Black Church Figures You Should Know - Nat Turner

Why the series?

Historical Theology and Church History in the African American context is rarely celebrated. That is a very sad occasion. There is much we can learn from the rich tradition of the African American church. When we do, it affirms the great doctrine that all men are created in the Image of God and it kills the great sin of intellectual racism.

What about the series?

A few things must be noted about our list. First and foremost, please be aware that appearances on the list do not automatically confirm theological content and biblical orthodoxy. Please consider each figure in light on proper biblical interpretation and refer to our statement of beliefs when in doubt. Secondly, this list is nowhere near being exhaustive in scope or content. We are barely scratching the surface and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We considered appearances on the list by surveying several avid supporters for their considerations based upon the figures of significant impact, rich content, and historical significance.

Nathaniel “Nat” Turner

Nathaniel “Nat” Turner was born on October 2, 1800 as a slave in Southampton County, Virginia.  His mother was named Nancy, was a native African.  His owner, Benjamin Turner, allowed Nat to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion.  Early on, he devoted much of his time reading the Bible, praying, and fasting.  It is said that Nat had the ability to describe things that happened before his birth.  Some ventured to say that he “surely would become a prophet” based on his ability to see signs.

By the early 1820s, Nat had worked on a number of plantations.  In 1821, he ran from his current owner Samuel Turner’s (brother of Benjamin Turner) plantation.  It was while in hiding that Nat believed he received a sign from God telling him that he was to lead his people from bondage.  So he returned to the plantation and began to preach to the slaves who began calling him “the Prophet”.

In February of 1831, Nat Turner received another sign, in the form of a solar eclipse, to signify to him that the time for revolt was imminent.  He spent months developing his plan and gathering recruits.  On August 21, 1831, Turner and seven other slaves began the only effective, sustained slave rebellion in U.S. history.  The Nat Turner revolt resulted in a gathering of nearly 40-50 slaves securing arms and horses to murder about 55 white men and the spread of terror across the South.  Although the revolt caused stricter legislation prohibiting the education, movement, and assembly of slaves up until the Civil war in 1861, it also eradicated the myth that slaves were either content being slaves or were too submissive to mount an armed revolt. 

Nat turner was eventually found and hanged in Jerusalem (now Courtland), VA on November 11, 1831.  It is believed that for many years subsequent to Turner’s death, Black churches throughout the country referred to the name Jerusalem not only from the bible but also covertly to the place of Nat Turner’s execution.  

For more information, visit:

A Rebellion to Remember: The Legacy of Nat Turner – Nat Turner