Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802

By Douglas R. Egerton | Go to book overview

3
The Year 1800

The last months of 1799 witnessed two kinds of irrevocable decisions. In November, following his second incarceration, Gabriel moved toward open rebellion. Resolved not to further surrender his rights to his owner and the state, he began to plan for his freedom. In December, the Virginia Assembly resolved not to further surrender its rights to an oppressive federal government, and the nation stumbled toward the precipice of civil war. The timing of these seemingly disparate events was no mere coincidence. The connection between them was later observed by William Vans Murray, a young diplomat then in Europe. "Certainly there are motives sufficiently obvious," he informed John Quincy Adams, "to account for an insurrection of the slaves; but I doubt not that the eternal clamour about liberty in V[irginia] and S[outh] C[arolina] both, has matured the event which has happened."1

Vans Murray was correct. The opportunity that Gabriel sought lay in the divisive political climate of Virginia. From start to finish, the shadow of politics hung over the affair. Spending many of his days in Richmond and laboring beside politicized artisans, Gabriel could hardly fail to notice that white elites were badly split along partisan lines. His literacy provided him with access to political affairs, although his ability was probably such that reading a newspaper was a chore. But though he understood the issues imperfectly, he understood them well enough to know that the Union appeared to be coming apart. John Adams, who had become president in 1797, had inherited not only George Washington's office but also the problems of the European war, French attacks on American shipping, and the question of how the new minister, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, would be received in Paris. The French Directory confounded Adams by giving a hero's send-off to the recalled minister, James Monroe, while refusing to receive the reactionary Pinckney. The Directory also announced that all American sailors found on British vessels, even if they were the victims of impressment, would be hanged as pirates. Adams decided to follow the example of his predecessor and send a special mission to France.

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Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • I- Richmond 1800 1
  • 1- The Revolutionary Storm 3
  • 2- An Upright Man 18
  • 3- The Year 1800 34
  • 4- The Preparation 50
  • 5- A Plot Discovered 69
  • 7- A Companion Picture 95
  • II- Halifax 1802 117
  • 8- Recalled to Life 119
  • 9- The Footsteps Die out 132
  • 10- A Place of Asylum 147
  • 11- The Power in That Name 163
  • Appendix 1- Gabriel''s Religion 179
  • Appendix 2- The Frenchmen 182
  • Appendix 3- Virginia Slaves Executed in 1800 and 1802 186
  • Notes 189
  • Bibliography 237
  • Index 253
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