Gabriel, who often for the sake of convenience is mistakenly referred to as Prosser, was the leader of an unsuccessful slave revolt in Richmond, Virginia in 1800. Born into slavery around 1775, Gabriel was the chattel of Thomas H. Prosser of Henrico County, Virginia. Little is known of his life before the revolt that catapulted him into notoriety. Gabriel’s two brothers, Solomon and Martin and his wife, Nanny, were all owned by Thomas Prosser, and all participated in the insurrection.
At the time of the insurrection, Gabriel was twenty-four years old, six feet two inches tall, literate, and a blacksmith by trade. He was described by a contemporary as “a fellow of courage and intellect above his rank in life.” With the help of other slaves including Jack Bowler and George Smith, he devised a plan to seize control of Richmond by killing all of the whites (except the Methodists, Quakers and Frenchmen) and then establishing a Kingdom of Virginia with himself as monarch.
Gabriel and the other revolt leaders were probably influenced by the American Revolution and more recently the French and Haitian Revolutions with their rhetoric of freedom, equality and brotherhood. In the months prior to the revolt, he recruited hundreds of supporters and organized them into military units. Although Virginia authorities never determined the extent of the revolt, they estimated that several thousand planned to participate including many who were to be armed with swords and pikes made from farm tools by slave blacksmiths.
Gabriel planned to initiate the insurrection on the night of August 30, 1800. However, earlier in the day two slaves who wanted to protect their masters betrayed the plot to Virginia authorities. Governor James Monroe alerted the militia. A rainstorm prevented the army from assembling outside Richmond thereby delaying the uprising by 24 hours and giving the militia crucial time to prepare a defense of the city. Realizing their plan had been discovered, Gabriel and his co-conspirators dispersed into the countryside. About 35 leaders were captured and executed but Gabriel was able to escape to Norfolk where he was betrayed by other enslaved people for the reward. He was captured on September 25 and returned to Richmond where he was tried and found guilty on October 6 for his role in the abortive uprising. He was executed on October 7, 1800.