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Thomas Ruffin Gray

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Much of what we know or think we know about Nat Turner, and the slave rebellion to which he gave his name, derives from a single written source, a pamphlet by Thomas Ruffin Gray.

 In a recent research paper for UC Berkeley, Christopher Tomlins has discussed "whether a hastily-written twenty page pamphlet rushed into print by an opportunistic white lawyer, down on his luck and hoping to cash in on Turner's notoriety, actually deserves to be treated as empirically reliable...."

 Tomlins starts with the basics: beginning very early in the morning on August 22, 1831. Turner led a group of blacks, most of them slaves (Billy Artis was the free man in the group) in massacring the whites in slave holding families that morning. The massacre occupied them for 12 hours, the rebellion after that consisted of repeated confrontations with militia.

By the afternoon of August 23, Turner was the only member of the group who had neither been killed nor captured. He eluded authorities until Sunday, October 30. He was executed (hanged) on November 11.

Gray was a local attorney, but he doesn't seem ever to have acted as Turner's attorney. the only role his membership in the bar really plays in this story is: it allowed him to move easily into and out of the jail where Turner was held around Nov. 1, talk to him, and take the notes that, he hoped, would reverse his own fortunes.

I will say no more  and simply recommend the article. Here is a link.


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