Gout and Rebellion

I’ve been debilitated for the past week by an attack of gout, a condition wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’ve had it in my feet before; you take some pills and goes away.

But this time its in my knee and it’s not responding very well to the medication. It’s getting better, but frustratingly slowly. Do you know how hard it is to put your pants on without bending your knee?

My plight reminded me that Nat Turner’s rebellion was defeated by a case of gout — not that it wouldn’t have been suppressed in the end by the thousands of militiamen and federal troops who were rushed to the area.

But it was Dr. Simon Blunt who nipped it in the bud, so to speak. I read all about it in Stephen B. Oates’ book The Fires of Jubilee; Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion.

Turner and his followers, numbering then about forty, were going from farm to farm killing all the white people, men, women and children.

When they came to a school, they chopped up all the children with axes and swords and piled them in a heap.

But when they camped for the night, Turner sent out a patrol to reconnoiter for local militia, and when they returned, many of the new recruits mistook them for militiamen and deserted, so the band was down to about twenty the next day.

Dr. Blunt had been informed of the insurrection and urged to go to place of safety, but he was crippled by gout and decided to fight it out.

He gathered his slaves — he owned about sixty — and gave them the choice between standing with him or joining the rebels. They stood with him.

They fortified the house, and when Turner came with his men, they let loose a withering volley of gunfire. Killing and wounding several of the rebels. Then Blunt’s slaves charged with hoes, pitchforks, axes and guns, capturing several of Turner’s men and dispersing the rest.

Some people make Turner out to be a hero, but sadly, in my opinion, he was just a religious fanatic. His cause was certainly just, and certainly slaveowners had perpetrated much more heinous crimes on a much grander scale, but in my view you can’t butcher children and be a hero.

So where did he get the idea to slaughter women and children? From the Bible, specifically the Book of Ezekiel, where God tells the guards: “Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women…”

All this killing was supposed to take place in Jerusalem, the name of the town nearest to the rebellion. It’s since been renamed Courtland.

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Stephen Hartshorne worked in newspapers and magazines around New England for many years and served as Information Officer in the New Hampshire Senate under Senate President Vesta Roy. He worked as a material handler for nine years at the Yankee Candle Company until the company was taken over by corporate weasels. He is currently the associate editor of GoNOMAD.com, an alternative travel website, which gives him the opportunity to correspond with writers and photographers all over the world. He lives in Sunderland, Massachusetts. This blog is dedicated to his mom, who made him bookish.

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