1800 - Gabriel Prosser's Conspiracy
Gabriel's insurrection of 1800 was by no means the most formidable revolt that the Southern states witnessed. In design it certainly did not surpass the scope of the plot of Denmark Vesey twenty-two years later, and in actual achievement it was insignificant when compared not only with Nat Turner's insurrection but even with the uprisings sixty years before.
At the last moment in fact a great storm that came up made the attempt to execute the plan a miserable failure. Nevertheless coming as it did so soon after the revolution in Hayti, and giving evidence of young and unselfish leadership, the plot was regarded as of extraordinary significance.
Gabriel Prosser himself was an intelligent slave only twenty-four years old, and his chief assistant was Jack Bowler, aged twenty-eight. Throughout the summer of 1800 he matured his plan, holding meetings at which a brother named Martin interpreted various texts from Scripture as bearing on the situation of the slaves. His insurrection was finally set for the first day of September. It was well planned. The rendezvous was to be a brook six miles from Richmond.
Under cover of night the force of 1,100 was to march in three columns on the city, then a town of 8,000 inhabitants, the right wing to seize the penitentiary building which had just been converted into an arsenal, while the left took possession of the powder-house. These two columns were to be armed with clubs, and while they were doing their work the central force, armed with muskets, knives, and pikes, was to begin the carnage, none being spared except the French, whom it is significant that the slaves favored. In Richmond at the time there were not more than four or five hundred men with about thirty muskets; but in the arsenal were several thousand guns, and the powder-house was well stocked. Seizure of the mills was to guarantee the insurrectionists a food supply; and meanwhile in the country districts were the new harvests of corn, and flocks and herds were fat in the fields.
On the day appointed for the uprising Virginia witnessed such a storm as she had not seen in years. Bridges were carried away, and roads and plantations completely submerged. Brook Swamp, the strategic point for the slaves, was inundated; and the country slaves could not get into the city, nor could those in the city get out to the place of rendezvous. The force of more than a thousand dwindled to three hundred, and these, almost paralyzed by fear and superstition, were dismissed. Meanwhile a slave who did not wish to see his master killed divulged the plot, and all Richmond was soon in arms.
A troop of United States cavalry was ordered to the city and arrests followed quickly. Three hundred dollars was offered by Governor Monroe for the arrest of Gabriel, and as much more for Jack Bowler. Bowler surrendered, but it took weeks to find Gabriel. Six men were convicted and condemned to be executed on September 12, and five more on September 18. Gabriel was finally captured on September 24 at Norfolk on a vessel that had come from Richmond; he was convicted on October 3 and executed on October 7. He showed no disposition to dissemble as to his own plan; at the same time he said not one word that incriminated anybody else.
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