Turner was an educated minister as well as a slave.
Turner reportedly told Thomas Ruffin Gray in a jailhouse interview published in “The Confessions of Nat Turner” that when he was three or four years old, he could provide details of events that occurred before his birth. His astonished mother and others took the comments as signs that he was a prophet and “intended for some great purpose.” The young slave showed “uncommon intelligence” and was taught to read and write. His deeply religious grandmother nurtured his spiritual development. “To a mind like mine, restless, inquisitive and observant of every thing that was passing, it is easy to suppose that religion was the subject to which it would be directed,” said Turner, who regularly read the Bible and preached to his fellow slaves.
He once ran away from his master—and returned a month later.
When Turner was 21, he followed in his father’s footsteps and escaped from his owner. To the astonishment of his fellow slaves, however, the future rebel leader came back to the plantation after spending 30 days in the woods because, as Turner reportedly told Gray, “the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the kingdom of heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master.”
Turner claimed to have been divinely chosen to lead the rebellion.
The divine message to return to his master wasn’t the last that Turner would claim to have received from God. He reportedly confessed to Gray that he received divine visions to avenge slavery and lead his fellow slaves from bondage. The most vivid of these visions came on May 12, 1828, when Turner “heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first.”