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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > What kind of Sword is this? Reply to topic
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Jeff Person




Location: Virginia USA
Joined: 21 Feb 2011

Posts: 2

PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 4:00 pm    Post subject: What kind of Sword is this?         Reply with quote

I know zip zero nada about edged weapons. This is a photo of the sword used by Nat Turner during the slave insurrection of 1831. This photo was taken in 1900. Any information would be appreciated.


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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 5:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jeff,

In poking around a bit, both an earlier period illustration of the events and then an illustration more contemporary to the photo above; both show a fairly short hunting type sword. Both those appear on this blog.

http://blog.readex.com/researching-nat-turner...newspapers

While his confession regards at least the sword of the massacre blunt enough that it was inefficient, it raises yet more thought. That doesn't mean that it was once not sharp during an earlier life.
http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111turn.html

At any rate, the sword looks to have been cobbled up in a fashion of crudeness that may have been enough for that period illustration and the later 1890s illustrator. We do see some smithy type swords throughout America's early history but the girth of the grip, thickness of guard and ball pommel make me think it was a blade that saw addition after the time of Nat Turner (if indeed there is any way to truly place it in his hands)..

The early illustration shows a pretty short blade, however sharp when compared to the dragoons in the plate below the earlier sequence/story board. Then, picked up in a later illustration no doubt from the old paper's picture.

We are left with an illustrator's eyes, Nat's confession and now a supposed sword. There was never a specific model or manner for the piece. Dimensions would be interesting to learn and indeed a later photograph of the piece, as well as it's current location/ownership. The ball atop the guard as it is and other factors make it look made up over time.

Cheers

GC
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Jack W. Englund




Location: WA State
Joined: 17 Sep 2007
Reading list: 6 books

Posts: 186

PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 6:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

IMO. it is a US Cav sword..
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Marc Bloom




Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Joined: 22 Feb 2011

Posts: 26

PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 8:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It looks like the glass plate negative was touched up before printing, this was a very common practice at the time. It may have been done to show the hilt against the tree better but the shape or details of the hilt may have been changed. Do you have another copy of this image printed at a different time?

It looks like a cavalry saber left over from the Revolution to me. It could easily been dulled over the years or Mr Turner may not have know to draw the weapon back as he cut. Or both.
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 9:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The photo posted is listed as an illustration in a book, hence printed as shown above (See Cleeton/Pitkin General Printing that outlines printing photographs).
http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaead/published...0.document

Before even looking on the net for information about Nat Turner's revolt, I looked at the picture for a good bit of time and while my enlargement may not be the best, even just the photo attached shows a printed image when enlarged.

As to the hilt itself, the guard below the pommel is not so unsual in and of itself but the manner in which it was made and assembled speaks to backyard work either earlier or late. However, The period newspaper illustration linked in my last post shows a fairly diminutive blade compared to the dragoons pictured below and Nat's sword with no knuckle bow. Fro that 1831 illustration, either the artist was that uneducated as to arms, drawing a conclusion from other's accounts (see Blackbeard's sword thread), or the artist downsized the scale of importance while showing not just a sword but also a dirk/knife.

I question both the provenance claimed as the sword Nat was captured with and what additions were made to that particular blade. It is a bit like regarding the sword of William Wallace. The sword blade pictured is arguably more than 30".

Cheers

GAC



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Matthew Stagmer
Industry Professional



Location: Maryland, USA
Joined: 23 Jan 2008

Posts: 473

PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glen A Cleeton wrote:
The sword blade pictured is arguably more than 30".

Cheers

GAC


If I had to guess I would say it was longer then 30". By my scale it comes out to be at least 32"

Matthew Stagmer
Maker of custom and production weaponry
www.BaltimoreKnife.com
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Marc Bloom




Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Joined: 22 Feb 2011

Posts: 26

PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glen, the artist for newspapers and magazines in that era were not concerned with technical accuracy, their drawings should be considered dubious evidence. Even this photo is modified. the dark spot behind the sword is D-Max black and the hilt is outlined the same way. The shape of the hilt may have been changed. That's why I asked about another print of the same neg.
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, I see, a conspiracy in the illustrator's take on Nat's sword vs pretty good depictions of the period dragoons and their swords.

