Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 15 September 1800

From James Monroe

Richmond Sepr. 15. 1800.

Dear Sir

I find by yours of the 12. that Mr. Craven had not recd. my letter to him wh. was address’d to Leesburg abt. a fortnight since. I was apprized by Catlett & Miller of Charlottesville that Mr. Craven and Mr. Darrelle wished to purchase my land above that town, as they supposed in partnership, and communicated my terms to the former. I will take six dolrs. by the acre, of which I must have at least £1000. when possession is delivered, which may be immediately, and the balance as soon as possible. I wrote Miller and Catlett I must have the Whole in cash at that price, but will relax from that demand; tho’ I think comparatively with the prices given for other land in the county, it wod. not be a hard bargain. The improvments cost me at least £600. they are new and good. The tract contains abt. 1000. acres. If those gentn. or either of them will give me a day I will meet them in Albemarle, to decide the affair. We have had much trouble with the negroes here. The plan of an insurrection has been clearly proved, & appears to have been of considerable extent. 10. have been condemned & executed, and there are at least twenty perhaps 40. more to be tried, of whose guilt no doubt is entertained. It is unquestionably the most serious and formidable conspiracy we have ever known of the kind: tho’ indeed to call it so is to give no idea of the thing itself. While it was posible to keep it secret, wh. it was till we saw the extent of it, we did so. But when it became indispensably necessary to resort to strong measures with a view to protect the town, the publick arms, the Treasury and the Jail, wh. were all threatened, the opposit course was in part tak[en.] We then made a display of our force and measures of defence with a view to intimidate those people. Where to arrest the hand of the Executioner, is a question of great importance. It is hardly to be presumed, a rebel who avows it was his intention to assassinate his master &ca if pardoned will ever become a useful servant. and we have no power to transport him abroad—Nor is it less difficult to say whether mercy or severity is the better policy in this case, tho’ where there is cause for doubt it is best to incline to the former council. I shall be happy to have yr. opinion on these points.

yr. friend & servant

Jas. Monroe

RC (DLC); torn; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Sep. and so recorded in SJL.

TJ’s letter to Monroe of 12 Sep. is recorded in SJL but has not been found.

Display of our force: on 6 Sep. the Council of State gave Monroe authority to order out the full militia of Henrico County, Chesterfield County, and the city of Richmond. On the 9th he called up two full regiments and part of another, and on the 13th, after he began to reduce the number of men in arms, he still had 650 militiamen at his disposal. It was unusual for a Virginia governor to call out militia to quell an insurrection that had not yet begun, but as Monroe later explained to the General Assembly, he and the council thought they needed troops already mustered and on the scene in case the many slaves who worked on contract in and around Richmond should become involved in any revolt. Believing also that the soldiers “inspired the citizens with confidence, and depressed the spirits of the slaves,” he saw that the militia attended executions of slave conspirators and paraded in Richmond each day. Most of the citizen soldiers were sent home by 18 Oct. (Monroe, Writings description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe, New York, 1898–1903, 7 vols. description ends , 3:205–7, 238–43; James Sidbury, Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730–1810 [New York, 1997], 120–8; Ammon, Monroe description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, New York, 1971 description ends , 187).

Arrest the hand of the executioner: in the end, 26 slaves including Gabriel were hanged. The council agreed to some requests from Monroe for pardons or temporary reprieves of condemned men. In October, however, the council deadlocked, and so could not intervene, when a group of convicted slaves awaited execution and the governor asked “whether those less criminal in comparison with others” might be spared until the legislature could meet. In its first session after the discovery of the planned insurrection, the Virginia General Assembly did make it possible to transport convicted slaves out of the state. By that means the lives of eight men convicted of participation in the aborted revolt were spared. They were sent to Louisiana under the provisions of an act of 15 Jan. 1801, which allowed the governor with the advice of the council to sell rather than execute condemned slaves—the purchaser to give bond to ensure that the convicts would be removed from the United States, and the transported slaves to be subject to execution if they ever returned to Virginia. On 15 June 1801 Monroe, at the legislature’s request, wrote to TJ about the possibility of acquiring some location to which Virginia could transport condemned slaves. Monroe broadened the inquiry to include the subject of colonization in general, and TJ replied later that year, on 24 Nov. (Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion description begins Douglas R. Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802, Chapel Hill, 1993. description ends , 151, 186–7; CVSP description begins William P. Palmer and others, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, Richmond, 1875–93, 11 vols. description ends , 9:152, 156–9, 161, 164, 166; Ammon, Monroe description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, New York, 1971 description ends , 188; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 28 vols. description ends , 17:420; Philip J. Schwarz, “The Transportation of Slaves from Virginia, 1801–1865,” Slavery and Abolition, 7 [1986], 216–17; Philip J. Schwarz, Slave Laws in Virginia [Athens, Ga., 1996], 103–7).

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