On this day in 1831, the editors of the Richmond Enquirer published an outraged editorial titled “Gabriel’s Defeat.” Their mission was one familiar to us today—righteous fact-checking. And while their target was an article of the same name published in the Albany Evening Journal on the subject of Gabriel’s Conspiracy (1800), their true subject was Nat Turner’s Rebellion, that bloody uprising in Southampton County that had occurred just a few months prior.
“Gabriel’s Defeat” is an early, and highly entertaining, example of what we now call fisking, a blogosphere term that refers to an often witty point-by-point refutation of an article. “All romance!” the Richmond editors complained after quoting “the Albany fabulist.” And they were generally correct. In an attempt to make hay of Turner’s uprising, the antislavery and abolitionist press had mangled the facts about Gabriel’s Conspiracy.
“We commit these odious libels to the public contempt,” the editors declared before announcing—right there on the same page—that the commonwealth must rid itself of all free people of color. Never forget: higher principles were at stake than just history!