Gabriel, the Musical - Intriguing facts
Several facts from the historical account are intriguing:
- On the night the uprising was scheduled, an unprecedented, cataclysmic storm washed out bridges and filled an entire valley of the Prosser plantation.
- Both Gabriel and his “owner,” Thomas Henry Prosser, were 24 years old at the time of the conspiracy.
- Based on their ages at the time of the conspiracy, Thomas Henry Prosser and Gabriel were probably both born in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, which included the phrase “all men are created equal,” and which, politically, involved the removal of Jefferson’s comment denouncing slavery.
- Two deluges devastated the Richmond area on August 30th—the one that foiled Gabriel’s Insurrection in 1800 and Hurricane Gaston in 2004.
- The conspiracy failed because of betrayal by two black enslaved men at the next-door neighbor’s farm. After the conspiracy was discovered, Gabriel was assisted in his escape by a white man. He was then betrayed by a young enslaved man.
- In the year of the conspiracy, James Monroe (later President of the U.S. for two terms) was governor of Virginia, and Thomas Jefferson, Monroe’s close friend and mentor, was being elected to the first of two terms as U.S. President.
- James Monroe’s 16-month-old firstborn child and only son, Spence (named after Monroe’s father), died the day after Monroe met with Gabriel. It was a devastating loss for both Monroe and his wife, Eliza.
- Thomas Henry Prosser’s firstborn son, Albert, died suddenly at age 24, Gabriel’s age at the time of his execution.
- Thomas Henry Prosser’s to-be father-in-law sat as one of the judges in several of the conspirator trials.
- Thomas Henry Prosser and Lucy Bolling Hylton were wed in St. John’s Church in Richmond, where Patrick Henry gave his famous speech prior to the American Revolution, including the phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death.” This phrase was inverted by the insurrectionists as “Death or Liberty.”
- Thomas Henry Prosser may have received his middle name from family friend Patrick Henry.
- Gabriel’s conspiracy took place in the context of and as a result of the confluence of: the American Revolution and the French Revolution, each with emphasis on liberty and equality; the St. Domingue (Haiti) Revolution, which was the first successful African-American led overthrow of a government in the western hemisphere; an unusually large influx into Virginia of enslaved people from St. Domingue; the illegalization of slavery by the French in their Caribbean islands; the Second Great Awakening -- a time of Christian evangelical religious fervor and conversions, integrated worship services, and an emphasis on the equality of man before God; increasingly unrestricted movement of African-Americans in and around Richmond; the Virginia militia being put on leave by James Monroe; the stock-piling of new muskets—destined for counties throughout Virginia—at the newly built Penitentiary in Richmond.
- Nat Turner was born two weeks before Gabriel was hanged.
- Many more conspirators could have been identified, tried, and hanged, but the state government’s budgeted funds were depleted for reimbursing slave-owners for executed slaves. Consequently, the convicted were often instead “transported” – sold by the state government to slave-traders for removal from Virginia.