The Library of Virginia

Death or Liberty - Gabriel, Nat Turner and John Brown
January 10,  2000 - November 8, 2000

Between the Revolution and the Civil War, three dramatic events in Virginia focused America's attention on the problem of slavery. Gabriel's Conspiracy in 1800, Nat Turner's Rebellion in Southampton County in 1831, and John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 deeply shocked white southerners and provided confirmation for those who argued that slavery was incompatible with American liberty. African American scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois once noted that the attitudes of an "imprisoned" group could take three forms: "a feeling of revolt and revenge; an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater groups; or, finally, a determined attempt at self-development, self-realization, in spite of envisioning discouragements and prejudice." These attitudes ebbed and flowed with the "spirit of the age." The spirit of revolt exhibited by Gabriel in 1800 and Nat Turner in 1831 convinced John Brown in 1859 that the slaves across the South were ready and willing to emancipate themselves. All they needed, Brown concluded, was the moral and military guidance of an inspired leader. "Death or Liberty" examines these events and the debates about slavery, freedom, and sectional politics that raged in their wake. Finally the exhibition offers an overview of how the public memory of these events has changed.

Resistance to the State | Gabriel's Conspiracy | Nat Turner's Rebellion
John Brown's Raid | Remembering Revolt | All Death or Liberty Documents
Suggestions for Further Reading

Relates Resources

John Brown's Raid - Records and Resources at the Library of Virginia