I suggested the Nat Turner confession without having read it. I just looked through a collection of slave narratives for something from the early 19th century that was crime-related, and found it. After reading it through, I’m impressed by how well it connects to what we’ve been talking about, and to some things coming up.
Foucault talked about power and control. The top of page 5 of Turner’s Confessions gives the document a statement of purpose (“to demonstrate the policy of our laws in the restraint of this class of our population”) coupled with some reassurance (“not instigated by motives of revenge or sudden anger”) that a replay of the incident was unlikely.
The concept of knowledge and power underlies the statement on page 8. “I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave.” I can only speculate what the alternative to being raised might have been. Yet Turner’s aptitude for learning seems to have put him in a power position, as his knowledge was “a source of wonder” (p. 8).
Page 9 sets Turner up a seer or prophet, a kind of cult leader, with his visions and his mission from God, and fellow servants who believed him. One of his visions was a coming race war, and his ultimate mission was to instigate it. That struck me as totally Helter Skelter, something that will be coming up later in the semester.
And what do you know? There’s a Nat Turner graphic novel by Kyle Baker. That’s where the above image comes from.