Author: Michael L. Nicholls

professor emeritus of history at Utah State University

Gabriel’s Conspiracy (1800)

Gabriel’s Conspiracy was a plan by enslaved African American men to attack Richmond and destroy slavery in Virginia. Although thwarted, it remains one of the half-dozen most important insurrection plots in the history of North American slavery. Named after an enslaved blacksmith who emerged as the most significant leader of the plot, Gabriel’s Conspiracy originated during the spring and summer of 1800 in a Henrico County neighborhood north of Richmond and extended primarily across Hanover County into Caroline County and south toward Petersburg. Two enslaved men betrayed the plot just hours before a torrential rainstorm prevented the conspirators from gathering on the night of August 30, 1800. In response, Virginia authorities arrested and prosecuted more than seventy enslaved men for insurrection and conspiracy. Twenty-six of those found guilty were hanged and eight more were transported, or sold outside of the state, while another suspected conspirator committed suicide before his arraignment. A small number of free Blacks were also implicated and one was prosecuted. The alleged involvement of two Frenchmen in the plot provided fodder for Federalist attacks on Thomas Jefferson‘s candidacy for the presidency that year. The aborted uprising also provoked refinements in the state’s slave laws at the next meeting of the General Assembly, including the adoption of transportation as an alternative to capital punishment for some enslaved offenders and calls for an end to private manumissions and for the deportation of free Blacks.