Cover image for Ploughshares into swords : race, rebellion, and identity in Gabriel's Virginia, 1730-1810
Ploughshares into swords : race, rebellion, and identity in Gabriel's Virginia, 1730-1810
Sidbury, James.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Physical Description:
x, 292 pages ; maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally presented as the author's thesis--Johns Hopkins University.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F234.R59 N477 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



During the summer of 1800, slaves in and around Richmond conspired to overthrow their masters and abolish slavery. This book uses Gabriel's Conspiracy, and the evidence produced during the repression of the revolt, to expose the processes through which Virginians of African descent built an oppositional culture. Sidbury portrays the rich cultures of eighteenth-century black Virginians, and the multiple, and sometimes conflicting, senses of identity that emerged among enslaved and free people living in and around the rapidly growing state capital. The book also examines the conspirators' vision of themselves as God's chosen people, and the complicated African and European roots of their culture. In so doing, it offers an alternative interpretation of the meaning of the Virginia that was home to so many of the Founding Fathers. This narrative focuses on the history and perspectives of black and enslaved people, in order to develop 'Gabriel's Virginia' as a counterpoint to more common discussions of 'Jeffersonian Virginia'.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Much has been written about Gabriel's Conspiracy, the failed effort by African Americans in Richmond, Virginia, to revolt against slavery in 1800. Sidbury's well-researched and clearly written study is, however, much more than a review of that important uprising. Sidbury uses the conspiracy to explore the collective worldview of black Virginians, slave and free. Although the evidence is necessarily thin, he argues convincingly that by the end of the 18th century an identifiably black worldview had evolved that stood in stark contrast to that of white Virginians. The mixing of various African peoples and their Creole descendants over generations in Virginia, the formation of plantation-based communities, the influence of religious revivals, the growing urban economy in Richmond, and rich crosscutting between white and black cultures all contributed to this African American identity. The records of Gabriel's Conspiracy reveal the strength of resistance within Richmond's slave community and the African Americans' vision of themselves as God's chosen people. Sidbury draws heavily from primary sources and his study is thoroughly documented. Maps and an informative appendix of statistics on Richmond households in 1784 and 1800. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. Detweiler California State University, Dominguez Hills

Table of Contents

Prologue: from blacks in Virginia to black Virginians
1 The emergence of racial consciousness in eighteenth-century Virginia
Part I Cultural Progress: Creolization, Appropriation, and Collective Identity in Gabriel's Virginia
2 Forging an oppositional culture: Gabriel's conspiracy and the process of cultural appropriation
3 Individualism, community, and identity in Gabriel's conspiracy
4 Making sense of Gabriel's conspiracy: immediate responses to the conspiracy
Part II Social Practice: Urbanization, Commercialization, and Identity in the Daily Life of Gabriel's Richmond
5 The growth of early Richmond
6 Labor, race, and identity in early Richmond
7 Race and constructions of gender in early Richmond
Epilogue: Gabriel and Richmond in historical and fictional time
8 Gabriel's Conspiracy in memory and fiction