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

By Douglas R. Egerton | Go to book overview

APPENDIX 2
The Frenchmen

Historians who are determined to uphold the myth of Gabriel as a religious zealot are equally determined to characterize as myth one story here described as fact: the involvement of two white Europeans known to the slaves as the Frenchmen. In a critical way, the legend of Gabriel's religion and the story he told of white men who would aid in the uprising are interlocking. If Gabriel is viewed as an unsophisticated preacher whose power emanated from his shaggy locks, it is easy to believe that his claims of aid from two white radicals, one of them knowledgeable in soldiering, was nothing but an irrational dream. But if Gabriel is understood to be a literate artisan whose breadth of vision was truly international and whose pragmatic decisions were based upon information drawn from the urban press, the claim is not so easily dismissed. Scholars who accept the Samson myth as fact, however, naturally tend to brush aside the factual story of the two Europeans as myth, discounting with it a great deal of supporting evidence.

To deny the story is also to patronize the conspirators, for one must conclude that these were foolish men who believed outlandish tales. But the list of prominent scholars who have done so is surprisingly long. William Joel Ernst, in his 1968 master's thesis, "Gabriel's Revolt: Black Freedom, White Fear," explicitly denounces the story, as do Harry Ammon, Barbara Clark Smith, Richard R. Beeman, and, inexplicably, Gerald (Michael) W. Mullin. Herbert Aptheker argues that the "alleged implication of two Frenchmen in the Gabriel Plot [was used] to embarrass the Republicans in the political campaign of 1800." The fact, however, that the Federalists tried to use the information hardly makes it false in itself. 1

Only a very few writers have been willing to take the conspirators at their word. James H. Johnston, in a 1931 essay, accepted the slaves' testimony at face value and supported their claims of white involvement. Philip J. Schwarz agrees that the story might be true: "Gabriel and his followers perhaps relied on at least one Frenchman for military advice."

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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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