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

In 1821 Turner hired an overseer to increase the efficiency of his slaves. follower John C.Santo Domingo. August 21. Many secretly swore their allegiance to him. He claimed that the Spirit had told him stay on the plantation and continue to serve his master. John Floyd. Cheery. He began to preach to other slaves about the evils of slavery. Nat was extremely displeased with this and ran away that same year. Nat toiled for many years in Turner's fields. In 1822 Samuel Turner died and Nat along with his new wife . Slaves flocked to his Sunday meetings and listened to him preach late into the night. thought him to be harmless. but the sale was also unfortunate to Nat in several ways. they would aid him. Thomas and Sally. This was very fortunate for Nat because he could remain in Virginia. Astonishingly he returned under his own will thirty days latter. He tried to convince them that God had something better for them. He spent many hours each day in meditation and preaching to other slaves. better then slavery. He spent his Sundays (slaves had Sundays off) in a cabin deep in the woods praying and reading the bible. and simply had to wait for a final sign from God. Floyd was a pragmatic supporter of state rights. He fated for days at a time. His plans were spoiled before he had an opportunity to carry them out. and he . By now it was the summer of 1825. Nat was valued at $400 and sold to Thomas Moore. The first attempted large scale insurrection on American soil was the Gabriel Prosser conspiracy in Richmond in 1800. His masters. Callhoun. As long as he did hi work every week they had nothing to complain about. His only refuge were his deep religious convictions. When he decided to act. He was certain that judgment day was approaching. The next hundred pages discuss one day of history: Sunday. The first seventy-five pages have dealt with thirty years of history. It eliminated any chance that he might be given his freedom. In 1799 two white guards were killed while transporting slaves through Nat's hometown. At this point the pace of the book changes immensely. Negroes from all over the county could be frequently heard whispering among themselves about general's Nat's rebellion. Oates begins with some background on Virginia's Governor. Nat become more mysterious or withdrawn then he had ever been. He used Moses' escaping Egypt as a example of what he would one day do for his people. Gabriel and his accomplices planned to burn Richmond. Southampton county. growing more and more discontent with his situation. He saw visions and had dreams of black spirits defeating white spirits. which his first master spoke of often. but the event contributed dramatically to the uneasiness of many Southerners. By now Nat had attracted a large following and had b become friends with slaves in nearby plantations. were to be sold. and take the governor hostage. Nat's new master was a kind man. Moore would not have paid $400 for Nat if he did not expectant to benefit from Nat's hard labor.

Nat was furious with their lack of discipline but pressed on anyway. no-one would be spared. At many farms slaves refused to join Nat and actually fought against him. Meanwhile Nat's lieutenants continued their attacks. the insurgents were heading toward Jerusalem and confrontation. and plunder.actually favored gradual abolishment in his state. By noon. at a place called cabin pond. terrified of the rebellion sweeping the countryside. Nat's force was crushed. There were seven of them in all. as their masters enjoyed an afternoon of picnicking and socializing after church. At each farm more slaves joined their rebellion. A few lucky souls were able to escape from a raid and notify their friends and family before it was too late. Back in Southampton County. or even that the apocalypse had taken place. about 40 strong. and Nat along with 20 others retreated to a nearby plantation. After several raids Nat's force was sufficiently armed with rifles and horses. They would rise that night and kill white people. By now many of Nat's troops. who he beat with bare hands. like all the other white citizens. One character that I found particle intriguing was named Will. and their plans were simple. but were united n a common hatred of whites. When his army had grown sufficiently. were to drunk to fight or even ride their horses. and most of the farms that Nat encountered were deserted. a young girl. I found the descriptions of Nat's various allies very interesting. Sometime after midnight. and his future actions have been lost to history. Nat remained behind the entire time. and helped kill the whites. Many believed that the British were invading. Nat and army moved from one farm to the next. In course of the whole rebellion he had only killed one person. the insurrection began. By mid-morning word had spread throughout the county. Apparently he believe that God would intervene once he put his plans into action. Nat was shocked that the flames of rebellion did not burn in very slave. Nat was confident that scores of Negroes would rise to his aid when he began his march of death. When the two forces meet on the road. which they stole from each house. And so it went throughout the night. Nat split his forces to increase the killings. Nat and his small army moved toward their first target. Nat was a free man. For the first time in his life. so he watched as will killed Nat's masters in his sleep. Nat's master is on his way to church. Nat refused to kill at first. they stopped at the slave quarters to rally support for their cause. There was really no ultimate objective to Nat's plan. Nat would first unleash terror on his very owner. As they approached the house. Most of the citizens had gathered in nearby Jerusalem. Slaves were usually left unattained on Sunday. possibly planning what he would do next. The Virginia militia was ready with about 200 men to fight the rebels. They all had different personalities. On this day however. Everything except his name. Nat . Nat met with some of his closet friends deep in the woods that morning. Floyd would face the greatest challenge of his political career.

Many slave holders blamed the rebellion on the abolishment movement. The Virginia state legislature actually debated freeing all slaves to avoid future conflict. his rebellion cost the lives of sixty white. attitudes.was extremely tired and needed to sleep. Nat saw this as an opportunity to immortalize himself and accepted. Gray published his interview in 1831. Oates believes that Nat Turner's rebellion was a critical turning point in American history. I think Stephen Oates was truly interested in what he was researching. Many blacks were killed after news of the rebellion surfaced. all that remained of Nat's rebellion was Nat Turner himself. and over 200 blacks. as this is reflected in the book. On October 30 Nat was walking through the woods when he heard something. The detail fills the mind with a well-drawn picture of the scenery. the fury of Nat's rebellion diminished. many Southerners were battling their consciences over the slave issue. Lastly I would say that this book is not only enjoyable. The effects of Nat Turner's rebellion were profound. but to his shock they turned on him. and whites attempted to avenge their brothers by murdering as many blacks as they could. Thomas Gray visited Nat and asked Nat if he was willing to be interviewed. needs of the blacks and whites of this part of the South. Overall. But even as Calhoun was battling Jackson for a lower tariff. I was especially impressed with his ability to describe what was happening. The tariff issue became central to southern politics. and he does a very good job bringing the reader into the story. After six weeks. He stuck his head out from behind a tree to investigate and was shocked to see a white man pointing a shotgun at him. smells. Nat was convicted and execute on November 11. Nat was still at large. His skill as a writer is excellent. Many people had believed that slaves would never think of hurting their "loving. Back in Jerusalem. Laws were passed that forbid teaching slaves to read or write. especially Southern history. . What Nat did scared many whites tremendously. An educated slave could be a dangerous slave. Within time. All said. with many reward hungry whites looking for him. Some people attributed this to the cause of the killings. Christian" masters. Nat was taken back to Jerusalem to await trial. William Loyd Garrison began publishing "The Liberator". While in prison. Of course this never happened but this was the first time that such an idea had ever been discussed. his state appointed lawyer. all the captured insurgents were tried and hung. Nat tried to enlist more slaves. Suddenly. The attitudes of many plantation owners changed as a result of Nat. I was extremely impressed with this work. but also an important historical work that is helpful in understanding race relations of the past and present. The same year of Nat's rebellion.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful