American Terrorists: Nat Turner and John Brown

JB Shreve
January 30, 2018 2 mins to read
Reading Time: 3 minutes

“One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.” Another way of saying this is, terrorists do not always appear the way we expect them to. Due to the flexible nature and definition of the word terrorist, many historical figures we would identify with a good cause would also fit into the definition of the word terrorist. The defining moments of the lives of Nat Turner and John Brown are good examples of this.

Nat Turner
Nat Turner

Nat Turner was an American slave who, under reported divine inspiration, led a bloody slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. He was caught and executed but the wave of terror he set off produced repercussions for decades in the relationship between white slave owners and the slaves.

john brown
John Brown

John Brown was a religious fanatic who believed he was destined by God to lead an American insurrection that would free the slaves. In 1859 he led a raid upon an American armory that set off a wave of terror in the south. Many believe this lit the spark for the American Civil War.

This episode looks at the famous lives of Nat Turner and John Brown, two anti-slavery figures of 19th century America. A cause may be righteous but that doesn’t make one’s methods immune from classic definitions of terrorism.

This is part of my ongoing podcast series on the History of Terrorism.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode check out the complete series on the History of Terrorism.

anarchists guy fawkes gunpowder plot reign of terror white terrorism in the south
The History of Terrorism series tells the story of how terrorism developed from the ancient world to ISIS.

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Episode 179: American Terrorists – Nat Turner and John Brown

You can download this podcast episode at my Patreon. 

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Additional Reading:

This is an article published in the Atlantic Magazine in 1861 telling the story of the Nat Turner revolt

Nat Turner Park in Newark, NJ

John Brown’s Body and the Battle Hymn of the Republic

John Brown’s Day of Reckoning


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