What is: The Mayo Bridge, across the James River, connecting the City of Richmond with what was the town of Manchester.  Route 360 from the southside to downtown

What was: John Mayo built his first toll bridge here in 1788 to connect Richmond and Manchester, the town across the James River.  The earliest version of the Mayo Bridge was little more than a series of rickety pontoons tied together by wood planks.  Given the power and flooding of the James River, by 1802, John Mayo found himself faced with the task of building the fourth iteration of the Mayo Bridge. To do this, he relied on a workforce often available for large scale construction projects, a group of free and enslaved, black and white, local and regional workers, and skilled craftsmen, who made up the brute muscle to build a major bridge

The bridge also has a major place in the story of slavery, as Africans being sold south from the 19th century markets in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, would be walked in coffles or transported in carts across the bridge to be loaded onto ships and sent south to their new owners.

In 1800, Richmond was a slave town, with a community whipping post where slaveholders had punishment meted out in a public square. Enslaved men loaded and moved flatboats of tobacco and other cargo. Throughout the state in 1800, 39.2% of the total population were slaves.  During the spring and summer, Gabriel planned a revolt that intended to end slavery in Virginia. Plans were made with enslaved people over 10 counties and the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg, Virginia. Hundreds of slaves from central Virginia expected to march into Richmond across this bridge and take control of the Virginia State Armory and the Virginia State Capitol, as well as set fire to a warehouse district in Richmond, and seize the bridge to control traffic in and out of the city.  Known as Gabriel’s Rebellion, due to weather it had to be postponed.  In the interim, someone reported the plans.  Everyone associated with Gabriel’s Rebellion was hung.

The Virginia Assembly in 1802 made it illegal for blacks, whether free or enslaved, to obtain and pilot or navigate a boat. Two years later, they were unable to meet in groups after their work was done or on Sundays. In 1808, state legislators banned hiring out of slaves and required freed blacks to leave the state within 12 months or face re-enslavement.

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