Monday, June 26, 2006

Freedom or Death: The Prosser Rebellion of 1800

One can only imagine the patriotic climate in America between the years of 1776 and 1800. 1776 was, of course, the year that America won its Independence from England in the Revolutionary war. America was now free! Crispus Attucks was now dead. Now, it’s time to build. America was finally free from the grips of British rule. Yes, freedom was the word of the day. Freedom for all citizens! Well, freedom as long as you were not of African descent. Gabriel Prosser was born that same year of 1776, a slave to Thomas Prosser on the Brookfield Plantation in Henrico County, Virginia. Gabriel was of African descent. In fact, he was an African born under the American system of slavery!

However, it seems that his owner, Thomas Prosser, was somewhat of a "liberal" master and allowed the young Gabriel to be educated. Yes, Gabriel learned to read and write. Prosser also allowed the young and growing Gabriel to learn the trade of Black Smith. This skill would be a benefit to Gabriel because this allowed him to be hired out to different plantations for work. Gabriel worked and he learned. He learned and he worked. He began to hear that there were black people in other parts of the world who were also oppressed as he was. He heard of a man named Toussaint L'Overture, who led the Haitian people to Independence in 1790 after defeating the French. Gabriel also heard of the French Revolution that followed. He saw that people all over the world were fighting and dying for freedom at any cost. Gabriel Prosser began to think about freedom.

The year is now 1800 and Gabriel is 24 years old. It was time for freedom! He began to talk to other slaves and he spoke to them about revolution. He spoke of Toussaint and what he did in Haiti. Gabriel urged them all to join with him to take back their God given rights as men. His support grew. They were mostly slaves, but some were also freeman, white artisans, religious supporters, and French sympathizers. Gabriel soon had his army, which included the support of over 1,000 slaves.

The Plan

The event was planned for August 30, 1800. Slaves from adjoining counties would all meet just north of Brook Bridge on Brook Turnpike. They would immediately kill all plantation owners in the area to secure the secrecy of their plot. The rebels would then proceed towards Richmond and meet in Petersburg. The plan was to take over the capital city of Richmond, kidnap Governor James Monroe, and persuade him to accept their demands.

The rebels set out on their mission on August 30th, but torrential thunderstorms and downpours washed out key bridges and delayed their plan of attack for one day. The delay proved to be costly for Gabriel and his band of slaves. 27 of the alleged co-conspirators were captured, tried, and hung. Governor, James Monroe soon put out a description of Prosser and a reward offer:

"...Gabriel is a Negro of a brown complexion about 6 feet 3 or 4 inches high, a bony face, well made, and very active, has two or three scars on his head, his hair is very short...He can read and write, and perhaps will forge himself a pass, or certificate of his freedom..."

Reward Proclamation
September 9, 1800
James Monroe, Governor
The young general, Gabriel Prosser, was captured and executed on October 10, 1800 at the city gallows. His adopted battle cry of “liberty or death” forged him a place in black history. It was the battle cry which led Toussaint's army in 1790. Ironically, it was also the battle cry of Virginia’s first governor, Patrick Henry, as he addressed an audience in Richmond at the Virginia Revolutionary Convention, March 23, 1775. Today, there are no statues or memorials dedicated to Gabriel Prosser in Richmond, VA. He is said to have planned the first mass black insurrection against the United States government. In the end, Gabriel was one of the greatest patriots of African descent. In fact, he was an African born under the American system of slavery. He died trying to free himself from that system. Gabriel Prosser spoke of revolution and now he is finally free!


Anonymous said...

Good Morning Stephen! Glad you have not floated away yet. I hear you guys are getting pounded by rain! :( Sorry about that for you. But I hope you and your family are managing to stay dry!

What a powerful story. From the little I know, that was REALLY rare that the slave owners let the slaves get educated wasn't it? I only wish he had been able to live to see his freedom on earth... So sad. I breaks my heart. How the slaves were treated...

