Virginia Slave Gabriel (often referred to as Gabriel Prosser) made his mark in history, after attempting to lead a slave rebellion that was upended by betrayal within his camp. A literate blacksmith, Prosser was born in to slavery on a tobacco farm and learned how to read and write along with learning the trade of being a blacksmith with his two brothers. A tall man and generally well-liked, Prosser was not seen as a threat by slave owners and other Whites who encountered him.
In the year 1800, Prosser had been planning a revolt all spring and summer with intentions on leading the charge on this date. Prosser was set to lead the slaves to Richmond but was held up due to a storm. The slave owners caught wind that there may be a possible uprising by two slaves who went to their owner out of fear. The slave owner alerted the state’s Governor, who then called on the militia.
Watch Gabriel’s story here:
Prosser would escape to Norfolk but was seen and later betrayed by a slave hoping to get a cash reward from the state. Ironically, the slave would never get the full reward for his betrayal. Prosser was then returned to Richmond, where he faced a trial, but stood defiant in defeat.
Prosser, his brothers, and 23 slaves were hanged for daring to free themselves from bondage.
Prosser’s potential rebellion stirred embers of fear in to the hearts of slave owners and they sought to crush any future plans of this sort: Virginia would pass laws to limit the education, gathering, and hiring of freed slaves to quell any hopes of similar plans and uprisings.
After a 2006 request from the NAACP, Gov. Tim Kaine gave an informal pardon to Gabriel Prosser, stating publicly that “it is important to acknowledge that history favorably regards Gabriel’s cause while consigning legions who sought to keep him and others in chains to be forgotten.”
Gabriel Prosser’s life and legacy has been a favorite subject of historians, most notably the book “Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 & 1802″by Douglas Egerton.
Ten years ago in Richmond, Gabriel Prosser was honored at the 202nd anniversary of the uprising and recognized as a “freedom fighter.”
Indeed he was.
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