Book Review: The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion

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Book Review: The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion

Book review
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The book, “The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion”, by Stephen B. Oates is a narrative of how a man called Nat Turner rose up to rebel against slavery in Virginia in 1800s. Born on October 2, 1800, Nat Turner grew up as an intelligent child. Her mother was a slave to a master known as Benjamin Turner and his father was also a slave. However, when Nat Turner was eight years old, his father ran away from Southampton County, Virginia. Natwas brilliant and his master allowed him to be taught how to read. Turner turned to the Bible and read it with the enthusiasm of a Christian waiting for the second coming of Jesus. However, Nat’s enthusiasm represented that of Moses who led the Israelites of bondage. Nat used the Bible and manipulation to convince the slaves that he was chosen to emancipate them from slavery.

Nat’s quest for freedom made him flee from his master in 1821 and later returned by himself after thirty days. Nat said he was compelled by the lessons in the Bible to always obey his master. Upon his return, slaves revered him and listened to with admirable attention. Nat preached zealously, thus earning himself the title, “the prophet.” In 1822, Nat was sold to another master after the death of Samuel Turner, his master. Nat still devoted himself to the new master, doing household chores and working in the field. However, Nat still held his view that God spoke to him and prepared him to liberate the Blacks from slavery.

Turner hid in the woods to read the Bible. Oates writes, “He avoided Moses and Inarchy, kept away from praise meetings, and passed his Sundays in his cabin or off in the woods somewhere, transported in prayer, engrossed in his Bible” (35). Turner took to Christianity with all his heart and mind and even fasted, seeking guidance from God. In 1825 when Turner was 25 years old, he emerged from the woods with a new awakening- he was the one to lead the Blacks to freedom.  Turner told the slaves how he had communion with the Holy Spirit, thus proving himself to be the one chosen to the emancipate the Blacks from slavery.  When the Whites justified slavery through scriptures, Turner searched for the scriptures to justify his course- emancipation of the Blacks. Oats writes, “And for every Biblical lesson white preacher found to vindicate Negro slavery, the Scriptures contained an opposite injunction against human bondage.” (35).

After emerging from the woods and preaching vehemently, Nat organized a small group of slaves to plan for a rebellion. While the whites thought the slaves were docile and obedient, rebellion was slowly brewing up, and it was just a time bomb. Hark, Nelson, Henry and Sam planned the rebellion from scratch through religious meetings. Nat led them to the belief that God has chosen them to rebel against slavery. On a Sunday, October 21, 1832, Nat and his group launched their attack on the whites, an operation that lasted for thirty-six hours before being countered by the white militias. Nat escaped and hid in the woods, but was found and executed. The rebellion left 60 Whites and 200 Blacks dead.

Oate’s book has a stimulating effect, a thrilling account of Nat Turner who heroically attempts to lead the Blacks to freedom. I liked the organization of the book. The organization of the book, and the events in Nat’s life represents the Biblical story of Moses. Like Moses, Nat was born into slavery and rose up to lead the slaves. Although Moses managed to lead the Israelites from slavery, Nat failed to lead the Blacks to freedom. Despite not leading the Blacks to freedom, Nat sparked a debate on Black emancipation and his rebellion was recorded in history books.


Oates give a historical account of a Black man who defies all the rules and resolves to lead others to freedom. I like the way Oates described Nat’s biography, applying the rhetorical appeals to engage the reader. For example, Oates used pathos, which is the appeal to emotions to keen the reader engaged in the book. Oates writes, “…Nat emerged from his solitude and began telling the neighbourhood slaves incredible things: he claimed that the Holy Spirit had again spoken to him and had opened the heavens themselves- as God has done with Ezekiel in the days of the Old Testament.” (35).  In the statement, Oates arouses emotions of fear within the reader, just the way Nat aroused emotions of fear within the slaves.

I liked the way Oates provide vivid description of events as they happened, which seemed to spark the Civil War. From Nat’s birth, to the organization of rebellion, Oates provide vivid description of Nat’s life. The author describes how Nat was unique and took to reading. He could hide in the woods engrossed in his Bible, and turn out as a vehement preacher who used manipulation and the Bible to convince the Blacks that he was the chosen one to lead them to freedom. The vivid description helps the reader to see the events as they happened.  Oates helps to revive the legacy of Nat, a man who fearlessly led to the first slave rebellion, just prompting the Whites to come up with policies preventing the Blacks to attend school or be taught how to read.

However, I did not like the way Oates uses a superior tone towards the inhabitants of rural South. Oates’ description of those in the South- Blacks and Whites shows that they are inferior to the Northerners. For example, the main economic activity of the Southerners was plantation farming, and they had to rely on slaves for production. Conversely, the North was commercialized and they did not need the slaves. The fact that the Whites in the North did not need the slaves does not mean that they were superior to the Whites in the South. Therefore, Oates could have maintained an objective tone throughout the book.

The most interesting argument in the book is the way Nat convinces the other slaves that he is destined to lead them out of slavery. Even the author describes the marking on his body as linked with leadership according to African tales. Nat takes up the mantle and starts reading the Bible, fasting and telling people that he has spoken to the Holy Spirit. The argument seems fallacious because Nat was reacting to his own feelings of resentment towards the Whites. He hated slavery and was willing to use available means to emancipate the Blacks. However, he failed to organize the slaves in a proper way through training and acquisition of ammunition to defend themselves. All in all, I enjoyed reading the book, and I recommend it to any avid reader of history and any one interested in knowing the first events that led to the Civil War.

Work Cited

Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion. , 2016. Print.

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