Nat Turner - Signs of the Times
On February 12, 1831, Turner saw a solar eclipse - the Sun turned black, and teh termperature fell rapidly. Upon seeing this "sign", receiving, as he says, further directions from the Holy Spirit, he communicated his designs to four of his most confidential friends. July 4, 1831, the anniversary of American Independence, was the day on which the work of death was to have been begun.
Nat Turner hesitated and allowed the time to pass by, but when the signs reappeared, he determined to begin at once the bloody work. Around August 13, he witnessed a second atmospheric disturbance in which the sun appeared bluish green from volcanic dust in the air. Sunday, August 21, he met those who had pledged their cooperation and support. The cause of the blue sun lay in an eruption of several volcanoes around the world, icludign one on Guadeloupe, another on the island of Saint Vincent in Barbados, and a third in the Lesser Antilles near Barbados. In Europe at least two volcanoes erupted in the summer of 1831, Graham Island and Mt. Vesuvius. And finally Mount Sant Helens erupted in early August 1831.
Nat Turner's Revolt came at the of the Second Great Awakening. Evangelical Protestantism became the prominent form of religion in the South. Religion had become so tepid in the hands of rationalists like Chauncy and Deists like Jefferson, that it had almost no power to change the individual. The First Great Awakening occurred between 1730 and 1760 and the Second Great Awakening took place between 1800 and 1830; both of these revivals brought new religions to the forefront and inspired a newfound interest in them. As their masters converted to Evangelical religions, they influenced their slaves to accept these Evangelical religions. For both, the Revival is seen in terms of the end of time. God was remaking society in anticipation of the coming Kingdom. A growing anti-slavery movement emerged in South. From 1808-1831, the South was the nation's leader in Anti-Slavery societies. Both whites and blacks were animated by an expectation of the End of Days.
And by 1831 there was no shortage of "Signs of the Times", confirming that the End Days were at hand.
In 1831 a number of remarkable atmospheric effects were seen. The phenomena of 1831 were attributed deacdes later to volcanic eruptions at the Ferdinandea volcano in the Mediterranean, in Barbados in the West Indies and Mount St. Helens in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which began in 1831 and lasted until 1856. The mass of vapors thrown up by Ferdinandea in August 1831 was enormous, and comparable to that which was launched from Krakatoa ; it formed a column over the volcano at least fifteen miles high. The phenomena of blue or green suns and red twilights were observed over a great part of Europe. The eruption at Barbadoes was followed by great obscurity and a prevalence of a blue sun at the Bermudas on August 11, the strange colour lasting the whole day. 'Brit, Association, 10th Report,' p. 10.)
On 07 January 1831 there was an almost worldwide dry fog, luminous at night. The extraordinary dry fog of 1831 was observed in the four quarters of the world. It was remarked on the coast of Africa on August 3, at Odessa on August 9, in the south of France and at Paris on August 10, in the United States on August 15, &c. The light of the sun was 60 much diminished that it was possible to observe its disc all day with the unprotected eye. On the coast of Africa the sun became visible only after passing an altitude of 15° or 20°. M. Rozet, in Algeria, and others in Annapolis, U.S., and in the south of France, saw the solar disc of an azure, greenish, or emerald colour. The sky was never dark at night, and at midnight, even in August, small print could be read in Siberia, at Berlin, Genoa, &c.
On August 10, 1831, at St. Severs, the sun at 5 p.m. was like the moon; an hour after, it had a dull blue colour. The horizon at sunset was of a vivid hue as it appears on hot days. A filmy cloud uniformly spread over the sky seemed to be the cause of the phenomenon. The same appearances were seen in the south of France and in North Italy. (Kiessling, 'Pogg. Ann.,' xxiii., p. 443.) On September 24, 25, and 26, 1831, most remarkable sunsets were generally noticed at Liepsic and Plauen. in Germany. The redness of the sky lasted one hour and a half after sunset. (' Met. Zeitschrift,' January, 1886.)
A very prolonged twilight was noted from Madrid to Odessa in September, 1831. It was most remarkable on September 24, 25, and 26, when it continued till 8 p.m. On the 24th, at Halle, the sky was not of a deep blue, though it was clear, and the sun had the dead brilliancy of the moon. These appearances were seen on the coast of Africa (haze and blue sun) on August 3; at the Bermudas, August 11 and 12; (blue sun) at Odessa, August 9; in southern France, August 10; at Mobile, U.S., August 13, 14, and 15; (blue and green sun) at New York, August 15; (blue sun) Canton, end of August.
In August, 1831, there was an unusual brightness in the west after sunset in Europe; and in many places the sun was dim and violet. At Canajoharie, U.S., on August 4, the sun at 5 p.m. was dim and violet. At Albany, from August 12 to 31, the western sky was deep red after sunset. One afternoon the sun was pale, like the moon, and slightly green. (' New York Meteorology,' 1826-50, p. 14.) At Washington in October 1831, especially October 12, when a red light lasted long after sunset; on October 13 the midday sun was silvery and ghastly; between 3 and 4 p.m. it was greenish-blue. (Niles' 'Register;' see 'Nature,' May 8, 1884.)
There were uncommonly dark days in August 1831, which some have though must have been caused by smoke for an eruption of a volcano. A blue Sun was seen in Georgia. The whole day was nearly as dark as night, except a little red, lurid appearance, which was perceptible until near night. Lighted candles were necessary through the day. The atmosphere was filled with smoke, ashes, and leaves, some of the latter were scorched, and the ashes were very light, like the white ashes of wood; all having the appearance of being produced by great fires, and yet none were known to be in any part of the whole region around.
As Donald G. Mathews noted in Religion in the Old South, "It is the Apocalypse that is missing from most evaluations of black religion." Mathews argues that black Methodists and Baptists centered their religious life on the coming apocalypse, and the end times that would spell the destruction of slavery. Such End Time expectations seemingly motivated Nat Turner's Revolt, and were the context within which white society interpreted his Revolt.
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