Thus passed, the witness stated, this preparatory meeting. At a subsequent gathering the affair was brought to a point, and the only difficult question was, whether to rise in rebellion upon a certain Saturday, or upon the Sunday following. Gabriel said that Saturday was the day already fixed, and that it must not be altered; but George was for changing it to Sunday, as being more convenient for the country negroes, who could travel on that day without suspicion. Gabriel, however, said decisively that they had enough to carry Richmond without them, and Saturday was therefore retained as the momentous day.

     This was the confession, so far as it is now accessible; and on the strength of it, Ben Woolfolk was promptly pardoned by the court for all his sins, past, present, or to come, and they proceeded with their investigation. Of Gabriel little appeared to be known, except that he had been the property of Thomas Prosser, a young man who had recently inherited a plantation a few miles from Richmond, and who had the reputation among his neighbors of "behaving with great barbarity to his slaves." Gabriel was, however, reported to be "a fellow of courage and intellect above his rank in life," - to be about twenty-five years of age,- and to be guiltless of the alphabet.

     Further inquiry made it appear that the preparations of the insurgents were hardly adequate to any grand revolutionary design, - at least, if they proposed to begin with open warfare. The commisariat may have been well organized, for Black Virginians are apt to have a prudent eye to the larder; but the ordinance department and the treasury were as low as if Secretary Floyd had been in charge of them. A slave called "Prosser's Ben" testified that he went with Gabriel to see Ben Woolfolk, who was going to Caroline County to enlist men, and that "Gabriel gave him three shillings for himself and three other negroes, to be expended in recruiting men." Their arms and ammunition, so far as reported, consisted of a peck of bullets, ten pounds of powder, and twelve scythe-swords, made by Gabriel's brother Solomon, and fitted with handles by Gabriel himself. "These cutlasses," said subsequently a white eyewitness, "are made of scythes cut in two and fixed into well-turned handles. I have never seen arms so murderous. Those who still doubt the importance of the conspiracy which has been so fortunately frustrated would shudder with horror at the sight of these instruments of death." And as it presently appeared that a conspirator named Scott had astonished his master by accidentally pulling ten dollars from a ragged pocket which seemed inadequate to the custody of ten cents, it was agreed that the plot might still be dangerous, even though the resources seemed limited.


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August 2000