Here is the whole transcript of events and Nat's confession.

http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/turner/turner.html

His captor was Benjamin Phipps, armed with a shot gun well charged. Nat's only weapon was a small light sword which he immediately surrendered, and begged that his life might be spared.

Our number amounted now to fifty or sixty, all mounted and armed with guns, axes, swords and clubs

Undefined as to his sword but at the time of his capture apparently a small light one (small and light compared to what I wonder..hmm)

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 shoot and I would give up, upon which he demanded my sword. I delivered it to him, and he brought me to prison.

So now we need Benjamin Phipp's estate papers and notes to convince me the sword was other than small and light? Wink

Cheers

GC



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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 3:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This was October 27th, the Thursday before his capture. Men scoured the woods in the neighborhood, but he was not captured until Sunday morning, the 30th of October. He had been seen twice in an open field, so he concluded to move to the woods. Going about two miles to the northwest, he dug a cave3 under the top of a fallen

iln eastern Virginia and North Carolina the blades of fodder are stripped from the cornstalks, cured, and tied into large bundles, and then firmly packed around a pole into a tall stack. Then the upper parts of the stalks, called the tops, with five or six blades of fodder on each, are cut and stacked near the fodder in a V-shaped heap, somewhat resembling a Gypsy tent, leaving a space beneath. It was here that Nat was concealed.

=He wore this hat at the time of his capture and exhibited it with much pride.

sThis cave is like the first and is between one and two miles distant from it. It was dug with a fine dress sword, which has an ivory handle and is tipped with silver, and which was used by Nat in the massacre. It Is now in the possession of Mr. James D. Westbrook, of Drewryville, Virginia, a relative of Mr. Phipps. The cave may still be seen on the farm of Mr. J. S. Musgrave, marked by the remains of a large pine, which stood at its entrance and which bears three gashes, cut by Mr. Phipps with Nat's sword.

Mr. Frank Alford, of Suffolk, claims to have Nat Turner's sword and musket, which his father, who was a member of the Portsmouth Cavalry, captured at Southampton. But Nat was not captured until two months after the return of the cavalry. Besides, Nat does not appear to have been armed with any weapon but a sword. Capt. J. J. Darden, who remembers the insurrection and has handled Nat's sword, says, In the Suffolk Herald:

"In your issue of July 14, 1899, appeared an item stating that the sword of Nat Turner, leader of the negro insurrection which occurred in Southampton county in 1831, was in the possession of Mr. Frank Alford, of Suffolk, whose father was a member of Captain Day's Portsmouth company that captured Nat.

"I wish to say that if Mr. Alford has Nat Turner's sword it must have come from Mr. James D. Westbrook, of this county, tree and covered it with pine brush. Mr. Benjamin Phipps,1 a poor but highly respected, hospitable and industrious citizen, was on this Sunday making his way to the home of a neighbor, and, as was the general custom for the last two months, had his gun with him. He does not appear to have been on the hunt. A squad of men on the search, however, passed through the woods just ahead of him, and he had taken a seat by a large tree to rest. Thinking all had passed, Xat poked his head out among

who owned it up to a few years ago, to my certain knowledge. A cavalry company from Norfolk or Portsmouth came to this county, but they did not capture Nat, for he was not caught for some two or three months.