Thank you for another wonderful history lesson. I LOVE reading your blog. I often learn SO MUCH! Have a great day!

Stephen A. Bess said...

Hello and good morning! Yes, we are getting washed out, but all is well. There is not flooding in the house or anything. I learned a lot doing the post. I tried not to make too long. The connections to other events in history was astounding! For instance, I didn't know that Patrick Henry was Virginia's first Governor. Thanks again for your comment. You're great! Take care. :)

Ananda said...

Dearest Brothalove.

Thank you for sharing Gabriel Prosser’s history and life calling to help liberate brown folks. I did not know about him. Once again, you have uncovered and shared another ancestral legacy moment that allows us to know within that we walk in the footsteps of a mighty determined group of people. Many thanks to you for being this vessel.

The manner in which you are choosing to share your gifts with the universe reminds me of the biblical story of the disciple, Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to see that no widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food. He became known as a man "full of grace and power" whose speaking was inspired by the Spirit of God. (Acts 6:1-6; See the scripture below).

SCRIPTURE: Acts 6:1-6 - In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The history, culture, research, photography, poetry, insights, and commentaries that you share represent soul food. I believe that each entry flows from your spirit and is inspired by God within you. Each week, your blog entries distribute soul food to all those who are hungry for knowledge, insights, etc. Many of us who read your words don’t always get our daily recommended allowance of soul food. So know that you are feeding neglected and needy folks with your soul food blog entries in the same way that Stephen was called to distribute food to the neglected widows. By doing so, you are walking in the fullness of grace and power that we each have been given. This work that you do is real. It is meaningful. It enlightens folks. Keep doing it the way you are called to do it. Your journey is indeed a blessed one. We are all blessed to witness it unfold in your words and generous sharing.

Peace, Ananda

PS: I love the photos on flicker – the two turtles are so adorable. I also love the link to the Chickenheads.

Stephen A. Bess said...

You have such a wonderful way of expressing and getting your point across. The reference you made to Saint Stephen is honorable. I hope that I can make it to that spiritual level that he achieved. I know that he was pleasing to God. Thank you.

By the way, the link is ChickenBones and not Chickenhead. LOL! Thanks for the laugh though! :)

Anonymous said...

Great post Stephen, you are a fantastic historian, and author.

Stephen A. Bess said...

Thank you. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I do have a real love for history. It's interesting to make connections in the past.

Anonymous said...

That was BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN! And I totally agree with it! :)

Ananda said...

hey stephen. just stopped by to holla and ask if you or anyone from your blog family of commentators has family members who have taken or planning to take the dna test that professor skip gates took to determine the source of his african ancestry. just wanted to know because i am thinking about doing it for my dad. i think it might help with our family history. peace, ananda
ps: the sun just came out. it is beautiful to watch the rain turn to sun. also, i got my hands on the willie bobo and charlie parker cds. right now i am marinating on willie's spanish grease for the 3rd or 4th time. i blogged about it today. thanks for recommended them. chat witcha later.

Shaggy said...

Hi Steve, hope you are good my friend. Thanks for passing by. Hope summer treats you well.


Bougie Black Boy said...

As usual, your write-ups are amazingly educational. I love them. . . Learn something new. I see you touched base on Crispus Attucks. Would love to see a write up on him too.

Anonymous said...

Hi steve just wanted to say thanks for linking me to ur site.

that is some history..I stll find it amazing England had once taken over the states. thanks such an informing peace!

Stephen A. Bess said...

The ancestral link would be interesting. That's a wonderful gift.

I'm loving the Summer. Take care! :)

Yeah, some research on Attucks would be interesting. I'll give that some thought. Thanks!

My pleasure. I'm happy that you enjoyed the writeup. Take care.

Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

Thank you for blessing us with this fabulous history lesson!

Black Men in Life Space: A Change for the Better

Photo Source: Showtime The late great Chicago soul singer, Sam Cooke sang and announced that "A Change is Gonna Come." On season f...