Prossers Rebellion Definition Essay

The warning from Mosby Sheppard sparked patrols from Richmond and sent a warning to Petersburg, where rumors of a revolt had already surfaced early in August. Men from the Brook were soon taken up and placed in the public jail and penitentiary, and more were arrested as the evidence mounted. Two Henrico justices interrogated them as they were brought in, and on September 11 the commonwealth's attorney presented the Henrico Court with a first batch of more than thirty so-called informations, or indictments, for conspiracy and insurrection. The trials immediately opened before the judges who sat as a Court of Oyer and Terminer, which had criminal jurisdiction. The judges, not a jury, decided guilt and innocence and a unanimous verdict was required for conviction. Different such courts convened in different jurisdictions, depending on where the alleged crime had occurred.

By December 1, seventy-two men had been tried: fifty-eight in Henrico County, three in Richmond City, nine more in Caroline County, and one each in and counties, assuming the latter two trials were connected to Gabriel's plot. Of these seventy-two, twenty-six were found guilty and hanged (all but one in Henrico and Richmond), eight were later transported, thirteen were declared guilty but pardoned by the governor, and twenty-five more were acquitted by local judges or magistrates.

Both Gabriel and Jack Bowler were among those captured and tried. After boarding a vessel downstream of Richmond, Gabriel had sailed to Norfolk, possibly with the connivance of the schooner's captain, Richardson Taylor. On September 23, in Norfolk, one of the vessel's enslaved crewmen turned Gabriel in. Gabriel was tried and convicted on October 6 and hanged in Richmond on October 10. Jack Bowler, meanwhile, surrendered on October 9, was convicted on October 29, and was transported out of state.

More than two dozen enslaved men and one enslaved woman testified at the trials, the overwhelming number giving evidence of a defendant's participation. Three men in particular provided the bulk of the testimony. Two of them were not prosecuted: Ben, a slave of Thomas Henry Prosser who worked with Gabriel; and John, held by Sally Price but hired out in Richmond. The third, Ben Woolfolk, was owned by Paul Graham of Caroline and Hanover, but had been hired to William Young. Woolfolk was found guilty, but in exchange for a pardon he confessed and surrendered many names. Prosser's Ben, unlike Woolfolk, was later manumitted after a group of private subscribers raised the funds to purchase his freedom from Prosser.

Pharoah and Tom, the two men who revealed the plot, were rewarded with their freedom after the General Assembly authorized their purchase and manumission. Two black men—one a slave, the other a freeman—were given small rewards for their roles in securing Gabriel and Jack Bowler. Richardson Taylor, captain of the schooner on which Gabriel was captured, was forced to appear before the mayor of Richmond, but with no white men available to testify against him, he was apparently released. Prosser sued Taylor for harboring Gabriel on his ship, but later dropped the suit, probably because no incriminating testimony could be produced.

Executions were public affairs designed to instill fear and terror. After fifteen men had been executed at what court records describe only as the "usual place" in Richmond—five on September 12, five on September 15, and five on September 18—some citizens petitioned to have the gallows moved. They argued that their families found the hangings offensive; however, no evidence suggests that the execution site was changed. Indeed, on October 10, the last day of the Henrico executions, Gabriel and two others were hanged at the usual place. Seven others, though, were taken that day to two other sites outside of Richmond, most likely to serve as warnings to the areas' larger slave populations.

Once the first ten men had been hanged, Monroe queried Thomas Jefferson on September 15 as to how many executions might be necessary to prevent another uprising. On September 20, by which time another five men had been executed, Jefferson responded that his neighbors thought there had been enough. He added that if the state went beyond "absolute necessity," then the rest of the country and the world at large would condemn them for seeking revenge rather than justice. Monroe proposed to his council that condemned men be reprieved until the next meeting of the assembly, but the council refused. Still, as more men were sentenced to death, the expense of reimbursing owners for the loss of their slaves grew uncomfortably steep, and executive pardons began to replace trips to the gallows. In the end, pardons and transportation saved the Commonwealth almost 45 percent of what it would have if all slaves found guilty had been executed.

