On August 21, 1831, a slave named Nat Turner led a rebellion against white slave owners in Southampton County, Va., about 20 miles from the border with North Carolina. Within a day, more than 50 people had been killed. The ranks of the rebels swelled to about 60 slaves. The governor called out the militia to end the rebellion but word of the attacks began to spread across the South.
In North Carolina’s northern border counties, a panic ensued among the residents. The militia was called out to Hertford, Halifax and Northampton Counties. Whites in other counties began to arm themselves as well. As rumors and speculation spread that there would be more violence and attacks, many slave owners began to fear that their own slaves were going to rise up against them. As a result, whites began to monitor the behavior of their slaves more closely and in some cases blacks were arrested and executed. The legislature also passed laws further restricting rights of slaves and free blacks.
After several weeks on the run, Nat Turner was caught and tried in Virginia, where he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. He was hanged later that fall.
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