In 1800, following an audacious but doomed slave conspiracy near the city of Richmond, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, then Vice-President of the United States, debated the rebels’ fate with his good friend, Virginia governor James Monroe. At the head of the conspiracy was Gabriel, a skilled blacksmith owned by local planter Thomas Prosser. Like many slaves in the region, Gabriel was hired out to work in Richmond where he lived with some autonomy and was exposed to the political debates about freedom and equality that dominated national politics at the time. Inspired by religious faith, the revolutionary rhetoric of the age, the ongoing slave rebellion in St. Domingue, that would lead to the founding of Haiti as the world’s first black republic four years later, and intense divisions of class and party politics among white Virginians, Gabriel led as many as 1000 African Americans, enslaved and free, in plotting to seize control of Richmond, secure their own freedom, and spark further revolt across the region.
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