Who Speaks in The Confessions of Nat Turner?

Use the excerpt from The Confessions of Nat Turner to explore concepts of historical voice with students.

Materials

Excerpt from Confessions of Nat Turner Handout.docx

Confession

Agreeable to his own appointment, on the evening he was committed to prison, with permission of the jailer, I visited NAT on Tuesday the 1st November, when, without being questioned at all, he commenced his narrative in the following words: --

Sir, -- You have asked me to give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it -- To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born. I was thirty-one years of age the 2d of October last, and born the property of Benj. Turner, of this county. In my childhood a circumstance occurred which made an indelible impression on my mind, and laid the ground work of that enthusiasm, which has terminated so fatally to many, both white and black, and for which I am about to atone at the gallows. It is here necessary to relate this circumstance -- trifling as it may seem, it was the commencement of that belief which has grown with time, and even now, sir, in this dungeon, helpless and forsaken as I am, I cannot divest myself of. Being at play with other children, when three or four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother overhearing, said it had happened before I was born -- I stuck to my story, however, and related some things which went, in her opinion, to confirm it -- others being called on were greatly astonished, knowing that these things had happened, and caused them to say in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet, as the Lord had shewn me things that had happened before my birth. And my father and mother strengthened me in this my first impression, saying in my presence, I was intended for some great purpose . . .

Debriefing the Document:

1. What do you think this document is?

2. Who is speaking in the document? Who do you think is the author of the document? Why?

3. What do you think is happening, or being described in the document?

4. Why do you think the speaker says, “I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born”? Does this influence your ideas about who is speaking in the document, or what is happening? Why or why not?

Excerpt courtesy of Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia

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