times of Nat Turner leads to the book’s conclusion that he grounded his life in a distinct strain of Black Methodism that enabled the enslaved Virginian to regard himself as an ancient Hebrew prophet who, after intense internal struggle, determined to exterminate the enemies of the Lord as had Israelite armies of old. In the authors’ convincing words, 'Nat’s language of religion does not serve to communicate the real story; it is the real story.' —Mark Noll, professor of history emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and author of America's Book

"A masterwork of historical research, thinking, and writing, Nat Turner, Black Prophet is a remarkable and compelling effort to deepen our understanding of one of America's most important and...


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ISBN 9780809024377
PRICE $30.00 (USD)
PAGES 352

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Featured Reviews

Truly excellent and very well written book. The person of Nat Turner is fascinating, and the authors successfully integrate the best known details and history to contextualize and explain who he is and his significance. Especially important in this book is not only the excellent distillation of relevant U.S. history but also a wonderful discussion of the role of religion. The sophistication provided in this clear narrative is outstanding. Highly recommended.

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