Author: Walter C. Rucker

an associate professor of African American and African Studies at the Ohio State University. He is the author of The River Flows On": Black Resistance"

Westmoreland Slave Plot (1687)

The Westmoreland slave plot of 1687 involved an alleged conspiracy uncovered by Nicholas Spencer, who claimed that the participants intended to kill whites and destroy property in the county and throughout Virginia. Preceded by the Gloucester County Conspiracy (1663) and Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677), the Westmoreland plot was the first conspiracy in British North America not involving white supporters or participants. As such, it heightened planters’ fear of their slaves, already expressed in a 1680 act that sought to prohibit slaves’ ability to carry weapons, meet in public, or travel without permission. After Spencer’s revelation, Virginia governor Francis Howard, baron Howard of Effingham, convened what perhaps was British America’s first oyer and terminer court, a criminal panel subsequently used to try slave rebels. Effingham also issued a proclamation reiterating the language of the 1680 act, something his successor felt compelled to do again, in 1690. After another attempted rebellion in Westmoreland in 1688, the General Assembly, in 1691, passed legislation allowing colonists to kill any slave who resisted, ran away, or refused to surrender when so ordered. This and other laws suggest that in the time since the Servants’ Plot, Virginians began to see the danger of servile revolt as coming primarily from enslaved African Americans.