chapter  6
African Americans in the Age of Revolution
Pages 20

During the spring of 1800, a group of Virginia slaves under the leadership of a Richmond blacksmith named Gabriel, the slave of Thomas Prosser, hatched a complex plot to win their freedom. The slaves agreed that groups of bondsmen would converge on Richmond under a banner emblazoned with the slogan “death or liberty,” seize the state capitol and the governor, James Monroe, and undertake to negotiate for their freedom, while slaves from surrounding areas descended on Richmond to swell their ranks. The rising would not be bloodless, as large planters and prominent slaveholders would be put to death. The killing, however, would not be indiscriminate. Gabriel insisted that “Quakers, Methodists, and French people” were to be spared. He believed that these groups were opposed to slavery, and he intended to cultivate their support in the aftermath of the rebellion. The day chosen for the rising was August 30. Torrential rains and flooding accompanied the appointed day, which made it impossible for the conspirators to gather. In the meantime, several slaves who had heard of the plot informed their masters of the plan. The conspiracy collapsed as Governor Monroe called out the militia and the suspected rebels were arrested. Over the next several months, special courts sat to hear the cases of the accused rebels. Justice was swift and harsh in Jefferson’s Virginia. Twenty-five slaves were put to death for their roles, actual and alleged, in the plot.1