Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Slave Rebellion That Was Betrayed by Two Enslaved Informants

Gabriel’s Rebellion was a significant event in American history, representing a courageous attempt by enslaved Africans to secure their freedom in the face of oppressive bondage. However, the rebellion was ultimately thwarted by the actions of two enslaved informants who betrayed Gabriel and his followers.

Gabriel’s Rebellion: the Slave Rebellion That Was Betrayed by Two Enslaved Informants

During the late 18th century, enslaved Africans in the United States began organizing revolts and uprisings against their oppressors. Inspired by the ideals of the American Revolution and fueled by the oppressive system of chattel slavery, these acts of resistance aimed to secure freedom and justice. In Virginia, the largest slaveholding state at the time, Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved blacksmith and preacher, emerged as a leader determined to challenge the oppressive status quo.

Gabriel, referred to by some as Gabriel Prosser, the surname of his slaveholder, was a man of African descent born into slavery in 1776 at Brookfield, a large tobacco plantation in Henrico County, Virginia. He and two brothers, Solomon and Martin, were held in bondage by slaveholder Thomas Prosser, the owner of Brookfield.

Despite the oppressive conditions of his enslavement, Gabriel possessed remarkable qualities that set him apart from his contemporaries. Unlike the majority of enslaved individuals who were denied education, Gabriel was part of a small minority—approximately 5%—that managed to learn how to read and write, a rare achievement during the slavery era.

Working as a blacksmith and carpenter, Gabriel honed his skills and developed a reputation as a man of exceptional courage and intellect. Standing at an imposing height of six feet two or three inches, his physical presence matched his remarkable character. However, Gabriel’s life was marked by hardships, as evident from the loss of his front teeth and the scars on his head, reminders of the struggles he endured.

Gabriel’s determination to challenge the institution of slavery took shape during the spring and summer of 1800. He embarked on a mission to organize a revolt, envisioning an uprising that would not only free the enslaved population in Virginia but also dismantle the entire system of bondage. Gabriel’s ambitious plan involved coordinating efforts across ten counties and the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg.

To arm his followers, Gabriel collaborated with his brothers and other skilled blacksmiths to convert scythe blades into swords, producing as many as twelve dozen of these weapons. Additionally, musket balls and 50 spears were prepared, and the rebels intended to seize muskets from a local tavern. The ultimate objective was to march into Richmond with hundreds of enslaved people, seize control of the Virginia State Armory and Capitol, and hold Governor James Monroe hostage, using him as leverage to negotiate their freedom.

Gabriel’s Rebellion: the Slave Rebellion That Was Betrayed by Two Enslaved Informants

However, on August 30, 1800, the planned day of the uprising. Heavy rain flooded the streets of Richmond and the creeks in central Virginia, rendering the rebellion’s execution nearly impossible. Furthermore, the aspirations of Gabriel and his followers were betrayed by two enslaved informants who disclosed the details of the rebellion to their owner, Mosby Sheppard. Sheppard, in turn, warned Governor Monroe, who promptly mobilized the state militia to counter the rebellion.

As law enforcement authorities patrolled the area, conspirators were apprehended one by one. Gabriel managed to escape downriver to Norfolk but was eventually spotted and betrayed by another enslaved individual named Will “Billy” King. Over 70 enslaved men were arrested for their involvement in the conspiracy, and the subsequent legal proceedings resulted in the sentencing of Gabriel, his two brothers, and 23 others to death.

Twenty-six individuals – including Gabriel and his two brothers – were hanged for their participation in the planned revolt. Eight enslaved men were forcibly relocated or sold outside of Virginia, while thirteen others were found guilty but subsequently pardoned by the governor. Notably, the two men who had informed their slaveholders of the plot were granted their freedom as a reward for their betrayal.

Gabriel’s Rebellion, although ultimately unsuccessful in achieving its immediate goals, left an indelible mark on the history of slave resistance in America. Their sacrifice and the subsequent repression they faced highlight the brutal reality of slavery and the lengths to which the enslaved population were willing to go to secure their liberation.

Today, Gabriel’s Rebellion stands as a reminder of the struggles and sacrifices endured by those who fought against the institution of slavery.

Mr Madu
Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.


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