Nat Turner’s descendants offer his hiding place to be part of driving tour

Published 10:10 am Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alvin Turner and Evelyn Hawkins, descendants of Nat Turner, on the farm where Turner hid during the historic 1831 rebellion in Southampton County. -- Emily Collins | Tidewater News

COURTLAND—Sidney Turner’s grandchildren gained a piece of history when they inherited his two farms.

About 180 years ago, Nat Turner, wanted for leading a rebellion and murdering 55 white people, hid in a cave on the property. It was in that cave that Nat Turner was discovered. He was later tried and executed.

Evelyn Hawkins remembers  her grandfather taking her and his other 12 grandchildren across the farm to visit the cave, which she says is more like a hole that Nat Turner dug with his sword.

“Our eyes would get big because he would talk about all the tragic things that happened,” Hawkins said.

Now, Hawkins, 72, and her relatives hope to have the location of the cave added as a part of a proposed driving tour — backed by the Southampton County Historical Society — that would follow the journey of Nat Turner and the rebellion.

“We feel that it is our duty to our grandfather, Sidney, to pass on the history of our land, and that it is our purpose to keep that history alive for future generations,” Hawkins said.

Descendants of Nat Turner gather on the Southampton County farm where Turner hid during the 1831 rebellion. They are, from left, Brindle Hardy, Lemonte Hardy, Eloise Pearson, Evelyn Hawkins, John Young, Jason Turner, Joyce Lewis, Yvonne Rieves and Alvin Turner. -- SUBMITTED

Additionally, Hawkins said her cousin Vivian Lucas recently “connected the dots” and found out that they are related to Nat Turner.

“It was revealed that after the insurrection, some of Nat’s family were hidden by the Nottoway Indians on their reservation,” Hawkins said. “It was discovered that our grandmother, Corene Turner’s mother, Fannie Turner, and her people lived with the Nottoways for a period of time.”

Southampton County Circuit Court Clerk Rick Francis, who belongs to Southampton County Historical Society, said he wants the cave to be a part of the tour.

“If I am living and breathing, it will definitely be part of the driving tour,” Francis said. “This is just one of the many aspects of the entire story that is important in American history.”

It is even more interesting to him because Nat Turner’s descendants now own the land on which he was captured, Francis said.

There has been no decision on whether the land would be leased, Hawkins said.

Francis said he thinks the cave would be a location where the tour would pull off the road to see the site.

He said there would be a sign that would summarize the significance of the place and display photos of what the location looked like when Nat Turner was there.

“In a perfect world, (the cave) should be the last location before (visitors) come back to Jerusalem where he was tried,” Francis said.

The cave always has attracted attention, Hawkins said. Her grandparents used to receive calls from people, some from places as far away as California, who were interested in visiting the place.

“When (people) come to Southampton County, the first thing they want to know is about Nat Turner,” she said.

The land is composed of two farms; the first farm, Sidney and Corene Turner bought in 1915 and the second in 1939.

Known as The SID-COR Turner Farms, they are owned by all of Sidney Turner’s grandchildren.

Sidney Turner’s descendants include Hawkins, Alvin L. Turner, Vivian Lucas, Brindle S. Hardy, Lemonte Hardy, Eloise T. Pearson, John Young, Jason Turner, Joyce T. Lewis, Yvonne T. Rieves, Sandra Sykes, Ann T. Mason and A. Sidney Turner.

All of the grandchildren are involved in the push to incorporate Nat Turner’s cave into the driving tour.

Hawkins said the family is tightly knit, and her cousins are like brothers and sisters to her.

Sidney and Corene Turner raised her until she was 12 years old, Hawkins said, and her grandparents would take in any member of the family if he or she needed help.

The farm is where most of the grandchildren grew up, she said.

“This farm is just like our blood,” Hawkins said.

The driving tour is still in the process of being arranged, Francis said. The Historical Society is researching and selecting locations, he said.

On their land, Hawkins said there is still a clearly defined trail that leads from Cabin Pond Road to close by the cave that might have been the path that was traveled by the man who found Nat Turner in October 1831.

The site of the cave has been cared for through the years by Sidney Turner, then by one of his sons, Herbert L. Turner. Now, Alvin Turner, a grandson, takes care of the site.

Alvin Turner, 75, said if it is part of the tour, they will keep the path clear for visitors.

“We didn’t want it to get lost in history,” Hawkins said. “Something really tragic happened here.”

The rebellion stirred up the surrounding community, and in turn, white people began to attack black people, some of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion. Close to 200 black people were murdered in the wake of the rebellion.