Phil Schwarz

Gabriel's Plot - Richmond, 1800


"I have nothing more to offer than what general Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put to trial by them.  I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of my country men, and am a willing sacrifice in their cause: and I beg you, as a favour, that I may immediately be led to execution.  I know that you have predetermined to shed my blood, why then all the mockery of a trial?" - from a Virginia Trial.

    Phil Schwarz, Director of the Stratford Hall Plantation Seminar on Slavery, presented information on Gabriel's Revolt, placing it in the context of the ideals of liberty championed by the founding fathers of the country.

    Gabriel was born in 1776, and was owned by Thomas Prosser.  There is no written record of a last name of Prosser.  Gabriel was a skilled blacksmith who could read and write.  In 1799, he was convicted of assaulting a white man who had confronted him. In 1782, it was possible to emancipate slaves.  On a nearby plantation, Gabriel Sheppard was freed.

    The revolt took place after the American Revolution.  Enslaved people were aware of the concept of freedom and the contradiction of  the founding fathers holding them in bondage.  Slavery  was doing more than surviving, it was thriving.  As well, the  revolt in Saint Domingue had led to the deportation of slaves from there to the slave South, and news had spread that revolts could be successful.  Other factors, such as family separation caused by Virginians'  migration westward,  led to unrest among enslaved people.

      The plot was hatched in the spring and summer of 1800 and launched in August 1800.   In every locality of the revolt, black people were in the majority,  59% - 64%.  By October trials and executions had been held.  While the tactics were sound, the results were somewhat dictated by conditions out of their control.  Information given by conspirators also led to the undoing.

    The groups  were to march into Richmond capitol on August 30 and seize the keys to the armory.   Keeper of the keys was a slave.  They were to set a diversionary fire near Rocketts . They hoped that merchants would side with them, so they planned to hold them hostage and dine with them to make a deal with them.   Governor Monroe would be held hostage.  They would carry a banner that said "Death or Liberty.  They would spare Quakers, Methodists and French.

The flooding of  Brook Run  led to a delay, and during that time, the conspirators were betrayed.  The militia was called out for roundup.  Gabriel fled and was captured in Norfolk.  Over sixty slaves were tried for the capital offense of insurrection.  Some were found innocent, but twenty-six were executed.  One committed suicide.

    The aftermath of the failed revolt included the abolition of abolition societies in Virginia, the Transportation Law of 1800, and changes in education and manumission laws.

Cast of Characters in Gabriel's Plot: