This week in history: Nat Turner's execution

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 4:10 p.m. MST

Turner's execution was only the beginning of a major crackdown against suspected Virginia slaves, and many innocent African-Americans were murdered in retribution. Historian Fergus M. Bordewich notes in his book, “Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement,” that perhaps as many as 200 African-Americans were murdered at this time.

Bordewich writes: "Turner's insurrection effectively put an end to what lingering support for emancipation remained in the South, and led directly to ever more stringent restrictions on blacks, as well as on whites who dared to publicly challenge the institution of slavery.”

Nat Turner's crimes were grisly, unnecessary, and ultimately only made things worse for his fellow African-Americans. In murdering many innocents, his methods were abhorrent and immoral, yet his was undeniably a fight for freedom. Uneducated and afraid, and burning with a desire for liberty, Turner and his fellow conspirators struck back the only way they knew how.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email:

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