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Nat Turner’s skull to be returned to descendants after nearly 200 years

By Zeba Blay,

After almost two centuries, the remains of Nat Turner have finally been returned to his family.

Turner was executed at age 31 in 1831 after leading an unsuccessful slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner was captured from hiding two months after leading a group of slaves and free blacks on a rampage that resulted in the deaths of 55 white people.

His body was flayed, beheaded and quartered, with most of his remains kept for scientific use and his skull reportedly passed through several private hands over the years. Now, according to National Geographic, Nat Turner’s skull has been recovered and placed in the care of his descendants.

Shannon Batton Aguirre and Shelly Lucas Wood, the great-great-great-great-granddaughters of Turner, were given the skull by Richard Gordon Hatcher, the former and first black mayor of Gary, Indiana.

“The legacy of Nat Turner has had enduring impact, not simply upon our family, but upon American history,” Aguirre said at a ceremony held in early October.

“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 acknowledgment that, yes, this black life mattered.”

Since receiving the skull, the family has temporarily placed it with the Smithsonian Institution, where DNA testing will be done to determine whether it is the authentic remains of Nat Turner. If the test renders positive results, the family plans to bury his remains next to his descendants.

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