fires of jubilee book report - Oates Stephen B The Fires of...

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Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee, New York: Harper & Row, 1975 Stephen Oates, in a riveting storytelling fashion, captures the desires and anxieties of the early to mid 19th century, with The Fires of Jubilee. Oates has performed rigorous study to present an accurate portrayal of a fascinating and mysterious man, who lived during an extraordinary period in American history. Oates begins the book with a thorough biography of Turner. He makes a real effort to show what lead a man to commit the actions he did. Nat was born on October 17, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia. His mother Nancy was brought to America in 1795. The man who purchased her was Benjamin Turner, a wealthy tidewater planter. Nancy married a slave whose name is not known, and gave birth to Nat. Interestingly she tried to kill Nat rather then see him grow up to be a slave. By the time he was four or five years old, people started to realize that there was something very special about Nat. He could recall things that had happened before he was born. Nat's parents were very proud of him and discovered strange marking on his head and back. African legend held that a male with such markings would grow up to be a leader. He intelligence earned the respect of other slaves as well. One time he was given a book by another slave. Amazingly he knew how to read it. No one knows who taught Nat to read, as an education was very rare among slaves. His master, Benjamin Turner was extremely impressed with Nat and often remarked to friends that, "he would never be of service to anyone as a slave." In 1809 Nat's life changed immensely. The first shock came when his father escaped slavery to the north, never to be seen again. The second shock was the death of Nat's master. In 1810 Nat became the official property of Benjamin's oldest son, Samuel Turner. Samuel was a highly religious bachelor in his mid twenties. Samuel worked his slaves hard and used Christianity to scare slaves into obedience. I found this to be one of the most fascinating situations in the book. The author takes several pages away from Nat's story to describe some attitudes in the south. Most southerners, including slave holders were deeply religious, devoted Christians. The basic idea that whited tried to teach blacks was that God is supreme, and he allows slavery because white people are superior to blacks. A good slave should not question God's authority, but should accept his lot in life and carry out his duties cheerfully. It was taught that slaves who were lazy or questioned the morality of slavery would burn in hell for questioning God's supremacy. Dreams of freedom or temptation to run away were the work of the devil and punishable by eternity in hell. Despite their attempts to use Christianity as justification, many American slave holders at this time were somewhat uneasy about the entire slave situation. In 1790 a full scale slave rebellion had rocked the island of Santo Domingo. In 1799 two white guards were killed while

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