August 13, 1831: O, What Portents are these?

In Raleigh, North Carolina, during the early dog days of August, 1831 a heavy and mysterious silence chained the elements. No clouds obscured the sky, no forked lightning cleaved the firmament. The deep mutterings of thunder were unheard, yet a pall hung over the face of nature. A strange calm rested upon everything and men looked wonderingly at each other to divine the result.Vincent_van_Gogh

On August 13th, the sun began to assume a pale and sickly hue after noon and by four o’clock was deprived of all its illuminating power. It took the appearance of a greenish globe, thickly set across its diameter with black spots of various sizes, which continued to be visible to the naked eye, until sunset.

At Albany, New York that same day, the sun was pale, like the moon, and slightly green and the western sky turned deep red after sunset.

At Macon, Georgia a blue tint settled over the face of the sun in the early afternoon and remained until the sun set seven hours later. Citizens quickly smoked glasses through which they watched the sun while thumbing frantically through almanacs.

Dry fog was observed on the coast of Africa, on the Black Sea and in the south of France. The sky was never dark at night, and even small print could be read at midnight in Siberia.

Some folks recalled the eclipse of the sun from February, or the eerie atmosphere that preceded the New Madrid earthquake back in 1811.
In Missouri, Joseph Smith received a revelation – The angels of the Lord were watching over the elders who were voyaging west “upon horses or upon mules or in chariots” to the Land of Zion and would receive his blessing.

In Dresden, Vermont, the Reverend William Miller began preaching with chronological certitude: the End Days of the world would surely arrive on March 21, 1844.

In Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner also took the workings of the heavens to be a sign. He should lead his people to a land of blue water and green leaves. Remembering Moses and his exodus to the land of milk and honey, he fashioned a rough copper snake and attached it to a rod, and then Nat put forth his plan to lead his people out of bondage.

At 2:00 a.m. on Aug. 22, Nat and a small band of slaves entered the home of his owner, Joseph Travis. Nat Turner struck the first blow with a hatchet. A fellow slave finished the killing with a broadax. They took arms and horses, and rode into the night. The rebels rode to the nearest plantation compound at full gallop, and swiftly killed all the slave owners. They left with more fighters, more horses, muskets, and swords.

For two days, the slave revolt grew – first a dozen, and then 30 and then 60, and perhaps 80 men marching and singing, waving red flags for their freedom, and killing every slave owner they found, until a white militia set up roadblocks. When he met the militia Nat halted his people and attempted to preach at the whites. Someone opened fire, and the armed blacks charged and overwhelmed the outnumbered whites. The slaves crossed the Shenandoah Valley into western Virginia before the soldiers caught up with them. When artillery, horsemen, and eight hundred infantry attacked their camps, the exodus was stopped.

Dozens of slaves were executed, hundreds returned to their masters. Some escaped into Ohio, but Nat turned back, realizing that even Moses had not been able to pass over into the Promised Land. He hid in the Dismal Swamp until he was captured on October 30.

On November 11, 1831, Nat Turner was hanged, flayed, beheaded, and quartered. See More

— with Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia

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