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JUNE 2, 2024 at 7:00 AM

1st Sunday Hike

1st Sunday Hike

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Gabriel Prosser Hike at Bryan Park

Meet/Assemble at the Waterfall Bridge

Park on Gabriel Prosser Circle

4308 Hermitage Rd., Richmond Virginia 23227

Gabriel was born enslaved on the Prosser family’s Brookfield plantation in 1776, the same year that the United States declared its independence from Britain. Virginia’s enslaved population, perhaps more than anyone, cherished the Revolution’s principles of liberty and equality. In 1800, fueled by these ideals, Gabriel devised a plan to achieve freedom for him and his people. As a blacksmith, Gabriel enjoyed freedoms that enslaved field hands did not have, primarily the ability to travel between Thomas Prosser’s plantation and Richmond for work, which also afforded him the opportunity to recruit for his insurrection. The conspirators intended to kill their masters, seize the Richmond capitol building, magazine, and penitentiary, and take Governor James Monroe hostage. They planned the insurrection for August 30, but torrential rain prevented it from occurring. Pharaoh and Tom, two enslaved men from a neighboring plantation, informed their master, Mosby Sheppard, of the plot. Sheppard quickly rode to Richmond to warn the governor.

Monroe concluded that this danger necessitated immediate action. He stationed militiamen at the capitol building, magazine, and penitentiary, sent patrols to the countryside and nearby cities, and dispatched warnings of the potential danger throughout Virginia. By September 2, twenty enslaved individuals had been arrested for their part in the conspiracy. Gabriel was captured at the end of September near Norfolk, then brought to Richmond where he met briefly with Monroe before his trial and execution. In the end, Gabriel, his two brothers, and twenty-three other conspirators were executed, while many others were acquitted or pardoned.

These five primary sources offer varying perspectives on Gabriel’s Rebellion. James Monroe’s Annual Address to the Virginia Assembly details the actions his government took in response to the planned insurrection. Monroe’s letter to Thomas Jefferson reveals his struggle on whether to pursue a more severe or lenient response towards the conspirators. Jefferson’s reply, written five days later, expands on Monroe’s concerns regarding the dangers the accused conspirators would pose to society if freed. The confession of Solomon describes the formation of the plot from the perspective of one of the conspirators. The excerpt from Travels in Some Parts of North America recounts Robert Sutcliff’s journey to Richmond in the years following Gabriel’s Rebellion, where the memory of the conspiracy was still fresh.

 

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