Fires of Jubilee Book Review Sample

The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner`s Fierce Rebellion by Stephen B. Oates


The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion, by Stephen B. Oates is a book about the notorious slave rebellion of Nat Turner which happened in 1931. In the book, Oates brings out the legacy of the rebellion uprising and gives a historic context to tell the story. He also offers the attitudes of the southern people on slavery and describes where Nat Turner originated from. This is specifically in Southampton, Virginia. In this text, he explains how Nat Turner came to be the leader of the rebellion. He also includes the reaction of the governor John Floyd of the Virginia on slavery and slave treatment.

General Analysis of the Book

Oates begins by giving a history about slave life in the county of Southampton, Virginia, starting from the early 1820s. He then introduces the early life of Nat Turner, who was born in 1800 as a slave. Nat spent his early life among white children before he began working in the farm fields at an early age of 12. Oates uses this opportunity to give a general overview of slave life in relation to Turner’s own experiences. He then states the concerns that Denmark Vessey and Gabriel Prosser instigate on slave uprising which raise fears of a rebellion in the southern population. At that time, there were also slave uprising campaigns in Haiti, which further increased the fears. The southern population maintained that it treated slaves fairly. This fairness was in allowing them to set up meetings, singing, dancing and even going to church.

However, some of the black slaves are not comfortable with this treatment and dream for freedom. The author brings out Nat Turner’s special brilliance at this level. Everyone around Nat feels that he is very smart working in the fields is a waste of his brilliance. Oates then outlines how Nat is slowly acquiring a reputation in his life that seems somehow mystical. It cannot be by mere coincidence that Nat acquires a special interest in the Bible and religion and a strong feeling that he is destined to free his people from slavery. Oates even narrates of dreams spirits that lead Nat away from the evil. This confirms that Nat is the savior of the people as Oates’ story shows similarities with the Bible as Nat waits for ‘a sign from God’ as a green light of freedom.
Nat’s popularity among the slave community assists him in spreading the conspiracy about freedom. He believes that, after the start, many slaves will join him in rebellion. In the February of 1831, Nat believed that an eclipse was the sign from God. In the same year, a weather condition blocked the sun’s view from the Earth. Turner initiated the rebellion on August 21st of the same year on a Sunday night. He used slaves who pretended to be hunting during the night to avoid suspicion. They began the rebellion by butchering Nat Turner’s master and his family at night while asleep to enhance silence. This saw the marching of these slaves to each plantation leaving the white’s bodies behind.

In the initial stages of the uprising, the main weapons that the blacks used were knives, swords or axes. Later, they acquired guns and other ammunition together with supplies. Turner disallowed raping and pillaging and only allowed general slaughter. These activities, however, were common during this rebellion. Turner’s first victim was a white woman on a Monday morning. A number of slaves equal to his army fled in fear of the whites’ retaliation. Nat Turner faced a lot of rebellion from his own people since he had a problem assuming his roles as their leader. However, he improved on this after a confrontation with armed white men in a retaliation attack.

The white rebellion increased as the rebellion neared the county headquarters in Jerusalem. The rebels applied guerilla tactics in the attacks which helped them to have an upper hand than the whites. Nat recruited more slaves to the rebellion to counter the whites’ defenses. The rebellion became weaker and weaker with more confrontations with the whites as they blocked the roads to Jerusalem. It even came to a point where the rebels fled due to their few numbers. Nat also fled with the remaining slaves after realizing that their odds to win were quite low. The states of North Carolina and Virginia were the main areas that the rebellion affected. The whites killed any black person on sight immediately after this rebellion. By the end of the uprising, the amount of victims equaled to 60 whites and 200 blacks. Nat Turner was still on the run two months after the failure of the rebellion. He was later captured in October and executed. This rebellion brought fears of further rebellion in the south and people simply blamed it on slave abolitions in the north (Oates 2009).


In the book, Stephen Oates shows a great skill in dramatic narration. This is because the text exhibits both historical accuracy and empathy. The book is suitable for all levels of study, from undergraduate, post-graduate and even general public reading. It also comments extensively on the views and reactions of the southern people regarding slavery and the rebellion. Oates gives a detailed endnote and bibliographical essay sections that assist in explaining the narration. He also places common contemporary attributes on some characters without available scholarly sources effectively. He gives a historical event in a readable narrative that keeps the reader glued to the book until the end.

Related essays