Owned by the Prosser family of Richmond, Virginia, Gabriel was an enslaved, literate blacksmith. As a skilled artisan, Gabriel had many advantages over his enslaved brethren and was often hired out by his owners, allowing him a greater freedom of movement in the region. The failure of the American Revolution to free enslaved Africans, along with recent slave uprisings in the French colonies, created an environment in Richmond that was ripe for Gabriel’s Rebellion in 1800.
Very little evidence survives but from what can be pieced together, Gabriel and a small group of other enslaved individuals formulated the conspiracy. They expected about 1,000 slaves and poor white men to rise up against the powerful elite leaders in Richmond in a rebellion that would march under a banner of “Death or Liberty” on August 30, 1800. A betrayal and heavy rains resulted in the plot’s collapse. Gabriel and his cohorts paid the ultimate price for their disloyalty – death by public execution. Reactionaries soon undertook reprisals against the enslaved population throughout Richmond and beyond.