Whether Gabriel Prosser’s Rebellion would have had a Significant Impact on he State of Slavery

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Historians debate whether Gabriel Prosser’s Rebellion, successful or not, would have had a significant impact on the state of slavery in Virginia and if it would’ve taken control over Virginia, emancipating all slaves. It has been debated whether outside conditions would have had any factor on the success of the rebels. Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion, which was set to take place on August 30, 1800, was a major slave revolt attempt that had the chances of succeeding and changing the course of slavery in Virginia. ‘The year 1800 was an important date in African American slave revolts…the year of Gabriel’s attempt.” Prosser’s rebellion was greatly influenced by the enlightenment ideals of the American Revolution and the Haitian Revolution, the ‘republican ideology of the Revolution and anti-elitist thrust of the Democratic-Republicans helped shaped Gabriel’s vision in leading a slave revolt .”

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It is conspicuous that hypocrisy was present in the United States as the founders of the United States did not uphold their promises of the revolution which included popular sovereignty, liberty, and natural rights. The Founding Fathers left the issue of slavery to be evaluated by future generations, therefore ignoring the issue completely and going against the very principles they fought for. This can question the validity and integrity of the promises that they were not practicing but instead advertising. ‘Jefferson recognized the deadly paradox: how can a society extol freedom as infinitely desirable yet punish enslaved rebels for planning a violent rebellion to gain their freedom? ” Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion had major impacts on the state of Virginia, although it was unsuccessful, and influenced people to join the abolitionist movement.

As a result of betrayal and treacherous weather conditions that plighted the insurrection before it could even begin, white slaveholders ceased the plot and Virginian lawmakers created tighter legal restrictions on slaves. ‘Southern whites were aware that it was the most extensive slave plot yet devised in North America… intent on crushing black autonomy, the General Assembly passed several laws abolishing black liberties.” According to Egerton, an estimated twenty-six slaves including Gabriel were captured and executed, at least thirty-two others were found guilty in a court trial, and approximately 500-600 slaves were aware of the revolt. Governor James Monroe requested that federal troops be sent to the region to quell any further efforts at insurrectionary violence ultimately preventing any further threats to ending slave labor. Unfortunately, slaves lost what little ‘independence” they had before the consequences of the insurrection. Slave literacy and ‘hiring out” slaves for work varied in setting but was not illegal, they couldn’t pilot boats anymore in fear that they might escape and to prevent rebellion.

The General Assembly implored James Monroe to talk to the president of the United States about isolating slaves and violators of the law in a separate territory as punishment, which was carried from 1801 up until January 22, 1805; the vote was passed ‘…a competent portion of territory in the state of Louisiana, to be appropriated to the residence of such people of color…hereafter may become dangerous to public safety ” This proves how congress established ideas of segregation before this systematic repression became a law in the 20th century.

Another effect of Prosser’s insurrection was the joining of slaves and lower white class citizens, symbolic of anti-federalist beliefs, in their plight to remove the powerful ?©lites from power and gain social and economic rights and representation. According to Allmendinger, Gabriel, ‘determined to overturn ?the central class relationship in his society’, was able to recruit followers in communities outside Richmond and assembled a movement within the ‘Virginia working class” that nearly overcame its divisions of race. ‘Subjugated to harsh conditions and social discrimination were free blacks and poor unskilled whites, and in time, slaves formed an alliance with them to challenge the status quo.”

Christianity had served as a means of hope, a way to form uprising, and introduced the moral conversation about the abolition of slavery. The ‘evangelical movement (the First Great Awakening, 1720-1770) challenged both the religious and social order in Virginia… This new wave of Christianity emphasized an unusual fellowship between the preachers, the congregation, and the slaves. Emancipation and freedom became the slaves’ creed.” Common beliefs and struggles between slaves, free blacks, and lower white class citizens brought unity, helping to cultivate a secret plot that had the potential for ‘mass chaos and widespread violence.” In the end, Gabriel and his co-conspirators failed their rebellion, but they ‘gained attention to the plight of slaves and made it clear that slaves were anything but docile.”

