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Oates, Stephen B. The fire of jubilee: Nat Turners fierce rebellion, New York: Harper and Row 1975 displays excellent story telling skills, displaying the struggles of between early and mid 19th century with The Fire of Jubilee. This was a crucial moment in America’s history. Oates did enormous research and described the situation using the life of an interesting and mysterious man. The book highlights the effects of slavery and use of religion to oppress people in the 19th century.
The book starts with a thorough memoir of Turner, his life and relations. He is portrayed as an interested committed leader who made lots of effort to remain in power. Nat was born in October 17 1800 in Southampton a small town in Virginia, but hi Mother, Nancy came to America in 1795. She was purchased as a slave by a master named Benjamin Turner who was a wealthy tide planter. With time, Nancy got married to an unnamed man in the camp .She later gave birth to Nat Turner. His mother loved him so much that she preferred him dead other than see him grow up as a slave. However, by the time Nat was around 5 years old, people started noticing he was a special kid. He could see and recall what happened long before he was born, something that nobody else could do.
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Nat’s mother was very proud of him and, she later noticed strange markings on his back and head. It was an African believes that if someone bore the markings, he was born to be great and would become a renowned leader. His intelligence earned him great respect among other masters and his fellow slaves. People were amazed when Nat was once given a book by a fellow slave, and to the surprise of many, he read it despite having no education at all. It was very rare for slaves to be educated then and therefore this came as immense shock to his master, Benjamin Turner and always-said Nat was of no benefit to anyone as a slave
Nat was affected in a big way by the escape of his father. The same year Benjamin, Nat’s master passed away. The following year he was made to be an official slave to Samuel, Benjamin’s eldest son. Samuel was in his mid twenties and was highly regarded in religious matters. He often overworked his slaves using religion as a tool to scare them against disobedience. It is an interesting aspect since the writer takes some time off Nat’s story to describe the lifestyle lived by people from the south. The white masters had taught the blacks that God is supreme and that he had allowed the whites to rule the blacks as slaves. This belief led most southerners including the slaves to be deeply rooted in religion, and especially Christianity. The masters taught slaves not to question Gods will and how to take their place in life without questioning. It was believed that those who were hesitant or disobeyed the master’s orders would burn in hell. Thinking of escaping or skiving one’s duty was seen asa temptation from the devil and was punishable.
Despite their use of Christianity to try to justify their actions, many slaves still felt oppressed under that regime and often felt the urge to rebel. In 1790, a great rebellion erupted in an island of Santo Domingo, and in 1979, two guards were murdered in Nat’s birth town, Southampton. The first major attempt on the whites came in 1800 at Richmond when a man named Gabriel planned to torch the town and take the governor hostage. Although he was not successful, he played a major role in rebellion among many southerners. This gave them hope of independence and it would help greatly in their road to freedom.
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Nat worked hard in Turners’ fields getting discontented with every day duties of the field. He spent most of his time preaching and giving sermons to his fellow slaves as that was his only drive to live in the camp. In 1829, Turner hired an overseer monitor his slaves, who annoyed, who later ran away that year. To the surprise of many, he returned on his own after one moth and, cited that a spirit had summoned him to go back to the fields and serve his master. Samuel died in 1822, and Nat was already married to his wife, Cherry. Both of them were to be sold as slaves to another master Nat selling at a value of $400 to a master named Thomas Moore. The new master was very fierce to Nat and expected him to do lots of hard labor because he had been bought at a fair price. Nat viewed Virginia to be much better to his new location as Samuel treated Nat with some preferential respect.
His sale eliminated any dreams of freedom that his former master sometimes spoke. By the summer of 1825, Nat grew more mysterious than ever before and started behaving in a strange manner. The slaves were given a break from their work on Sundays that Nat used to spend in his cabin praying hard and reading the bible. He later started preaching to his fellow slaves on the evils of slavery and, why it was not Gods will for them to be there. He always encouraged them that God had a better plan for them other than slavery citing the example in the bible of Moses leading the Israelites to Canaan. He saw himself as the chosen person to lead his people out slavery and to a free land.
Nat started seeing things in his dreams mostly seeing a black spirit overcoming a white spirit. He saw the judgment day approaching fast, and only waited for a sign from God for him to lead his people out of the misery. He became very popular with his sermons and people flocked around him on Sundays to listen to his wise words until late in the night. His masters Thomas and Sally did not see Nat as harmful person and did not take his actions negatively, as long as he did a good job in the fields. By then he had accumulated large crowds from neighboring plantations and Negroes from the county were heard whispering amongg themselves of a rebellion that Nat was planning. Some secretly made an oath to him and swore to help him in any way. At this point, the book changes from the long years of struggle to a single day that would end the suffering.
Nat was sure God would take over once he laid his plans. One day after midnight, the struggle began. He and his small army attacked the master as his first target. They had to make a stop at the servants’ quarters to gather more slaves to help in overpowering the master. Nat found it unclean and very hard to kill and only watched as his master was murdered in his sleep. For the first time in his life, he felt real freedom as he attacked went on for the rest of the night. They went from one farm to the next gathering support and overpowering the whites eventually killing them. After several raids, they were well armed with horses and rifles that they collected on attacking the houses.
Nat was astonished that some people he struggled to save were fighting against him. Some slaves fought for their masters but Nat made sure no slaves were harmed in the operation. By morning, most people had vacated the farms fearing that it might have been the British attacking, with some even thinking of it as an apocalypse. Meanwhile, the attacks continued with Nat as the mastermind of it. Nat rarely fought the physical war, and only killed one girl in the entire operation. On their way to Jerusalem, many of Nat’s troop members had started celebrating victory .Some were even too drunk to ride their horses. Around 200 Virginia’s militia were planning an attack on Nat’s army of 40 men. They crushed on the road-killing half of Nat’s army while the rest retreated to the farms. Nat managed to escape very tired and devastated as he had tried his best to help his people but they had turned against him.
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All insurgents held back in Jerusalem were tried and hanged. Sometime Later, major efforts lay down to look for Nat. An armed white man captured him while walking in the forest and took him to prison. He then sought a lawyer, Thomas Grey who visited him and interviewed him. The interview was to be published, something that Nat saw as a way of immortalizing himself and his legacy. He was finally convicted and executed on 11th November 1831.
Every slave and master in the land felt the effects of turner’s rebellion, that even the authorities in Virginia contemplated abolishing slavery to avoid such uprisings in future. Slavery was not abolished then but for the first time in a long time, it was discussed as an option. Oates did a wonderful job in writing the book and it is evident he did lots of research on it. The book is captivating and helps a reader to make mental pictures in all the events it covers. It is also an enjoyable historical memoir of the black struggle against slavery.
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