The reimbursement of owners for executed slaves represented only part of the state's financial costs in suppressing the conspiracy. Regiments in and Henrico counties, as well as the Richmond Horse, had been mobilized to guard against the uprisings, and some remained active into mid-October of 1800. Militiamen were sent to secure the state arsenal at Point of Fork in Fluvanna County, militia companies were called up in and , and guards were placed on duty to watch captured conspirators and escort witnesses in Richmond and at Bowling Green, in Caroline County. The costs involved drained state coffers. Local patrols submitted larger than normal claims for pay to county courts. For many whites, another kind of price was paid as a result of the discovery and suppression of the conspiracy. As one newspaper essayist put it, "no person can repose in security and safety." Consequently, he felt "bereaved of the blessings of civil liberty, namely, 'security of property and safety of person and life.'" Of course, such concerns were also felt by the enslaved community, especially by the families of those men who were executed or transported.

As the conspiracy unfolded and was then crushed, it became part of the larger political struggle between Federalists and Republicans. Testimony that two Frenchmen had been the instigators of the plot, combined with the favorable attitude the conspirators had toward the French, allowed Federalist editors outside of Virginia to intensify their attacks on Jefferson's candidacy for president. (Jefferson was perceived to have pro-French attitudes.) Federalists charged that if Jefferson and his party came to power, America's future would be marked by slaves revolting under the banner of French revolutionary ideals. In other words, nothing less than the safety of the nation was at stake. But with the execution of Gabriel and the passing of the election, larger interest in the conspiracy quickly faded.

As you review, consider what patterns emerge among these various uprisings, riots, and rebellions.

“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. God forbid that we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.”– Thomas Jefferson

Good golly, what if he had gotten his wish????

1663- Slave Uprising in Gloucester County, Virginia. in which both slaves and white indentured servants joined together to fight against their masters. Note that this occurred barely forty years after it was believed that the first Africans arrived on a Dutch ship in what would eventually be the United States.

1676- Bacon’s Rebellion breaks out when former indentured servants on the Virginia frontier . Economic pressures  had led former servants to only be able to procure land for themselves on the frontier, where they were subject to attack at any moment from Indians upon whose ands they were often squatting. When the colonial government refused to help them defend themselves, grivance spilled over. That summer and fall, a force under Nathaniel Bacon carried out indiscriminate attacks on Indians, whether friend or foe.  But the grievances of Bacon’s men included more than Indian attacks for they also bitterly resented the privileges the elite FFVs enjoyed and their access to power, and especially criticized the governor, William Berkeley. Therefore, when Bacon’s attempt to negotiate better treatment for those on the frontier failed, he and his men marched on Jamestown itself and burned it along with several plantations. Who knows what would have happened if the rebellion hadn’t disintegrated when Bacon suddenly died of dysentery? Twenty-three of the rebels were hanged by Governor William Berkeley.  See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p274.htmland, for a copy of Bacon’s “Declaration in the Name of the People,” see  “http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5800“.

1689- After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to the overthrow of King James II, an armed uprising stormed the fort of Boston seeking the overthrow of Sir Edmond Andros in the Dominion of New England.  Andors had angered colonists by attempting to limit self-government, encouraging the adoption of the Church of England in place of the Puritan faith, strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts, and by enforcing these decrees with British soldiers who were perceived as being unruly and needlessly violent and disrespectful. Andros was arrested by the mob, and the short-lived Dominion of New England collapsed after only three years. Cotton Mather and other leading citizens issued a “Declaration of Grievances”  outlining why the colonists were justified in resenting the imposition of the Dominion.

1689-91- Leisler’s Rebellion was led by militia captain Jacob Leisler in lower New York and was another outgrowth of the Glorious Revolution, much like the rebellion in Boston. New York was also made part of the Dominion of New England, and colonists there didn’t like it any better than those in Boston. Leisler overthrew the rule of the Lt. Governor, and created a new government based on direct representation. Leisler claimed to be maintaining power in the name of the new, Protestant rulers of England, William and Mary.  However, when William and Mary appointed a new overseer, Leisler refused to give up power, and British troops  captured him. He and his son-in law were convicted of treason, hanged, and then beheaded while still alive.

