1687 There was a large-scale plan for rebellion in the Northern Neck region of Virginia. This plan called for the extermination of whites, but the plan was discovered, and the leaders arrested and executed. Afterwards, the Council placed a ban upon public funerals for dead slaves, and the House of Burgesses passed stricter laws for the prevention of insurrections. [McIlwaine, H. ed., Executive Journals, Council of the Colony of Virginia, I, pp. 85-87.]
New Afrikan Freedom Fighter Sam
conspiracy in the Northern Neck was crushed in 1687. Its leaders were executed. When authorities learned that the plotting was done under the cover of gatherings for slave funerals, they prohibited slave funerals. The next year, the Northern Neck was the site of another attempted uprising, this one led by “Sam, a Negro Servt to Richard Metcalfe.” A repeat offender, he had “several times endeavoured to promote a Negro Insurreccon in this Colony.”
“To deter him & others from the like evil practice for time to come,” the court ordered the sheriff of James City County to whip him severely, and return him to the Westmoreland County sheriff to be whipped again. Sam would forever wear “a strong Iron collar affixed about his neck with four sprigs.” Should he leave his master’s plantation or remove the collar, he would be hanged.
The Historical Documented Account of The Plot
On October 24, 1687, a panicked Nicholas Spencer provided Virginia governor Francis Howard, baron Howard of Effingham, and the governor’s Council with an account of a suspected slave conspiracy. Spencer, who lived in Westmoreland County, was himself a member of the Council as well as secretary of state. According to the Council’s journal, he provided “Intelligence of the Discovery of a Negro Plott, formed in the Northern Neck for the Distroying and killing his Maj[esty’s] Subjects the Inhabitants thereof, with a designe of Carrying it through the whole Collony of Virg[inia] …” The journal further reports that Spencer “by his Care Secured some of the Principall Actors & Contrivers,” and that only “by Gods Providence” were they captured “before any part of the designes were put in Execution.”
Members of the Council, in response, hearkened back to the colonists’ long-standing fears of their slaves moving too freely. In particular, they regretted “the great freedome and Liberty” masters had afforded slaves “on Saterdays and Sundays and permitting them to meete in great Numbers and making and holding of Funeralls for Dead Negroes.” Such occasions provided slaves the opportunity “to Consult and advise for the Carrying on of the Evill & wicked purposes.”
On the same day he received word of the alleged plot, Effingham created a special commission to try the suspected conspirators. The commission—which included councillors Spencer, Colonel Richard Lee II, and Colonel Isaac Allerton, all of whom resided on the Northern Neck—may have been the first oyer and terminer court impaneled in the history of British North America. Employed in times of extraordinary circumstance, such courts became the principal judicial mechanism by which suspected slave rebels were tried and sentenced in Virginia, from the 1687 plot to Gabriel’s conspiracy (1800) to Nat Turner’s revolt (1831). In this particular case, Effingham wanted a speedy trial for the “present Safety” of the county and colony. Anticipating that the proceedings would result in public executions, he hoped to “deterr other Negroes from plotting or Contriveing” to kill or harm whites. Though no records of these proceedings or their outcomes exist, in all likelihood this impromptu tribunal found the slaves guilty of conspiracy and sentenced them to public executions.
The Council journal, finally, notes that members “Thought fit that a Proclamacon doe forthwith Issue, requiring Strikt observance of the Severall Laws of this Collony relateing to Negroes,” especially those preventing slaves from attending funerals or other public gatherings. Soon after, on November 5, 1687, Effingham issued just such a proclamation, reminding planters of the prohibitions contained in the 1680 act. He scolded masters for “not restraining their Negroes from walking and rambling on broad on Satterdayes and Sundayes,” and reiterated that slaves were not to be armed and were not to leave their masters’ plantations without written permission from a master, a mistress, or an overseer. Violations would be met with severe punishment, and neglectful owners could face fines or imprisonment. Lest any in the colony again forget the law, Effingham announced that the 1680 act “bee published every six monethes att the respective county courts and parish churches within this collony.”
Fears raised by the suspected plot in Westmoreland County spread to other parts of the colony. A slave belonging to a master in Warwick County was arrested and briefly imprisoned on the charge of conspiring with other slaves in Charles City and New Kent counties. Then, on April 26, 1688, Sam, the slave of Richard Metcalfe, of Westmoreland, was found guilty in James City County of having “several times endeavoured to promote a Negro Insurreccon in this Colony.” Sam and a handful of other conspirators were severely whipped by the James City sheriff before being transported back to Westmoreland County, where they were whipped again. Sam, as the leader, was additionally ordered to wear a heavy iron collar affixed to his neck for the rest of his life. And “if he shall goe off his said master or masters plantacon or get off his collar then [he is] to be hanged.”
Haki Kweli Shakur 10-24-2016 August Third Collective NAIM-NAPLA NSP