I sit rather straight in the hard-backed wooden chair with the gloomy courtroom – a gloominess that encases the somber hall like an eerie mist – foreshadowing my fate. Even through the grave atmosphere – that coils like a serpent spawned from lady justice herself – compressed my flesh, I still feel the steel bondage around my ankles and wrists. I can only wait for the stage when the rough hands of death entwine around my neck, and take me from this land of heathens to the plain of martyrs. Then, my last confession to this world is read: “SIR – You have asked me to give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it” (Gray 7). While my last testament is being read – like a sermon from the quagmire of hate – to the angry, or frightened, or perhaps blissful mass of onlookers that have gathered, the act that had transpired, begins to imbue my mind. With the image of my deed flooding my psyche, “it was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of this picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression” (Poe 1553). I remember the night I became a Prophet.
At first, the spirit – the apparition from the paradise of the holy book – came to me, and told me of my destiny. It was a “dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low… I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country” (Poe 1553). I was pulling a cart of young Negros, recently bought by Master Roderick, who slept peacefully – unaware of the impending bondage of hellish servitude they had been selected for – to the rhythm of the wheels against the dirt track. They were young boys, and their names were Will, Hark, Henry, Nelson, and Sam – my soon-to-be devoted apostles in my cause and gory combat. Suddenly, it came to me. In a flash of blinding light – as if illuminating purpose onto my soul – the spirit “said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first be last and last should be first” (Gray 11). Just as quickly as the spirit had appeared, it vanished. I had no idea what it meant at the time.
I was unaware of how long I had been rendered entranced, but what seemed like an instant to me had been in fact many moments in reality. Our journey almost came to a grim conclusion when “I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled luster by the dwelling, and gazed… upon the re-modeled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows” of my master’s home (Poe 1553). The throbbing agony of my service at that malicious house swept over me like a cold frost; it sent dagger-like chills across my spine. With a heavy sigh, and another slab of burden placed my shoulders, - like the world on shoulders of the great Atlas – I drove myself and the boys to the front door.
After directing the boys to the cabin of the overseer – who most likely quickly broke each one of them with his dastardly whip as if he was to break-in a wild stallion – I went to see Master Roderick. Inside the grim residence, I took note of its purgatory state: “Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, and antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all” (Poe 1555). I felt as if I was walking through the valley of darkness from the Bible – through a necropolis of fallen aspirations and dreams – while I marched to my master’s bedroom. I loathed every moment in that accommodation crafted for the Devil himself.
Upon my arrival to his bed chamber, the possessor of my body glared at me with “a cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid… a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy hair of a more web-like softness and tenuity” (Poe 1555). I stood at attention for him to deliver my report, but that mattered not to him; I was five minutes late, and my tardiness was unacceptable. He struck me repeatedly with a passion unmatched by any mortal – A showing of Herculean strength from his deep-seeded cruelties toward my race – while his bare fists bludgeoned my flesh. After I was no longer even able to kneel in servitude, he ceased his course – though I believe he wished to flatten me to represent a rug of submission. He ordered me out, and I thus retired to my shack amongst the other slaves. However, before departing the grim setting, I was accosted by Miss Madaret. She was usually a sweet blossom of innocence, but in that moment, “the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character [she exhibited], the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face [taunted me], and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death” laughed at me with her cruel words (Poe 1561). I needed the peace of my Bible after that.
Night crept over the sky like a blanket full stars, and in turn, I put down my Bible for the bliss of slumber. Sleep was my only true moment of pleasure in my forsaken life, other than the few instances of time when I can read from the Holy Scripture. But that night, the spirit blossomed in my thoughts. It quoted the Scripture to me while “I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened – the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in the streams” (Gray 10). Then, visions of paradise followed. The sweet chirping of birds around me soothed my soul, the warm glow of the sun’s rays across my skin healed my aches, and the sight of my freedom from my bastard master opened my soul to the gateway of happiness. There was even a song being sung in the background. I don’t remember many of the words, but I think it went something like this:
In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
A fair and stately palace –
Snow-white palace – reared its head…
[With] banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow…
Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
The sovereign of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sole duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king. (Poe 1558-1559)
I think the song was called “The Haunted Palace” for some reason, but I don’t know why. Nonetheless, I knew the paradise from the song was mine for the taking. I wanted it; I craved it; I desired it. At the end of my dream, “the Holy Ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me… As the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Savior was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment” was among us (Gray 10-11). I was to lead this judgment day; and it was going to start with the deaths of Master Roderick, and his daughter Miss Madaret.
