Date of Award

Summer 8-2014

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Chair

Marie Danforth

Committee Chair Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 2

Amy Young

Committee Member 2 Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 3

Douglas Chambers

Committee Member 3 Department



The Nat Turner Slave Revolt stands as a major turning point in the history of American slavery and represents a fundamental shift in the master slave relationship. This event shattered the previous paternalistic view and caused a fundamental reorganization of slave life. Included in this reorganization was a shift in the subsistence practice, moving away from morenutritious food grown by the slaves themselves to poor quality rations provided by the masters. This change in subsistence practices dealt a serious blow to the nutritional health of those living in the area surrounding the revolt.

By examining stature recorded in the County Registers of Free Negros and Mulattoes, it is possible to quantify the effect of this loss of nutrition and quantitatively compare those born and raised before the revolt to those who were born and raised in the post-Nat Turner world. Records were collected from five southeastern Virginia counties and are divided into pre- and post- Nat Turner groups. These groups were statistically analyzed using ANOVA means testing.

The males born after the revolt show a strongly statistically significant drop in stature averaging 65.8 inches (167 cm), or 1.68 inches (4.3 cm) shorter than their pre- Nat Turner counterparts who stood at 67.4 inches (171 cm). Females showed no drop in stature and remained consistent at 63 inches (160 cm). This may be due to canalization as other studies also found this average stature under similar circumstances. It is also possible that this is due to cultural practices and biases that allowed better nutrition – and therefore increased catch-up growth – for males. While the results are mixed, they are not surprising based on what is known from previous research, which has found strong evidence of female resistance to nutritional change.

While other studies have not found results that match this study, it is important to recognize that other studies have not asked this same question. Those studies where data disagree with this one were intended to ask significantly different questions and used different sample sets. This study helps to shed light on one of the great events in slave history through the lives of those who felt it on the ground and whose lives were most affected.