Gabriel's Conspiracy

On 30 August 1800, a tremendous storm dropped heavy rain on central Virginia, swelling creeks and turning Richmond's dirt streets into quagmires. The storm aborted one of the most extensive slave plots in American history, a conspiracy known to hundreds of slaves throughout central Virginia. A charismatic blacksmith named Gabriel, who was owned by Thomas Prosser, of Henrico County, planned to enter Richmond with force, capture the Capitol and the penitentiary, and hold Governor James Monroe hostage to bargain for freedom for Virginia's slaves. The conspirators were tried in courts of Oyer and Terminer, within Henrico, Petersburg, Norfolk, and several surrounding counties. Twenty-six slaves were hanged, and countless others brutalized and sold further South. Two slaves, who had informed their masters about the intended rebellion, received their freedom.

Gabriel's Conspiracy had an immediate impact on American politics and Virginia law and society. The planned rebellion was widely reported in American newspapers, and, during the 1800 presidential campaign, the Federalists cited the event as a consequence of the Democratic-Republicans' support of the French Revolution and ultra-democratic ideals. The intense scrutiny made some of Virginia's leaders uncomfortable with the execution of the revolutionaries. In the wake of the affair, however, Virginia's lawmakers imposed new restrictions on slaves and free blacks. Whites would never again be complacent about the possibility of slave uprisings.

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*HistoryPin only reaches back to 1840, but these events primarily occurred in 1800. The actual date is listed in the story section, though the default 1840 may still display in some views.

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