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.