Immediately, I went to the quarters of the young lads that I had knowingly brought to their doomed life of wretched slavery. They were lying in bed when I entered, groaning from the agonizing torture of the whip of the overseer. Blood pooled around each one of them – coagulated on their bed rolls of fabric – as if their souls craved to escape from their bodies. With the power of the spirit behind my voice and words, I delivered a powerful sermon to motivate them into action:
Are we men!! – I ask you, O my brethren! Are we MEN? Did our creator make us to be slaves to dust and ashes like ourselves? Are they [the white men] not dying worms as well as we? Have they not to make their appearance before the tribunal of heaven, to answer for the deeds done in the body, as well as we? Have we any other master but Jesus Christ alone? Is he not their master as well as ours?… The whites have been an unjust, jealous unmerciful, avaricious and blood thirsty set of beings, always seeking after power and authority… We see them there, cutting each other’s throats – trying to subject each other to wretchedness and misery, to effect which they used all kinds of deceitful, unfair and merciful means [on us]… But we will leave the whites… as heathens… In fact, take them as a body, they are ten times more cruel, avaricious and unmerciful… [Therefore my brothers, we will] take vessel loads of men, women and children, and in cold blood and devilishness, throw them into the sea, and murder them in all kinds of ways… [and] they are completely prepared for such hellish cruelties. (Walker 1689)
They became my followers – my soldiers and apostles alike, for the crusade against the whites – instantaneously. A flash of lightning illuminated the room, but they all saw the red passion of a blood lust in my eye. The crackle of thunder was like a battle cry for the beginning of our evolution of sovereignty. A heavy rain fell in sheets moments later, and covered our charge to the house. The murderous raid had begun.
The pitter-patter of rain obscured our footsteps through the dismal household. Will, the oldest of the teens, was to be my apprentice. The younger boys were to watch from the doorway when “it was observed that I must spill the first blood. On which, armed with a hatchet, and accompanied by Will, I entered my master’s chamber, [but] it being dark, I could not give a death blow, the hatchet glanced from his head, he sprang from the bed and called his wife, it was his last word” (Gray 12). Without warning, Will leapt into action, and brought down his great cleaver like the Hammer of God. Blood splashed onto the pillows, wall and sheets when Roderick’s wife lost her head in one clean slash. The others rushed over with such great haste that they almost knocked me to the ground. Behind the group, I saw, in my master’s wide eyes, “there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes – an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor. His air appalled me – but anything was preferable to the solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief” (Poe 1562). I scrutinized the boys as they hacked away – with a furious rhythm of swings that matched the thunder – for the reason that I yearned to dismember my antagonist.
I commanded my disciples to dispose of Master Roderick’s and his wife’s bodily pieces, and then continue onto the next estate adjacent to Roderick’s. I was to stay at the mansion, and make it mine. I looked up to Roderick’s coat-of-arms, while the boys begun to heave the limbs of Roderick out the window, and glared at the family symbol as if it was an idol – a holy symbol of his terrorizing deeds against my race. I pulled a sword from the behind the shield, and held the saber like it was an extension of my appendage. With the bed clear, the boys departed to continue the campaign. With the sword representing my mace of power – my scepter of divine grace from the heavenly father – I claimed my master’s residence. But then, I remembered the last obstacle in my path: Miss Maderet.
I stormed into her pink-walled bedroom, and gazed amongst the dolls and child-like things. Miss Maderet, “when I discovered her, had concealed herself in the corner… On my approach she fled, but was soon overtaken, and after repeated blows with [the] sword,” was rendered cataleptic (Gray 13-14). The steel blade in my hand was rather dull, and had not sliced her to bits. I pulled her from her bed by her arm, and dragged her limp, lifeless body to the ground floor. The echoing thud of her small head as it thumped down the staircase rang like a church bell. I hauled her to the dark basement that would be her resting place – her forever tomb to mark my first murder. With a heave, I flopped her into the basement which “was small, damp, and utterly without means of admission of light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own [master’s] sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a donjon (dungeon) keep” (Poe 1561). The young girl seemed to stir, and looked to vanquish her comatose state when she collapsed into the bunker. I eyed the sword in my hand, but another wand of destruction caught my eye. I lifted it from the floor, and held it above my head – upward to the heavens to be baptized because “the Saviour had been baptized so should we be also” (Gray 11). With the power of Christ in my hands, “I killed her by a blow on the head, with a fence rail” (Gray 14). The sound of her crushed skull resonated in the entombment.
