July 12: The birth of Gabriel Prosser in 1776 is remembered on this date.
He was a Black abolitionist.
A slave child, Gabriel was born to the family owned by Thomas Henry Prosser of
the Brookfield Plantation in Henrico County, Virginia. Viewed as a ''man of
courage and intellect above his rank and life,’’ Prosser was a imposing
figure, dark-skinned, he stood 6 feet, 2 or 3 inches tall. He had lost two
front teeth and his head was scarred. Unlike many slaves, he had been educated
in his youth, and became a blacksmith, which gave him access to life beyond
After the American Revolution, skilled slaves were often hired out; some
slaves also got Sunday off. They could earn some money of their own, after
paying a portion to their masters. However, white merchants controlled the
flow of raw goods into and out of the city, and they could pressure the
skilled slaves to lower their prices by simply choking off the stream of
materials. The masters, meanwhile, still got their share off the top. This
exploitive system was grounds for revolt among the slaves.
In 1800, Prosser and several other slaves plotted their own revolution,
planning to marshal the forces of up to 10,000 blacks, who would take Richmond
in an armed revolution, kill every white, and save the French, the Methodists,
the Quakers and the poor. The plan called for a three-pronged assault on the
city on an August night; it was put down just as it got started. Two slaves
who lived on the Henrico plantation of Meadow Farm betrayed the plot to their
owner, Mosby Sheppard. Sheppard immediately informed Governor Monroe, who
called out the militia. On August 30th, torrential rains washed away roads and
bridges, limiting the movement of the rebellious slaves.
About 30 slaves were captured and executed. Prosser, however, eluded the
militia and escaped down the Chickahominy River. The governor put a $300
reward on his head, and on September 24th, he was captured aboard a ship in
Norfolk, Virginia. On October 10th, 1800 at Richmond's gallows at 15th and
Broad streets, Gabriel Prosser was hanged. He was 24 years old. His bid for
freedom only tightened the grip of slavery. In the aftermath of the
insurrection, slave laws were toughened not only in Virginia but also in other
states, North and South. In Virginia, abolition societies were driven
underground and travel was restricted.
Free blacks that did not leave the state within six months risked re-
enslavement. Prosser would herald the cause of independence for himself and
for all slaves. It was a cause for which he was willing to take extreme
measures and pay the ultimate price.
Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.