Benjamin Phipps & the Capture of Nat Turner

Benjamin Phipps Capturing Nat Turner

Who was the Benjamin Phipps who is credited with capturing Nat Turner of the well-known Turner’s Rebellion?

The slave uprising that became known as Turner’s Rebellion or Nat Turner’s Rebellion began in Southampton County, Virginia on 22 Aug 1831. Nat Turner was born into slavery in Virginia in 1800. He later became a preacher.

Nat Turner was eventually captured and was sentenced to hang. This was after he was captured at gunpoint on 31 Oct 1831. Some accounts claim that  a local farmer, Benjamin Phipps, happened to come across Turner in the woods. Other accounts say that two slaves found Nat Turner, and then reported their discovery to Benjamin Phipps, who then took Turner to jail at gunpoint.

In a 2003 documentary, Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property, the part of Benjamin Phipps is played by Harry Kollatz, Jr. You can read the transcript of the documentary online.

The capture is also discussed in a well-known vintage book by Thomas R. Gray titled The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831). Discrepancies in modern-day accounts of Turner’s capture are explained in Turner’s own words:

“A few nights after, two negroes having started to go hunting with the same dog, and passed that way, the dog came again to the place, and having just gone out to walk about, discovered me and barked, on which thinking myself discovered, I spoke to them to beg concealment. On making myself known they fled from me. Knowing then they would betray me, I immediately left my hiding place, and was pursued almost incessantly until I was taken a fortnight afterwards by Mr. Benjamin Phipps, in a little hole I had dug out with my sword, for the purpose of concealment, under the top of a fallen tree. On Mr. Phipps’ discovering the place of my concealment, he cocked his gun and aimed at me. I requested him not to sheet and I would give up, upon which he demanded my sword. I delivered it to him, and he brought me to prison.”

The 1840 census for Southampton County, Virginia shows a Benjamin Phipps. The oldest male listed in his household was 30-40 years old.


One thought on “Benjamin Phipps & the Capture of Nat Turner

  1. Contemporary Newspaper Accounts of Benjamin Phipps’ capture of Nat Turner:
    Richmond Enquirer, Nov. 8, 1831, pg 4:
    “Extract of Letters, SOUTHHAMPTON, Nov. 1.
    “Nat Turner is at last safely lodged in jail. He was apprehended in a cave, near the residence of his late master, on Sunday about 12 o’clock, and brought to Jerusalem on Monday, where I heard him examined by the magistrates, and saw him committed to the custody of the ‘four walls.’ He was taken by Benj Phipps, an industrious man, in the neighborhood, and in reduced circumstances, so that the reward will be of great consequence to him. Nat made no resistance, and had no other arms but a small light sword, which he surrendered. His captor had a shot gun well charged.”
    From another Southhampton letter about the capture of Turner on the same page of this newspaper: “… He had been seen several times within the last fifteen days by negroes; and about three days before he was taken, Mr. Francis found him in one of his stacks and fired a pistol at him, but he succeeded in making his escape. About fifty men turned out immediately, and kept up the pursuit two or three days, but could see nothing of him, and on Sunday last, a young man by the name of Phipps, went out by himself and found him in a cave, on the same plantation they had drove the previous day; he had no arms except a sword, which he threw down and surrendered.”

    Another newspaper account (Alexandria Gazette, Nov. 7, 1831, pg 2) describes the reward:
    “PETERSBURG, Nov. 4. Capture of Nat Turner.” … “Mr. Phipps, as the sole captor of Nat, is alone entitled to the several rewards (amounting in the aggregate, as we understand, to about $1,100,) offered by the Commonwealth and different gentlemen, for his apprehension: and we are told, that in this instance Fortune has favored a very deserving individual — to whom in addition to the pleasure arising from the recollection of the deed, the money derived from it will not be unacceptable.”

    Here is another newspaper account, published in The Liberator (Boston, MA) on Saturday, Nov. 19, 1831, pg 186 (2nd pg in this issue):
    “GEN. NAT. The following is a letter from the Post Master at Jerusalem, Va. to the editors of the Norfolk Beacon, dated October 31:
    “Gentlemen — Last night the 30th inst. about 9 o’clock, the news reached our little village that Gen. Nat was taken alive. He reached this place, well guarded to day, at a quarter after 1 o’clock, and was delivered into the hands of James W. Parker and James Trezant, gentlemen justices, and after one or two hours close examination, was committed to prison. During all the examination, he evinced great intelligence and much shrewdness of intellect, answering every question clearly and distinctly, and without confusion or prevarication. He acknowledges himself a coward, and says he was actuated to do what he did from the influence of fanaticism: he says the attempt originated entirely with himself, and was not known by any other Negroes, but those to whom he revealed it a few days before, and then only 5 or 6 in number: he acknowledges now that the revelation was misinterpreted by him, and says it was revealed to him not to follow the inclination of his spirit: he is now convinced that he has done wrong, and advises all other Negroes not to follow his example. He was taken about 12 o’clock on Sunday, in a cave that he had just finished and gotten into; and while in the very act of fixing the bushes and boughs to cover him, a gentleman by the name of Benjamin Phipps, walked up near the spot, and was only led to examine it by accidentally seeing the bush shake. After removing the covering, he discovered Nat, and immediately pointed to kill him with his gun — but he exclaimed, ‘don’t shoot, and I will give up;’ he then threw his sword from the cave, that being his only weapon, and came out and went with Mr. Phipps until they reached some other gentlemen, when after staying at the Keys all night, they proceeded here to-day. Respectfully, T. TREZVANT, P.M.”

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