​August 30, 1800: Gabriel Prosser Is Arrested

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Prosser postponed a planned slave rebellion in Richmond, Virginia, but is arrested before he can make it happen.

Gabriel, today commonly known as Gabriel Prosser, was a literate enslaved blacksmith who planned a large slave rebellion in the Richmond area in the summer of 1800. Information regarding the revolt was leaked prior to its execution, and he and 25 followers were taken captive and hanged in punishment.

In reaction, Virginia and other state legislatures passed restrictions on free blacks, as well as prohibiting the education, assembly, and hiring out of slaves, to restrict their chances to learn and to plan similar rebellions.

GABRIEL’S REBELLION: Gabriel planned the revolt during the spring and summer of 1800. On August 30, 1800, Gabriel intended to lead slaves into Richmond, but the rebellion was postponed because of rain. The slaves’ owners had suspicion of the uprising, and two slaves told their owner, Mosby Sheppard, about the plans. He warned Virginia’s Governor, James Monroe, who called out the state militia. Gabriel escaped downriver to Norfolk, but he was spotted and betrayed there by another slave for the reward offered by the state. That slave did not receive the full reward.

Gabriel was returned to Richmond for questioning, but he did not submit. Gabriel, his two brothers, and 23 other slaves were hanged.

LEGACY: ⏹Gabriel’s rebellion served as an important example of slaves’ taking action to gain freedom.

⏹In 2002 the City of Richmond adopted a resolution to commemorate the 202nd anniversary “of the execution of the patriot and freedom fighter, Gabriel, whose death stands as a symbol for the determination and struggle of slaves to obtain freedom, justice and equality as promised by the fundamental principles of democratic governments of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America.”

⏹In the fall of 2006, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP requested Gov. Tim Kaine to pardon Gabriel in recognition of his contributions to the civil rights struggle of African Americans and all peoples.

⏹On August 30, 2007, Governor Kaine informally pardoned Gabriel and his co-conspirators. Kaine said that Gabriel’s motivation had been “his devotion to the ideals of the American revolution — it was worth risking death to secure liberty.” Kaine noted that “Gabriel’s cause — the end of slavery and the furtherance of equality of all people — has prevailed in the light of history”, and added 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.” The pardon was informal because it was posthumous.





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