Till 1831, a world of make-believe existed, as for the relationship between the slaves and their masters in USA. Both thought that they were happy in their respective positions, but discontent was boiling within and it began to grow amongst the slaves. They were bidding for the right opportunity to assert their rights. The fierce, blood-curling rebellion led by Nat Turner and the reprisals by the so called kind masters, changed of the history of America soon, and the uncontrollable bloodbath was the reason for a major Civil War.
How the seemingly innocent but the latent grudge of the slaves against their masters took the worst turn and molded irreversible directions and provided the revolutionary changes in history and politics of USA? Nat Turner had the humble beginnings. The life of a slave boy began at the age of twelve when he was ready, rather made ready to shoulder the responsibilities. Nothing like, innocent, enjoyable child hood exists for a slave boy. He belonged to the mild Virginia Tidewater Society of 1831.
The author of the book is the recipient of the Nevis-Freeman Award of the Chicago Civil War Round Table for lifetime achievements in the field of Civil War studies. No further elaboration is necessary and he is eminently suited to write on the subjects like Slavery, American Civil War etc. He has won several other awards for similar works. Whether it is slavery in USA, genocide of Jews initiated by Hitler in Poland and Germany, savagery of the Japanese soldiers in China’s Nanking—howsoever repulsive and dastardly may be the incidents, history is history and it is the duty of the students to make an objective study of it.
Reading the pages of such history may be to one’s distaste, but the unpleasant task has to be sincerely carried out. Recollection of the past sweet or sour is good when the present state affairs are healthy and sound. But unfortunately, here the issue is otherwise. The poisonous topic of slavery rips through the hearts of Black Americans like the sharp arrow and it disturbs the psyche of most of them seriously. But is avoiding the subject the proper solution? The educated black children are not likely to forgive or forget atrocities committed on their race.
It may initiate serious ethnic conflicts amongst the combustible younger generation. Nat Turner was the leader of the biggest rebellion of the salves in the American history. Over this observation, no dispute exists. This action alone made him the legendary figure. Blow by blow account of his life are unfortunately not available. What made him initiate such ruthless opposition to the white masters? What were his convictions? Was it due to the impact of the suffering undergone by him during his childhood as a slave?
The childhood has its peculiarities. The observations in the beginning, the first part of the book, ‘This infernal spirit of slavery’ is by far the best lines of the book and they go to prove as if the coming events cast their shadows before. Oates describes the life of Nat Turner thus: “He was living in the innocent season of his life, in those carefree years before the working age of twelve when a slave boy could romp and run about the plantation with uninhibited glee.
Clad only in a “tow” shirt which hung about his knees, Nat and the other children-white and black alike—played together like prattling sparrows, oblivious to that future time when white adults would permanently separate them, sending the white children to schools of tutors and the blacks to the fields, dividing them for the rest of their lives into free and chatted-into the blessed and the wretched of their Christian World. But for now, in these innocent years, the children frolicked and fraternized in democratic abandon. ”(Oates, 1990, p. 7)
How he was able to inspire and command such large following that stood behind him like the Rock of Gibraltar! Oates has done adequate research and made efforts to answer questions, which could not be attempted by the earlier historians. He is able to pinpoint his motivations to do what he did for the cause to kindle the fighting spirit amongst the blacks. Once the rebellion began, Oates gives the blow by blow account of the happenings, and the reader feels as if he is the reporter covering the actual battlefront where the war is raging.
How he is able to change the dormant thought process of the Negro. How from the changed thought process, he was able to change the action process, of the people he commanded admirably. He had clear visions about how the whites functioned, their bifacial strategy, their methods to achieve self-aggrandizement, the relentless exploitation of the black labor, and above all their strengths and weaknesses. When the Whites began to feel the heat of awakening of the Blacks, especially the younger generation, they sought the help of the Church.
The Church leaders, who had cross on their necks but not Christ in the hearts, gave the willing support. Oates writes, “By 1800, Asbury and his Methodist colleagues, confronted with growing hostility and intransigence on the part of Southern whites of all classes, had surrendered to the doctrine of necessity and accommodated the Church to slavery where it legally existed. ”(Oates, 1990, p. 10). According to Oates, that made the Blacks more desperate to act to assert.