With my assertion to freedom at its conclusion, I retired to my bedroom; my former master’s sleeping chamber. Even though the large bed was soaked in the blood of my villain and his companion, I found a comfortable spot in between the splatters of gore. It was the softest mattress I had ever felt. With no effort of all, the bliss of slumber engulfed me. I dreamt that night, that I was a paladin of faith – a Knight of the Templar for the crusade of sovereignty of my fellow Negro brethren – and with a drunken lust for blood and power, found the grandest treasure of the land. To reach that treasure, I swung my baptized beam through the wilderness, massacring those in my path, with the fence rail thundering – with echoes “so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of dry and hollow-sounding wood alarummed and reverberated throughout the forest” (Poe 1563). But suddenly, I awoken from my blissful illusion in a fright – fore it seemed that the same noise of my crusade echoed through the mansion. I glared around, but there was nothing. The storm continued outside, and quickly I reckoned it was just the wind – the wind of freedom and change. I revisited my dream and slumber shortly after.
In moments, I was back on the quest of glory to free my enslaved brothers. I came to an elderly hag – pale as the snow around me – that begged for mercy, but I dispatched her with one blow of my mace of justice. Her death-cry was “a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing” that I leapt from the bed in bewilderment, because “I did actually hear a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound!” (Poe 1564). Without a forewarning, the bedroom door was caste open; sheer terror and horror overwhelmed my soul. At the door, Miss Maderet stood with “blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every potion of her emaciated frame” (Poe 1565). Even though her face was crushed beyond expression, I felt the portals to her soul were glaring at me in a revulsion I had never experienced before. Then, she overtook me, and “in her horrible and now final death-agonies, bore [me] to the floor a corpse, and a victim” (Poe 1565). I was found the next morning, unconscious at the foot of my master’s bed, after the massacre of fifty-five whites had concluded.
My intellect finished its recollection of the events as the reading of my confession is ended: “I am here loaded with chains, and willing to suffer the fate that awaits me” (Gray 18). The judge, with all the power of his gavel in his hand, glares at me. His beaming eyes cast judgment on me – as if he is the true Spirit that gave me my power that faithful night. Did I fail? I believe not. I imagine my path to Heaven is secure. After another moment, the judge asks me if after everything that has happened, “Do you not find yourself mistaken now?” and I proudly retort “Was not Christ crucified?” (Gray 11). That is not the answer he wants. With a thunderous pound of his hammering gavel, he gives my verdict: “The judgment of the court is, that you be taken hence to the jail from whence you came, thence to the place of execution, and on Friday next, between the hours of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. be hung by the neck until you are dead! dead! dead! And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul” (Gray 21). The courtroom roars with an ovation that can be heard throughout township. I do not care.
That night, in my jail cell, the Spirit graces me one final time with its presence, and I am given a vision. There I was, hung from the gallows, swaying back and forth in the gentle breeze – when the sun was at its highest peak. The crowd of onlookers was silent in awe, but unaware that I stood amongst them. Suddenly, a dominant ray of light engulfed the scaffolding for the hangman’s duty – like an earthquake sent from God. The sun lowered into the abysmal tremor, and then swiftly turned to a “blood-red moon… [and] while I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened – there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind – the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight” (Poe 1565). The gibbet I hung from crumpled to the earth in bits and crumbs, and then, the fragments ascended in resurrection. I was a free man; a liberated gentleman; an equal.
Gray, Thomas R. The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrection in South Hampton, VA. Baltimore: Lucas & Deaver, 1831. Documenting the American South: The Southern Experience in Nineteenth-Century America. Ed. Carlene Hempel and Natalia Smith. 1999. Academic Affairs Lib., U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Web. 3 Nov. 2009.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 7th ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007. 1553- 1565. Print.
Walker, David. “David Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 7th ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007. 1687- 1690. Print.