1677-79- The Culpeper or Albemarle Rebellion broke out in response to stricter enforcement of the Navigation Acts after the end of salutary neglect. A group of frontiersmen led by John Culpeper and George Durant in the Albemarle region of South Carolina imprisoned the deputy governor and other royal officials, including customs inspector (collector of taxes, never a popular person) Thomas Miller.  They then elected their own legislature, elected Culpeper governor, and ran things for two years. Miller eventually escaped from jail, made it back to England, where he informed the Lords Proprietors of the events. Culpeper was arrested and tried for rebellion, but was acquitted, in part because one of the Lords Proprietors defended him and justified the rebellion due to the harshness of the colonial officials. After this rebellion, one of the Lords Proprietors himself took over as governor.

1712- Slave Uprising in New York City in which about 25 armed slaves killed nine whites. Seven hundred were arrested. About twenty of the rebels were executed.

1739- The Stono Rebellion was another slave uprising led by a slave named Cato from Stono, South Carolina. On September 9, 20 slaves met and planned to escape to freedom. They rboke into a store, killed the two shopkeepers, and stone guns and the ingredients for ammunition. Reportedly,  60 to 100 slaves eventually ran into a white militia called out to repel them as they marched toward Spanish Florida. At least forty blacks and twenty-one whites died during the battle. As a result, South Carolina enacted a much harsher slave code that no longer allowed slave to assemble in groups or learn to read, among other things. This was the largest uprising of slaves prior to the Revolution. See  http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/colonial/stono_1 or http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p284.html

1741- The New York Conspiracy was another slave rebellion in New York City that was feared, although it is doubtful whether any actions took place. Thirty-one slaves and four white accomplices were executed for supposedly planning an uprising.

1763-66- Pontiac’s Rebellion broke out at the conclusion of the French and Indian War and raged throughout the Ohio Valley which had just been acquired from France for Britain. At the urging of an Indian religious leader who promised success if Indians would return to traditional ways, an Ottawa tribal chief named Pontiac soon gathered a confederation of Chippewa, Miami, Huron, Potawatomie, Delaware, and Seneca Indians to fight the establishment of British forts in the region. Ultimately, the Indians captured eight forts before the uprising lost force, and in 1766 a treaty was concluded. In response to this rebellion, however, the Proclamation of 1763 was issued by the British, enraging colonists, especially those who wished to settle in the rich Ohio River Valley. {Pontiac’s Rebellion also caused a violent uprising on the Pennsylvania frontier known as…

1763-64- The Paxton Boys Uprising was a series of attacks by frontiersmen who  were angered by Pontiac’s Rebellion. These predominantly Scots-Irish  groups attacked any Indian settlements, regardless of whether they had attacked whites or not. When the Pennsylvania governor issued arrest warrants for the Paxton boys after they attacked a peaceful settlement of Conestoga Indians, killing six outright and later taking 14 captive (who were also later killed), the Paxton Boys then attacked a village of Indians who had been converted to Christianity by Moravian missionaries. When the Indians fled to Philadelphia and were protected by the government, the Paxton Boys then marched on Philadelphia in 1764, causing a panic in the City of Brotherly Love. Only Benjamin Franklin’s negotiations with representatives from the Paxton Boys caused the march to break up. Nonetheless, tension between hardscrabble frontiersmen (westerners) and wealthier, more politically connected citizens  (easterners)was obviously not something that was solved after Bacon’s Rebellion, as this uprising demonstrated.

1766-71- The Regulator Movement was an uprising in the Carolinas, once again between western frontier settlers and their wealthier, politically connected eastern counterparts, also known as the War of Regulation. It was felt that the laws and regulations that were enforced by the government were not fairly administered. This discontent was fed by the scarcity of money on the frontier. Eventually governor William Tyron called out the militia, and 2000 Regulators and 1,000 militia members fought at the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771. Although numerically superior, discipline and strategy was on the side of the better-trained militia, and after a two hour battle in which nine were killed on each side, the Regulators were defeated.  See  http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/nc/ncsites/Alamance.htm or this previous post on the blog for more info.

