A literate slave preacher, Nat Turner, led a revolt in 1831 Virginia, resulting in the deaths of more than 50 white people and 100 slaves, and eventually his own hanging.
Whether he was a hero or villain is a battle that still rages and one Christy Award-winning author, Sharon Ewell Foster, seeks to address in her Resurrection of Nat Turner series, The Witnesses and The Testimony (Howard Books).
Her first introduction to Turner was seeing William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, on her mother’s nightstand. But as an adult, she discovered political spin was not a 21st century beast! “As I researched, I became convinced that most of what we’ve been taught about Nat Turner isn’t true,” she shares. “Nat Turner, by most accounts, was a faithful Christian. Prior to the revolt, he was known as a Christian who didn’t drink, who didn’t steal, who went all over the Tidewater area of Virginia preaching the Word. He could read and write at a time when most of the population of Virginia was illiterate. He was a family man.”
After realizing that the primary historical document, The Confessions of Nat Turner by the attorney Thomas Gray, was a fabrication, Sharon began researching and writing in earnest for over five years. “I learned from local historians that his mother was a slave brought from Ethiopia, that he was supposed to have been friends with his owner, Sallie Francis Moore Travis.” In The Witnesses Sharon reveals Nat Turner through the eyes of those who knew him—friend and foe, slave and free while The Testimony is what Sharon describes as “Nat Turner’s day in court.”
Now 180 years later, the town where the uprising took place remains polarized on Turner’s legacy, but Sharon has been astounded at what has been happening as locals read her books. “They are having the most powerful, insightful, healing conversations with each other. You can feel the honesty and the love, even as they wrestle with this topic.”