Nat Turner’s Alleged Remains
Returned to His Family After Almost 200 Years
Thanks to Nate Parker’s controversial film, “The Birth of a Nation,” the story of Nat Turner has once again pricked the popular imagination of America.
For those who don’t know, Turner led one of the bloodiest slave rebellions in American history in the year 1831. When it was all said and done more than 55 White men, women and children lay dead.
Retribution against the Black community was swift and fierce. More than 200 African Americans in Virginia lost their lives as payback, but Turner was able to initially escape. After two months on the lam he was captured, tried, executed by hanging on Nov. 11, 1831 in the town of Jerusalem, now Courtland, Va.
What happened to his remains was a mystery. Until now.
A recent report by National Geographic confirms that Turner’s descendants finally recently received Turner’s skull this weekend from a former mayor of Gary, Ind.—83-year-old Richard Gordon Hatcher, who served as the first African-American mayor of Gary from 1968 to 1987.
Shannon Batton Aguirre and Shelly Lucas Wood, both great-great-great-great grand-daughters of Turner, flew in from Washington D.C. to receive the remains.
National Geographic outlined the history of Turner’s vestiges and says that Hatcher received his skull from Franklin and Cora Breckinridge, civil rights activists in Elkhart, Ind., who donated the skull to Hatcher in 2002.
The Breckenridges received it from Bob Franklin, also of Elkhart, Ind., who says the skull was passed down in his family for three generations.
Franklin’s grandfather, Dr. Albert Gallatin Franklin, was a physician in Richmond, Va., who in around 1900 received the skull from a female patient who inherited it from her father—one of the doctors who handled Turner’s body after he was executed, according to National Geographic.
Franklin’s father apparently tried to actually donate it to the Smithsonian, but the museum said it did not accept human remains, and so he gave it to the Breckenridges, who eventually donated it to Mayor Hatcher who was building a Civil Rights Hall of Fame project in the state.
“The legacy of Nat Turner has had enduring impact not simply upon our family, but upon American history,” Aguirre said. “Certainly, this fragile fragment holds enormous emotional value for me, for my family. But it is of immeasurable value because it is a poignant reminder of the price of freedom. In a very tangible way, it asserts the humanity of people who were systemically dehumanized. Its incredible existence demands acknowledgement that, yes, this Black life mattered.”
Plans call for the skull to be temporarily housed at a secure location where forensic anthropologists, in cooperation with National Geographic Studios, will conduct a full study, including isotope analysis and DNA testing. The Turner family will provide genealogical information as well as DNA samples in hopes that the skull matches their genetic profile. If it is confirmed as Turner’s, it will be laid to rest alongside other descendants.