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History in “Fire Jubilee” by Stephen B. Oates Essay

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Updated: Jan 27th, 2021

The fires of jubilee are the title of a book by Stephen B. Oates. The author narrates the tale of a slave rebellion. This rebellion was led by a slave named Nat Turner. The rebellion took place in rural Virginia in the year 1831.

Nat Turner was a black slave born on 17th October 1800 to a woman named Nancy. As he grew up, people started to notice special traits in him. It was said that he had a very good memory and that sometimes he could see visions. This made his parents very fond of him. They saw him as a future leader. His owner was a man named Benjamin Turner. The owner was very proud of Nat Turner and usually made comments on his intelligence to his friends(Oates, 1990).

Nat’s intelligence was showcased through the fact that he was able to read at a very young age. This fact made him a very well respected slave, among his fellow slaves as well as among the white people. Nat’s life was completely changed when his father runaway to seek freedom. He thus began to see slavery as a yoke imposed on him. These thoughts would later see him lead an uprising against White men.

A man named Joseph Travis acquired Nat turner as his slave in 1830. Nat was well treated by Travis his new owner. It was said that Nat regarded his new master as being kind. From a very young age, Nat was a profoundly religious person. As he was working in his master’s fields he received a vision (Oates, 1990). The vision made him start planning on liberating his fellow slaves. This is because he saw the end of the white man’s hold over the black man. The preparations turner made involved acquiring firearms. Later this proved too difficult and therefore Turner resorted to knives and other crude weapons.

Turner recruited men that were trusted allies and slowly gained followers. Because of his religious exposition, when Turner saw an eclipse he took it as a sign to start what he was already preparing for (Oates, 1990). Thus the rebellion started. House after the house was visited, people were murdered and slaves were freed. This was the trend that Turner and his allies used. However, to remain inconspicuous they refrained from using firearms. Turner targeted the affluent Whites as he believed they were the ones who thought themselves superior to the Black people. The rebellion led to the death of about sixty people.

In retaliation, groups of white men with superior weapons attacked black people wherever they were found. The rebellion was quickly quelled. Many Black slaves were killed on feeble excuses. Turner went into hiding. Most of his allies were killed. Many people were tried by the state. Many were found guilty of various accounts. Those found guilty were quickly executed. The number of this stood at approximately 56. There was widespread fear of attacks in the neighboring states.

Meanwhile, Turner’s whereabouts were not known. Various efforts to capture him proved fruitless. Finally, after months, he was apprehended. He was found hiding in a hole. His captor was Benjamin Phipps. He was tried on charges of “secretly planning harm and staging an uprising.” He was found guilty on both accounts and was executed (Oates, 1990)

Turner was driven by the desire to accomplish a mission. He felt he was given the mission by God. This is illustrated through the various visions that Nat Turner had. First, he has a vision directing him to return to his master at one time when he had escaped. The second vision is more vivid, it shows him how the savior has laid down his yoke for him to take it up. This vision makes turner realize that slavery’s time has come to an end. Also, because the vision was shown to him, he makes himself the instrument to accomplish emancipation from slavery (Oates, 1990).

Another reason that compelled Nat Turner to lead a rebellion was the escape of his father. The book clearly states that when Nat Turner’s father escaped it changed his life. The escape probably made turner realize that slavery was very intolerable to many Black people. This is because if a father could readily abandon his family to seek freedom, then slavery was a thing to be fought. Therefore, Nat Turner being much respected and also being viewed as a leader decided to use his influence to lead his fellow slaves to stage a rebellion.

Due to the rebellion, several laws were passed. They were mainly in disfavor of the Black population which was a majority. The first law concerned the education of Black people. It was made illegal to educate any black person. The white people thought that educating the Black people made them empowered and therefore, made it possible for them to plan rebellions. This law was met with wide skepticism among the Black community. Some of the educated Black people began educating their people (Oates, 1990)

There was also a law concerning religious assemblies by the Black community. The law prohibited the Black community to have any religious gatherings in absence of an accredited White minister. The southern community was a largely religious one. Many slave owners used religious texts to convince their slaves to be obedient to them. However, some realized these misinterpretations and preferred to go to their congregations. The White community realized the power held by these gatherings and therefore, by prohibiting them, they were muzzling independent opinions.

The rebellion was an eye-opener for many slaves and also some White people. The southern states did not want to loosen the hold they had on their slaves. This was in contrast to the Northern states which were much more liberalized in their views concerning the Black people. Many slaves were migrating to the north to seek asylum from the oppression in the South. This stand by the North led to the weakening of the relationship between the North and the South.


Oates, B. S. (1990). The Fire of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion. New York: Harper Perenial.

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