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The Historical Traditions of Nat Turner

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Title: The Historical Traditions of Nat Turner
Author: Sacks, Dan
Advisor: Krippner, James
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 232776 bytes18345 bytes
Issue Date: 2008
Abstract: In 1831, Nat Turner led the most violent slave revolt in United States history. The only record of his beliefs and thoughts is his official testimony, which the lawyer Thomas R. Gray recorded and prepared. Drawing on scarce material, generations of Americans have remembered Turner in vastly different ways. Turner's legacy simultaneously shaped and reified cultural and political projects. I argue that for the white Virginians of 1831, Turner was a threat to be marginalized and silenced. For white abolitionists, he became an example of the tragic consequences of slavery, a harbinger of doom. For many African-Americans, he was a hero, representing the pinnacle of masculinity and resistance. These distinct traditions came into contact in 1967 with the publication of William Styron's novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Styron, drawing on the Virginian tradition, attempted to humanize Turner, but he drew fire from his critics who, drawing on the African-American tradition, saw Styron's Turner as a gross caricature of their hero.
Subject: Turner, Nat, 1800?-1831
Subject: Turner, Nat, 1800?-1831 -- In literature
Subject: Styron, William, 1925-2006. Confessions of Nat Turner
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Sacks, Dan. "The Historical Traditions of Nat Turner". 2008. Available electronically from

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