It is the 2nd of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1800.
The first year in the 1800s started off with a bang in the new country in North America. The United States officially moved its capital to a federal district on the Potomac River on Virginia's border. The capital had been in New York and then Philadelphia. New York made sense as a strategic hub and financial center, but it was moved to Philadelphia as that was both a smaller city, and it is where the Congress had previously met. However, the story of the republic is one of the northern and southern factions. The south was concerned that a northern capital would be too friendly to merchants and abolitionists. The compromise was moving the capital to the small district named after the first president.
At the time, the president was John Adams, and he would be the first president to reside in D.C. The house that Adams moved into was not yet called the White House but instead the "presidential palace." Teddy Roosevelt named the house based on its color in the early 20th century. However, Adams did not live in the house for long, as the year 1800 saw him booted out of office after just one term by Thomas Jefferson.
The election of 1800 might make some of us feel a little bit better today as it was a messy, undignified election with smears and militias ready to be deployed if the wrong person lost. You may remember that in George Washington's farewell speech, he warned against the creation of factions or political parties. Four years after Washington wrote his address, this election saw the party system born, and we've suffered under it since.
It was an ugly contest with Jefferson saying of Adams that he "behaved neither like a man nor like a woman, but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character." Adams claimed that a vote for Jefferson was a vote for murder, rape, and robbery being "openly taught and practiced." Good times.
And it was in this country, in this year, on this the 2nd of October, that one of the most consequential characters of the early republic was born. Nat Turner, known as the Prophet, was born as the property of a plantation owner not far from the nation's new capital. His mother was also the property of the landowner, and thus Turner was able to be raised by his mother, unlike others who may have been separated from their families. Turner's mother inculcated him with a deep Christian piety and the ability to read. Armed with a Bible only, Turner would be sold twice more as he continued to attend church. Often white churches would allow slaves to worship with them. He would go on to preach and teach his fellow slaves from the Bible. He was nicknamed "the Prophet" for his fiery sermons and was convinced that involuntary servitude was antithetical to the Gospel.
Of course, Nat Turner would become most famous for the rebellion that he led and took his name, the "Nat Turner Rebellion." While slave revolts or plots were not uncommon, Turner's had a distinctly theological basis and unfortunately, bloody outcome. Unlike other slave revolts, Turner insisted that only the slaves that wanted to could join. By not casting a wide net initially, it was less likely that the plan would be leaked and foiled. Turner's rebellion was based on the conviction that the Kingdom of God insisted that the last should be the first. We know of his sermons and admonitions that he saw himself very much in the vein of the Old Testament prophet. While it was the most massive slave revolt in American history, it was not necessarily a success. It broke the fiction of the "content" slave and the idea that Christianizing slaves would make them more obedient. The custom of worshipping together would end quickly. Furthermore, the slaves would be barbaric and ready to turn on their masters if not treated harshly.
After being captured and jailed, Turner gave a lengthy interview which was transcribed in the jail. The resulting text is known as the "Confessions of Nat Turner." The man they called Prophet was hanged in Jerusalem, Virginia, in 1831, the same year as his rebellion. Born on this, the 2nd of October, in 1800, he was 31 years old.
The reading for today should be known to you, from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians chapter 3, starting at verse 25.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man also nicknamed "the Prophet," but only because of his insistence that all his clothes be made of camel's hair, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.