"The insurrection collapsed at the residence of Dr. Blunt, the place where Mr. R. S. Pope now lives, near Pope station, on the Atlantic and Danville Railroad. Dr. Blunt's negroes told him that they were going to fight for him, and he directed them to get their axes and grubbing hoes and stay in his yard. (Negroes were not allowed to have firearms of any kind.) The insurrectionists reached Dr. Blunt's about sunrise, and when in his yard, half-way from the gate to the house, the whites upstairs opened fire and hit some of them, but did not kill anyone. Nat, seeing Dr. Blunt's negroes ready to fight, told his men that as the ne'groes and whites were all against them he should leave and shift for himself,' and they could do the same. There were only about eight whites in the house. Dr. Blunt had a son sixteen years old, who displayed great bravery, for which he was made a midshipman in the United States Navy. He has been dead many years.

"Nat went off and dug a cave in the ground, but after awhile he found that a dog had discovered his hiding-place. He then went to the neighborhood where he was raised and dug another cave on the land of Dr. Musgrave, my wife's father. The neighbors got up parties and went through the woods hunting for him. The last time they went to look for Nat they scattered through the woods, and finally a man named Benjamin Phipps found the cave. He called for the others, and stuck his gun through the top covering and told Nat to throw out everything he had or he would kill him, and Nat threw out his gun and sword. I do not believe that Nat made the sword. Mr. Benjamin Phipps certainly found Nat and captured him.

"I do not write this thinking you knew you were publishing what was not true, but only to correct a mistake as to the facts :n the case."

iHis sons were soldiers in the war between the States.



http://books.google.com/books?id=Eg55AAAAMAAJ

More info and leads, cool.

Cheers

GC

An edit to mention cut and paste from Google text can make things confusing at times but the books are out there to read directly
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Jeff Person




Location: Virginia USA
Joined: 21 Feb 2011

Posts: 2

PostPosted: Wed 23 Feb, 2011 4:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Glen:
It looks like you've done some good digging.
It looks like there has been no mention of Turner's sword since around 1900. I would love to see this important relic authenticated and placed in the Smithsonian. The best place to look would probably be with the Westbrook relatives in Southhampton County. It looks like someone had serious doubts in 1899 that Alford of Suffolk, VA had the true sword. I had never heard of Nat Turner's musket before either.
My ancestors settled in the area in the mid 1600's. My great-great-grandfather was Nathaniel Francis. His brother Salathiel and two young nephews named Brown were killed. A slave named Red Nelson was wounded during the attack and made his way to Nathaniel Francis' farmhouse. Nathaniel had been called away to search for the insurrectionists and Red Nelson hid his wife Lavinia in a cubbyhole in the attic thus sparing her life.
During my misspent youth, our family used to visit Southampton County where we would visit historical landmarks related to the insurrection. Nat's bible was photographed for Drewry's book in 1899 on a tree stump near Boykins VA. At that time it came into possession of my grandmother Elsie Person (nee Ellis). It was donated to the Smithsonian earlier this year by my uncle.
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Wed 23 Feb, 2011 6:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jeff,

There are probably several more important missing Virginia swords over the years. The sword of Peter Fransisco is one that comes to mind.

http://www.historynet.com/peter-francisco-ame...r-hero.htm

I dig when I can and enjoy poking around with Virginia notes, though my geneaology notes are kind of scattered to the winds these days in what's left of my memory capacities. I do have ancestry that settled in the Mecklenburg/Lunenburg area by the late 1600s but within a couple of generations, many families were migrating south and then west. Tobacco farming and trade with England at the start of it.

It came to me last night after reading the google reference above that I could as easily say I have found and own another portrayal of Nat Turmer's sword and sent home as a dragoon's prize.



Whoever carved this plank knew the nature of the uniform well enough but was the sword to picture a cuttoe, or simplified from having to carve a large dragoon sword with a knuckle guard. I have to vote that it was a true depiction of a older pattern of cuttoe (the hatched grip, etc). I cannot truly date this piece of art but why on earth and who on earth would have bothered with the exactness unless detail was meant to be there. At any rate, collecting it was cheaper than looking for a period uniform and sword Wink

Makes one wonder

Cheers

GC
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