Slave Resistance

Essential Question

What strategies did people use to resist and overturn slavery?

Slaver Resistance

Maintaining their own religious beliefs and practices was only one way in which enslaved people resisted slaveholders' attempts to control them completely. In small ways, slaves rebelled against the system daily. Sometimes they worked slower to protest long hours in the fields. They pretending they could not understand what they were told to do. Some broke farm equipment and damage goods. Other times they ran away for a few days to avoid an angry slaveholder. Some slaves tried to escape permanently, but most left only for short periods, often to go and visit relatives.

Gaining freedom by escaping to the North was hard. If discovered, slaves were captured and sent back to their slaveholders, where they faced certain punishment or death. However, thousands of enslaved people succeeded in escaping.

Although violent slave revolts were relatively rare, white southerners lived in fear of them. Two planned rebellions were stopped before they began. Gabriel Prosser planned a rebellion near Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. Denmark Vesey planned one in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1822. Authorities executed most of those involved in planning these rebellions. Though Vesey was executed as the leader of the Charleston conspiracy, several accounts written after his death by anti- slavery writers claimed he was a hero.

The most known slave revolt in the United States occurred in 1831 and is known as Nat Turner's Rebellion. Nat Turner, a slave from Southampton County, Virginia, believed that God had told him to end slavery. On an August night in 1831, Turner led a group of slaves in a plan to kill all of the slaveholders and their families in the county. First, they attacked the family that held Turner as a slave. Soon they had killed about 60 white people in the community.

More than 100 innocent slaves who were not part of Turner's group were killed by authorities in an attempt to stop the rebellion. Turner himself led authorities on a chase around the countryside for six weeks. He hid in caves and in the woods before he was caught and brought to trial. Before his trial, Turner's confession was published in newspapers, and calling him a madman. He expressed his belief that the revolt was justified and worth his death: "I am willing to suffer the fate that awaits me." He was executed on November 11, 1831. After the rebellion, many states strengthened their slave codes. The new codes placed stricter control on the slave population. Despite the resistance of enslaved people, slavery continued to spread. White and black abolitionists, working mainly in the North, spoke out against slavery.

Was Nat Turner a hero or a madman?

Today we’re going to read three documents that evaluate the kind of person Nat Turner was. We need to decide which of these characterizations we believe.

Activity 1: Was Nat Turner a hero or a madman?

Read over the timeline and three documents to answer the guiding questions to evaluate the kind of person Nat Turner was.

SHEG-Was Nat Turner a hero or a madman-Student Version.pdf

Discussion Questions

  • Who was Nat Turner? Was he a hero or a madman?

  • What is your evidence?

  • What other evidence would you like to have to inform your decision?

  • Why do the characterizations in Documents A, B, and C differ?

  • Which do you think is most trustworthy?

  • How does the passage of time affect how people view(ed) Turner?

  • How do you think most people today would characterize Turner?

Activity 2: By what means did enslaved people resist slavery in the south?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the question in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities