Thursday, April 14, 2011

Public Perception of Nat Turner in the Richmond Enquirer, Virginia, 30 August 1831

Newspaper article on Nat Turner from Virginia, 30 August 1831 

Throughout this blog, I have focused on exploring the public opinions and perceptions of two great slave revolt leaders, Spartacus and Nat Turner, across different cultures: ancient Rome, the US Civl Rights Movement Era, and now, pre-Civil War US South. The perception portrayed of Nat Turner in the Richmond Enquirer can be best summarized by a short phrase used in the beginning of an article on the rebel slave leader:

What strikes us as the most remarkable thing in this matter is the horrible ferocity of these monsters. They remind one of a parcel of blood-thirsty wolves rushing down from the Alps; or rather like a former incursion of the Indians upon the white settlements'

This depiction shares tones with the way Suetonius refers to Spartacus in the Life of Augustus, but takes a very different tone than that of Plutarch, who makes Sparacus really seem like a celebrity.  So this makes me wonder about Nat Turner: were there mixed thoughts and perceptions of his revolt from the time it took place like that of Spartacus?  The answer to this is difficult to find in literary sources from the era because, like Spartacus, his biggest fans were probably slaves, and lacked access to the media.  I still think some slave owners would be in awe of what he accomplished, and thus drawn towards respecting him.  The parallels between this and say Plutarch, a slave owner who was in awe with Spartacus, is astounding, and attests to the celebrity statuses of both Nat Turner and Spartacus.


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