Slave Revolts in America: History & Explanation

Instructor: Brian Muhammad
One of the most distressing and violent aspects of American history was the institution of slavery. Learn more about the history of slave revolts and test your knowledge with a quiz.


The Slave Revolts were periodic acts of violence by black slaves during more than two centuries of slavery. Many slaves took part in acts of individual opposition to their slave status. These actions included damaging tools, working slowly, and burning down buildings. However, plantation owners were in constant fear slaves would rise up in defiance against their oppression.

Gabriel Prosser

Gabriel Prosser led the first slave insurrection.
gabriel prosser

The first major slave insurrection took place in Virginia. In the spring and summer of 1800, a 25-year-old slave by the name of Gabriel Prosser laid plans for a slave uprising in Virginia. His goal was to make himself king of an independent black state carved out of Virginia. His plan called for an attack on Richmond, in which the slaves would seize weapons at a federal arsenal and kill all white people except Quakers, Methodists, and Frenchmen, all of whom Prosser considered 'friendly to liberty.'

Gabriel's army, estimated at about 1,000 slaves, gathered six miles outside Richmond on the night of August 30, 1800. They might have succeeded if a violent rainstorm hadn't washed away bridges and flooded the roads. Before the insurrectionists could reorganize and reassemble, a black informer revealed the plan to white authorities. Upon orders from Gov. James Monroe, the state militia rounded up suspected slaves and put them on trial. Prosser and about 34 of his followers were convicted and hanged on October 10, 1800.

Denmark Vesey

Denmark Vesey purchased his freedom in 1799 and worked as a carpenter in Charleston, S.C. While Vesey was free, he was determined to help those who were still enslaved. He planned and organized an uprising of slaves on the plantation and free blacks. The plan reportedly called for the rebels to attack guardhouses and arsenals, seize their arms, kill all whites, burn and destroy the city, and free the slaves.

In 1822, Vesey and other leaders from the African Methodist Episcopal Church began plotting the rebellion. Vesey set the date for revolt on July 14, and men from Charleston and surrounding plantations planned to seize the arsenals, at Charleston, kill the Governor, set fire to the city, and kill every white person they saw. But in June, several nervous slaves leaked the plot to their masters, and Charleston authorities began arresting leaders. Vesey was captured on June 22, and he and the conspirators were brought to trial. Despite torture and the threat of execution, the men refused to give up their followers. On July 2nd, Denmark Vesey and five other men were hanged.

Nat Turner

Nat was considered a Prophet to his followers.
nat turner

Nat Turner was a slave and educated minister who believed that he was chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery. On August 21, 1831, he initiated his slave uprising by slaughtering Joseph Travis, his slave owner, and Travis' family. With seven followers, Turner set off across the countryside, hoping to rally hundreds of slaves to join his insurrection. Turner planned to capture the county armory at Jerusalem, Virginia, and then march 30 miles to Dismal Swamp, where his rebels would be able to elude their pursuers.

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