Slavery: Enough is Enough
Gabriel Prosser Rebellion Gabriel made plans with enslaved people over ten counties and the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg, Virginia.. He and his brothers, as well as other blacksmiths, turned scythe blades into as many as twelve dozen swords. Musket balls and 50 spears were created. They intended to steal muskets from a tavern. Hundreds of slaves from central Virginia[c] expected to march into Richmond and take control of the Virginia State Armory and the Virginia State Capitol. The plan was to hold Governor James Monroe hostage so that they could negotiate for their freedom. But on August 30, 1800, the planned day of the attack, heavy rain flooded the streets of Richmond and the creeks in central Virginia. In addition, two slaves told their owner, Mosby Sheppard, about the plans. Sheppard warned Virginia’s Governor, James Monroe, who called out the state militia. They patrolled the area and began picking up conspirators. Gabriel escaped downriver to Norfolk, but he was spotted and betrayed there by another slave named Will “Billy” King. More than 70 enslaved men were arrested by law enforcement for conspiracy and insurrection. Gabriel was returned to Richmond for questioning, but he did not submit. The trial was heard by five justices in courts of oyer and terminer, rather than a jury. A recruit, Ben Woolfolk, testified that Gabriel intended on writing the words’ death or liberty’ on a silk flag, referring to Patrick Henry’s Give me liberty, or give me death! speech of 1775. One of the enslaved men reportedly said “I have nothing more to offer than what General Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put to trial.”  Gabriel, his two brothers, and 23 other slaves were hanged. One individual committed suicide before his arraignment. Eight enslaved men were moved or sold outside of Virginia. Thirteen were found guilty, but were pardoned by the governor. Twenty five were acquitted. Two men received their freedom for informing their slaveholder of the plot.