Black History: Special Delivery!!

gabriel prosser

Born in 1776, Gabriel Prosser was enslaved on the Prosser Plantation near Richmond, VA. He was one of 53 slaves on the plantation. Gabriel was a skilled blacksmith. Unlike many of the other slaves on the Prosser Plantation, Gabriel could read and write. At that time, only 5% of slaves could read and write. He devised a plot to liberate himself and other slaves from the oppression they were subjected to by Virginia’s white merchant class.

Gabriel found inspiration for his plan in the French and Saint-Domingue revolts of 1789. He believed strongly that enslaved blacks and working class whites could band together to oppose the federalist merchant class that collectively oppressed both groups. Gabriel enlisted the help of his brother Solomon and one other slave on the Prosser plantation. His wife, Nanny, also enslaved on the Prosser Plantation was also part of the insurrection. Gabriel’s plan was to kill all of the whites (except for Quakers, Methodists, and Frenchmen). He would then establish a, “Kingdom of Virginia” where he would serve as the monarch. In the months before the revolt, Gabriel organized hundreds of supporters and separated them into military units. News of Gabriel’s intentions spread rapidly to other towns and plantations that were close by. He put his safety and success on the line with his decision to spread the news so widely regarding his intentions to stage a revolt. He hoped to recruit at least 1,000 slaves to join him in his quest for, “Death or Liberty”.

Gabriel’s plan was to march to Richmond and hold Governor James Monroe hostage; forcing the merchant class to acquiesce to the demands the enslaved and working class for equal rights. The uprising was scheduled to occur on August 30th. On that day, a torrential thunderstorm hit Virginia. Roads were rendered impassible and travel was almost impossible. This, did not deter Gabriel. He felt he only needed a small number of conspirators to be successful with his plan. However, many of his followers forsook their allegiance to him; fearing they would not succeed in their quest for freedom. Ultimately, Gabriel was betrayed by a group of slaves, one of which was named Pharaoh, who feared retaliation if Gabriel’s quest was unsuccessful. Pharaoh and the other slaves claimed a reward for Gabriel’s capture. His conquest, had scarcely begun when he and several others were captured. 25 enslaved African Americans were hanged together for their part in the rebellion. Gabriel was tried and found guilty. He was executed on the gallows alone.

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