1764- Ethan Allen was the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a military resistance unit that was formed  among settlers who did not want to see the takeover of what is now Vermont  and New Hampshire by New York. Using armed resistance, the Green Mountain Boys established a de facto government in lieu of the royally sanctioned authority of New York, which issued warrants for their arrest. When New York sent surveyors into the area they were forcibly detained and even beaten. When the Revolution broke out, however, the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen  fought as a Vermont militia in the war, and when Vermont declared itself an independent nation in 1777, the Green Mountain Boys formed the basis for the Vermont Army.

1773- The Boston Tea Party. Tea Tax from Champagne Charley Townsend. Dudes in the Sons of Liberty dressed like Indians (not convincingly, but points for effort). Six thousand pounds of tea floating around in Boston Harbor in just under three hours. British East India Company enraged even without Captain Jack Sparrow involved. Port of Boston closed as part of the Intolerable Acts.

1786-87- Shays’ Rebellion broke out in western Massachusetts i the wake of a depressed national economy after the end of the Revolutionary War. Many of these farmers who had returned from the war practically penniless, and they greatly resisted the high property taxes that forced many of their number into foreclosure. Hardworking men saw their farms sold, and if that did not raise enough to pay off all their debts, they were subjected to the humiliation of court and possibly debtors’ prison. They feared that they would eventually become tenant farmers working for wealthy, well-connected landowners. Thus a strong populist flavor permeated the reasoning of the rebels.  Daniel Shays was a decorated Revolutionary War veteran who led the insurrection. He and his men marched on the debtors courts and forced them to close, which then alarmed creditors such as merchants and bankers, obviously. The problem was that the Confederation Congress could find no way to fund an army to restore order. The governor of Massachusetts, James Bowdoin, eventually had to use private funds to put down the insurrection. After a failed attempt to seize an arsenal, the rebellion collapsed, and many of its leaders fled to Vermont, which was not yet a state. Nonetheless, eventually 200 rebels were prosecuted for treason in 1787, and fiver were sentenced to hang. The governor lost re-election to John Hancock in the aftermath, and the five rebels sentenced to hang were paraded in front of the gallows before being given a last-minute pardon. Shays was pardoned as well, eventually, and died of old ageShays’ Rebellion led many to conclude that the Confederation was too weak, and that radical measures would have to be taken to prevent similar uprisings in the future. The eventual consequence? The Constitutional Convention in 1787. But leftover anger from the rebellion caused Massachusetts to barely vote to ratify the new Constitution when it was put to a vote of the people in 1788. See http://www.calliope.org/shays/shays2.html.

1794- the Whiskey Rebellion began in 1794 in Pennsylvania over a 1791 tax that was imposed upon whiskey distillers that was viewed as unjust, and especially unfair to small producers, who had to pay by the gallon, versus large distillers who paid a flat fee. Western farmers particularly resented this tax because it seemed to punish their habitual practice of turning their excess crops into whiskey to be sold. The tax was part of Hamilton’s financial plan to pay off the national debt (and promote the power of the federal government). After the protests turned into shooting and tarring and feathering of tax collectors, President Washington declared martial law and activated an army of militiamen from several states numbering almost 13,000. Washington and his former Revolutionary War aide Hamilton personally took control of the force and marched into western Pennsylvania. Once there, the main force of rebels melted away, but twenty alleged participants were arrested, and two were later sentenced to death for treason, although Washington commuted their sentences claiming one was an idiot and the other was crazy. The person who claimed leadership, a “Tom the Tinker,” was never found. This rebellion marked one of two times that a president has actually commanded troops in person, and showed that the federal government was strong enough to maintain itself, in contrast to that under the Articles of Confederation. Another consequence was that the common people came to feel that the Federalist party was out of touch with their concerns. The Whiskey Tax stayed on the book until 1803, although it was very difficult to collect, and many distillers then moved into the wilds of Kentucky and Tennessee, where they used corn instead to make bourbon.

1800- Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion was to be led by Gabriel and his brother Martin in Virginia. They gathered 1,000 slaves and armed them with the intention of attacking the capital of Richmond. Prosser’s plan was leaked to authorities after weather caused a delay in enacting the planned attack, and Prosser and several of his followers were executed.

1811- St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana was the location of a slave rebellion in January of this year in which 500 slaves rose up. One hundred slaves died in the ensuing mayhem.

1816- Fort Blount, Florida was the site of a battle between US Army forces and a combined force of 300 runaway slaves and Indians.

