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Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel

Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel - Gigi Amateau Slavery is a horrible business. Could it have been even more cruel during the early years of our new country founded upon the principles of freedom and liberty? This is the story of the slave Gabriel Prosser of Virginia, who organized an unsuccessful slave revolt and was hanged for his crime.Ms. Amataeu reimagines Gabriel's early life on the Virginia plantation of Thomas Prosser, raised as a wet nurse brother, friend and playmate, of Prosser's young son. He had unusual access to education and reading, writing and exposure to the ideas of the day made an impression upon Gabriel that other slaves were not afforded. His father was a trained blacksmith, and was banished from the plantation, perhaps due to freedom talk, although the exact details are not explained. Nonetheless, the preferential treatment of Gabriel's mother and son do not protect them from the harsh realities of the brutal inhumanity of slave life.Gabriel eventually apprentices as a blacksmith like his father, and lives in the city of Richmond with freedom of movement rarely granted to slaves. It is in this context that he becomes aware of the sentiment that not all white people agree with slavery. He secretly befriends freedom sympathizers, and he also learns about the successful slave revolt of Toussiant Louverture in the French colony of Saint Domingue. This further fuels Gabriel's aspirations and he begins dreaming of the day that he, too, can live in freedom.The text is interspersed with facsimile advertisements and notices from various Virginia newspapers and there are lists, drawings, and legal orders pertaining to the insurrection, that lend authenticity to the story. Balancing Gabriel's longing for freedom is his love for a slave girl, Nanny. His quest to buy her freedom ultimately is undermined by a turn of events, but his love and devotion to her are a humanizing element to this dreadful story. It is Nanny's love and support that gives him courage to face what turn out to be his final days, and the novel ends with Nanny, awaiting the birth of their child, dreaming of Gabriel's spirit finally free with all of those who had already passed over.Amateau's prose is beautifully rooted in the natural world, and she expertly conveys the era in an accessible simplicity. Not an easy task for a time wrought with violence, irony, and the identifiable character of a young nation. The book offers another opportunity to gain greater understanding of a chapter in history that should be better known. The effort to put down news of slave revolts was vital to the success of the institution of slavery. Even today with decades of focus on black history, there is room for more understanding of these chapters in our history.