Slavery in the Book by Oates “Jubilee Lights”


In his book, “Fires of Jubilee”, author Stephen Oates takes us back two centuries in a small town in Southampton County, Virginia in the United States. Fires of Jubilee has a place in history because it was a defining moment for the people of South Virginia when they chose to put up a struggle against slavery. Oates uses his book to give us a detailed occurrence of events that were recorded in history as amongst the bloodiest revolution, only rivaled by the French revolution in the south. The only difference between these two events was that the French Revolution was an upheaval of the majority low class against those of the high class, while the one in Virginia involved slaves against their masters. In Virginia, slavery was dominant as they were highly valued to provide free labor in the farms of their masters. It was so prevalent that most governors and some religions advocated it. Those people ‘that owned’ slaves were highly respected. Most of these masters oppressed and abused these slaves, except in the case of a few who were kind enough to offer their slaves holidays and off duties. It was from these mistreatments that Nat Turner was compelled to lead the slaves to revolt against their masters. Being a devoted Christian, he firmly believed that he was the chosen prophet to deliver his follower comrades from the oppression of their masters was his driving force in his brave action.

Nat Turner was a slave born to Benjamin Turner in 1800. He was also a preacher and had been taught how to read and write by his master’s son (Oates 8). Armed with reading and writing skills, Nat Turner took to preaching to his fellow slaves, who now referred to him as a prophet. In his preaching, he would often proclaim that he had the gift of revelation. He hated slavery because when he was young, he had witnessed African Americans being oppressed by white masters to the extent of being murdered. On several occasions, he had even witnessed white masters raping slave women. His hate for slavery was further reinforced by his mother being a very religious woman. As a Christian, her religious beliefs were against slavery. It is during this period that he garnered a lot of support from his fellow slaves.

The rebellion

According to Nat, August 21, 1831, was judgment day. Thus, Nat led an uprising of willing African- Americans with the urge of killing for revenge. In a group of approximately seventy people, they traveled from one white house to the other, freeing slaves and killing their white masters. Because they did not have firearms, they used crude weapons such as axes, pangas, and blunt instruments (Oates 116). He intended to kill them all in a bunch so that he could reach the jubilee number, but he had to spare a few. Nat aimed to bring on, the year of jubilee. His objective was to ensure that those who had been masters would become servants also. Before the response of the militia, the rebels had killed 55 people.

The rebelling group was suppressed after two days with Turner disappearing. Although the rebellion was defeated, it helped to communicate the plight the slaves in the Southerners were going through. Though Turner was apprehended after a while, his effort to curb slavery was not in vain, as he set a good example of the fight against oppression that led to an uprising in other areas. Later, Nat confessed his deeds, but he was not apologetic since he could not have accommodated the inhumanity that was being exercised by the white master to their black slave servants. He believed that even if he had not triggered this uprising, it would have occurred eventually.


Following the aftermath of the rebellion, widespread fear gripped the South. The impact of the retaliatory effect of the white militia towards the slaves’ rebellion was the loss of lives of innocent people. Approximately 100 blacks are believed to have lost their lives. News laws were passed across the south to prohibit free blacks and slaves from receiving an education. In addition, free blacks were also forbidden from assembling freely. White ministers were also required to oversee the worship services by blacks. Due to this rebellion, the Acting Governor supported the motion of resettling slaves back to Africa. There was fear of the repeating rebellions and consequently, there was a great decline in the slave trade. There was more insight into the southern administrators who were willing to abolish the slave trade but were not ready to lose the benefits associated with it. For the central government, it was more than willing to abolish the slave trade (Oates 185).


In conclusion, the Nat Turner rebellion was a bold step by the African Americans to put a stop to the inhuman slave trade. Although some victims lost their lives in the process, the bold action of Nat Turner was worth the effort.

Works Cited

Oates, Stephen. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990. Print