Public reviews signs for Nat Turner Trail

Published 11:27 am Friday, February 2, 2018

Approximately 20 people recently attended the public hearing to review signage for the proposed Nat Turner Trail. There are 19 mock-ups of signs which, when approved, would chart the historical insurrection of 1831. Once the actual signs are created, they would be erected at various sites connected to the event, such as the courthouse (see excerpt) or Mahone’s Tavern.

John Quarstein, a noted regional historian, author and director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center, was among those speakers at the hearing. For the past several years, he has been championing the Southampton County Historical Society’s vision to create a tour path to inform and educate people about Turner’s rebellion against slavery. The goal is to install the signs later this year.

SCHS President Lynda Updike said handicapped sidewalks must first be built, and that’s held up until a study on endangered species is completed.

She expects the pathways to be done sometime in the spring, followed by the signs.

“I’ve been to every Civil War site in the country and to be at the sites is unbelievable,” said Quarstein, who referred to the trail as an example of place-based education.

“You feel that history. It makes you understand what happened, and why the past is a stepping stone.”

Dan Hohman of Ivor said he thinks there are too many signs and too much verbiage within them.

Quarstein countered, “If you really want to learn, you read.”

“A word or two here or there” was adjusted, said Updike, but overall there were very few changes to the wording within the signs.

Hohman then asked, “Why are we doing this with Nat Turner as the subject?”

She replied, “We play the hand we’re dealt. If we had Cyrus McCormick [who developed the mechanical reaper] we would be highlighting him.”

Rick Francis, a descendant of one of the survivors of the killings, said the event has resonated far and wide. He and Updike both said they frequently get calls — some from as far as Hawaii and Moscow — wanting to learn more about Turner.

But Hohman said he felt that the trail would be both a constant reminder of what happened, and that would become “more negative than positive on a longterm basis.”

He recognized the effort to generate tourism, but does not believe it will sustain itself. 

Alvin Harris said, “Reality is difficult to deal with, but reality is real … there’s no need for running away from the truth.”

Howard Allston commended the historical society for its work on the project, and that people will learn something new by it.

“People can be empowered by what they learn,” added Quarstein.

For more information about either the trail or house project, call John V. Quarstein at 879-3420 or