1822- Denmark Vesey’s Uprising was led by a free black man in Charleston, South Carolina, and was over before it began, as a slave informed his master of the plan before ti was actually enacted. The plan was believed to involve thousands of free and enslaved blacks, the mere possibility of which stunned local white officials. Vesey and thirty-six other conspirators were hanged after a very long series of trials.

1831- Nat Turner was convinced by a solar eclipse in February of 1831 that it was a sign from God that he should kill his master to free himself. By August, he completed his plans for a hoped-for uprising, and proceeded to kill his master and his family. Only 75 slaves joined his rebellion, however, and 3,000 whites turned out to put down the insurrection. After Turner and his small force was stopped, about 100 other slaves apparently unconnected with the resurrection were killed as well as tensions and emotions ran high. Turner was executed on November 31, after hiding for six weeks.

1859 –John Brown leads a raid with 21 other men on a federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on October 16, Virginia, hoping to use the weapons to create a massive slave uprising. Although Brown captured the arsenal, the plot failed, and he was arrested by a force of Marines led by Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, who had been on leave nearby. Brown was tried, for treason against the state of Virginia and executed, making him a “martyr for abolitionism.”

1861-1865- Civil War, or as many Southerners liked to call it, “the War of Northern Aggression” (shudder) or “the Late Unpleasantness.”  Do I really need to explain this one?

1863- The New York City Draft Riots erupted on July 11-13, 1863. The city was in the control of a powerful Democratic machine, and thus the Enrollment Act of Conscription which the Republican Lincoln passed was universally hated, including by the governor of New York. Unfortunately, the first draftees were being enlisted just as the news of the horrors of Gettysburg made the papers. Riots then broke out, predominantly among the Irish of the city , many of whom had no desire to fight to free blacks who would then compete with them for jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder. The damage from the riots was later estimated at more than one and a half million dollars, and no one knows exactly how many people died in the violence. In the end, Lincoln had to divert troops from fighting the Civil War to restore order in New York, and they had to remain in place to keep the peace. It is estimated that the hated conscription law only raised 150,00 men, most of them substitutes. See http://www.civilwarhome.com/draftriots.htm.

1875-77- A General Labor Strike spread nationwide, centered primarily in the railroad industry. This strike had been building for several years, especially since the depression of 1873.  Workers forced to live in company towns suddenly saw their wages cut, often by at least 10%. In one instance, in 1875, the Reading Railroad cut wages to 54% of the 1869 levels, resulting in a strike that lasted 170 days. This was known as The Long Strike. The labor unrest  of the Long Strike of 1875 extended into the coal industry as well. A secret society known popularly as the Molly Maguires (its formal name was the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association) made up primarily of Irish who worked in the railroad industry, was blamed for  various actions of violence during the strike, and eventually nineteen were tried and executed for their activities. See http://www.providence.edu/polisci/students/molly_maguires/for more info.

1892- Homestead Strike– Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead steel plant was the site of a violent confrontation between striking workers and Pinkerton detectives after the workers armed themselves and occupied the plant. When the Pinkertons tried to attack via the Monongahla River, they were fired upon and captured. The Pennsylvania State Militia then attacked and won the release of the Pinkerton detectives, and the union was ruthlessly crushed.

1909-12- The Black Patch War erupted over a specific rich tobacco grown in western Kentucky and Tennesse that the Duke  Tobacco tried to monopolize. Independent farmers responded to the monopolistic practices with an armed uprising that involved “Night Riders” attacking anyone or anything affiliated with the Duke Company. It took three years for the violence to end.

Race riots: Too many to describe but here are some of the more famous ones after the turn of the 20th century:

Atlanta, GA 1906

East St. Louis, IL 1917

Tulsa, OK, 1921

Harlem, NY 1935

Detroit, MI 1943

Beaumont, TX 1943

Los Angeles, CA (the Zoot Suit Riots) 1943

Harlem, NY 1963

Watts, CA 1965

Detroit, MI, 1967

Newark, NJ 1967

Baltimore, Chicago, Louisville and Washington DC in the wake of the assassination of MLK

Los Angeles, CA 1992 (after the Rodney King incident)

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