After Gabriel was betrayed by two other slaves, he fled and captured later on, and approximately 25 others were captured, tried, and executed. The court trials of many of these slaves were emblematic of the disregard of African American testimony and of the unfair trials of African Americans. The court trials didn’t include a jury of one’s peers” and only included white men, and thus played a factor in how the defendants, the slaves, were prosecuted. African Americans were not given fair trials and some slaves were willing to die in an endeavor for freedom rather than not do anything at all. One of Gabriel’s followers stated, ‘I have nothing more to offer than what General Washington would have had to offer, had he been taken by the British and put on trial by them…you have predetermined to shed my blood, then why all the mockery of a trial?” As aforementioned, the United States government did not keep their promises of the enlightenment ideals they advertised during the American Revolution and similar to the way Washington believed in American independence and liberty, the defendant of the trial was fighting for his liberty from being a slave. Virginia had to reimburse slaveholders for their lost property and paid a total of more than $8900 to slaveholders for slaves who were hung. Henceforth, the court trials that followed the capturing of conspirators of the rebellion depicts how the government continued to dismiss and subjugate African Americans, whether it be on a plantation field or in a courthouse.

Gabriel Prosser’s Rebellion influenced future slave rebellions, encouraged slaves to run away or lead uprisings and to become literate since they weren’t allowed to learn how to read or write after tighter legal restrictions were implemented. According to Lewis, Egerton claims that Gabriel’s rebellion was revived in the Easter Plot in 1802 which was advanced by Sancho, a slave from Halifax County, who recruited followers along the James and Roanoke Rivers. The Easter plot, Egerton argues, was a continuation of Gabriel’s Conspiracy, a ?collective rebellion’ by skilled bondsmen who had become ?Chesapeake rebels in the age of Revolution.’ However, Allmendinger impugns Egerton’s claim about the Easter Plot of 1802 and questions if it was ‘not just a panic among whites”. Allmendinger also criticizes Egerton on his analysis and the credibility of primary source documents; he says he should evaluate his sources more efficiently because they contradict his own findings on Gabriel’s career. Conversely, Inscoe praises Egerton for looking at all types of sources to evaluate what actually happened opposed to what myths say. Inscoe compliments Egerton on his attention to detail such as time place, and circumstance. The essay ‘Gabriel’s Defeat” was written at the same time of Nat Turner’s Rebellion (1831); the original essay reappeared in the Philadelphia Press in 1859, in the context of John Brown Raid on Harper Ferry. Then in 1862, the abolitionist minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson published a brief account on the conspiracy, also titled ‘Gabriel’s Defeat”, in the Atlantic Monthly’s September 1862 edition. Gabriel’s Conspiracy inspired and influenced later rebellions and won recognition in the newspaper and spread over to other states.

If outside factors that ultimately ceased the insurrection from happening were excluded, evidence highly suggests that the slaves would have most likely taken over Richmond, Virginia and eventually the rest of the state. According to Dass, an estimated 50,000 men would have followed Gabriel and would have easily possessed themselves in other towns. The whites were cognizant of the fact that Gabriel’s forces could have easily defeated the whites, ‘They could scarcely have failed of success,” wrote the Richmond correspondent of the Boston Chronicle. According to Inscoe, Egerton claims that there is no doubt that if Prosser’s insurrection was successful that it would have substantially impacted the future of slavery in the Old Dominion, if not the South. Inscoe also comments on Egerton’s work correcting myths and crediting him for being one of the only authors/historians to devote an entire book on the subject. There is substantial evidence that supports the idea that the future of Virginia and slavery in the United States would have been highly affected if Gabriel’s rebellion had been triumphant; ‘could have been one of the most powerful and devastating examples of black resistance.”

Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion had limited but important contributions to the abolitionist movement in the 19th century in Virginia although it never got the chance to prove what it could have potentially done about slavery in the United States. Prosser’s rebellion is unique in that it was not only unsuccessful but was aborted. Prosser’s rebellion is essential to history because although it never got the chance to happen it was the first of many rebellions and encouraged more people to become abolitionists and not accept the burden of slavery. It had both negative and positive effects on the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. On the one hand, white slaveholders got a tighter grip on their slaves because of the greater legal restrictions imposed by Virginia lawmakers and unfair trials of African Americans. On the other hand, it brought unity among free blacks, slaves, and lower white class citizens and it influenced other slaves to fight for their natural rights that the American constitution was based on but shamefully denied them. It still remains important in relation to how historians analyze and interpret the maltreatment of slaves not only on the plantation and in the courthouse, but in society as a whole.

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Whether Gabriel Prosser's Rebellion Would Have Had a Significant Impact on he State of Slavery. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from
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