- Douglas R. Egerton
The enslaved revolutionary known only as Gabriel was born near Richmond, Virginia, at Brookfield, the Henrico County plantation of Thomas Prosser. By Virginia standards, Brookfield was a large plantation, with a population of approximately fifty enslaved laborers. The identity of Gabriel's parents is lost to history, but he had two older brothers, Martin and Solomon. Most likely, Gabriel's father was a blacksmith, the occupation chosen for Gabriel and Solomon; in Virginia the offspring of skilled bondpersons frequently inherited their parents' professions.
Status as a craft artisan provided the young blacksmith with considerable standing in the slave community, as did his ability to read and write. In the 1780s it was not yet illegal to teach Virginia slaves to be literate, and effective artisans needed the rudiments of literacy. According to tradition, his teacher was his plantation mistress, Ann Prosser As Gabriel grew to be an unusually tall young ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619–1895.