was-virginia-the-mother-of-slavery-50-728The Westmoreland County slave plot compelled lawmakers to create a series of restrictions aimed at preventing further conspiracies. On July 26, 1690, Virginia lieutenant governor Francis Nicholson issued a proclamation ordering that the 1680 act be publicly read at all county courts and parish churches every six months. The following year, on April 3, 1691, the General Assembly passed “An act for suppressing outlying slaves,” which granted county sheriffs, their deputies, and any other “lawfull authority” the ability to kill any slaves resisting, running away, or refusing to surrender themselves when so ordered. For each slave killed in this manner, owners would collect 4,000 pounds of tobacco from the colonial government. The act further sought to prevent the “abominable mixture and spurious issue” of mixed-race unions by prohibiting English men or women from marrying any “negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free.”

As the first conspiracy in British North America not involving white supporters or participants, the Westmoreland plot confirmed long-held fears among planters while provoking new ones. Their concerns were now focused more sharply on enslaved African Americans, helping to show how Africanized the colony’s labor force had become since the Servants’ Plot of 1663. Servitude in Virginia had become a condition largely dictated by race, and, in the future, servile revolts would be planned and executed almost exclusively by blacks. Indeed, until John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, white support for slave revolts in Virginia was minimal at best. In the meantime, the clear and present danger of slave insurrection remained a persistent theme in colonial and antebellum Virginia history.

 

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