Burst out of the forests with guns and axes plunging

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burst out of the forests with guns and axes, plunging southeasternVirginia—and much of the rest of the South—into convulsions of fearand racial violence. It turned out to be the bloodiest slave revolt inSouthern history, one that was to have a profound and irrevocable im-pact on the destinies of Southern whites and blacks alike.4
Part OneTHIS INFERNAL SPIRITOF SLAVERY
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Southampton County early in the 1800sHe was living in the innocent season of his life, in those carefree yearsbefore the working age of twelve when a slave boy could romp andrun about the plantation with uninhibited glee. Clad only in a “tow”shirt which hung about his knees, Nat and the other children—whiteand black alike—played together like prattling sparrows, oblivious tothat future time when white adults would permanently separate them,sending the white children to schools or tutors and the blacks to thefields, dividing them for the rest of their lives into free and chattel—intothe blessed and the wretched of their Christian world. But for now, inthese innocent years, the children frolicked and fraternized in democraticabandon.Nat was especially close to John Clark Turner, who was one of theMaster’s three sons and about his age. Sometimes little NathanielFrancis came over from a neighboring plantation, and the three boysraided melon patches, collected little-boy treasures, and explored thethick forests about the Turner place, with their macabre shadows andcawing birds. They swam and fished in ponds there and set out trapsfor coon and possum. They might also visit the carpenter’s shed, whereskilled slaves fashioned cabinets and chairs for the Big House, or playmumblety-peg near the brandy still, where other7
blacks transformed fermented apple juice into brandy for the Master’stable. Nat and John Clark also received the same religious instruction,since the Turners—Benjamin and Elizabeth—were Methodists whosought to instill Christian beliefs and righteousness in their thirty-oddslaves.So Nat in his young years cavorted about the home place as slavechildren did generally in Virginia. He took his meals in the Negro cab-ins—meals of corn mush and bacon fat which he ate out of woodenbowls with a slave-carved spoon. His daytime supervisor was hisgrandmother, Old Bridget, an aged and wrinkled woman—too old towork any more—who regaled the boy with slave tales and stories fromthe Bible. Nat had become very attached to his grandmother, for shepraised him and helped teach him the same prayers the Master andMistress had taught to her.1A word about the Turners. Benjamin, getting along in years now,owned a modest plantation—a large farm really—of several hundredacres on Rosa Swamp, in a remote neighborhood “down county” fromJerusalem. Benjamin belonged to the third generation of a large Turnerfamily, who had migrated to southeastern Virginia back in the eight-eenth century, and he had acquired his holdings through inheritance,

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