Black History Month Review – “Come August, Come Freedom” by Gigi Amateau

This beautiful but tragic story is based on actual events relating to the slave Gabriel, who had the temerity, in 18th Century Virginia, to dream of freedom.

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The author imagines Gabriel’s interior life, based on what is known about his actual circumstances. Born into slavery on a tobacco plantation in 1776, Gabriel was taught to read and write. As he grew up and acquired the skills of a blacksmith, he was also hired out to Richmond to bring in more money for his master. There he interacted with free blacks and white laborers and heard not only the ideas of freedom and equality touted by the American Revolution, but of the successful uprising in Saint Domingue led by black slaves that culminated in the end of slavery there. Why, he asked, couldn’t that happen in America?

He recruited others, and worked on obtaining weapons. Their rebellion was scheduled to start August 30, 1800. Not only did a torrential rain intervene, but two slaves confessed the plan to their masters. Many of the conspirators were caught, some were executed, and some were exiled to other states. A rare few were pardoned. Gabriel of course was not among them, and was hanged on October 10.

Ms. Amateau tries to recreate not only Gabriel’s thoughts during his life, but the reactions of his mother and later his wife, Nanny, to the exceptional man that Gabriel grew up to be. Nanny, as courageous as her husband, also participated in the planning for the rebellion. The author includes reproductions, interspersed throughout the text, of documents from the time relating to Gabriel’s rebellion, capture, sentencing, and execution.

Evaluation: The plotline of this book and of Gabriel’s true story were only bearable for me because, unlike a movie or television production, there are no visuals of violence, and no actual faces I could attach to those who would perpetuate slavery (with the notable exception of James Monroe, then Governor of Virginia). It is meant to be a book you can bear, and yet – it is hard. The prose is lovely, and explicit evils of slavery are kept to a minimum, but the pain and awfulness of slavery cannot be hidden. Nor should it be! It is a real enough story, and should be told; should be borne. Research notes are appended to the text.

While this book is being marketed as Middle Grade, I didn’t see any reason why it could not also or alternatively be labeled Young Adult or Adult.

Highly recommended!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2012

Note: On August 30, 2007 Governor Tim Kane informally pardoned Gabriel, saying that his motivation had been “his devotion to the ideals of the American revolution — it was worth risking death to secure liberty.”

Historical Marker E102 in Henrico County, VA

Historical Marker E102 in Henrico County, VA

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14 Responses

  1. Interesting that the book is meant to be easier to read. Reading the gruesome descriptions helps knowledge but it does turn people off, so having books that focus on it and not is a good thing. This story sounds quite like the rebellion in Jamaica – obviously they would be similar – in the way things ended up. Good to see the plaque in Virginia.

  2. Sounds like a fascinating story — I had not heard of Gabriel’s Rebellion. Thanks for featuring this book!

  3. I am not familiar with the story of Gabriel’s Rebellion at all. This sounds like a great pick! Awesome review!

  4. That sounds like a powerful book even if it was painful to read. The fact that it’s based on a real person makes it stand out to me.

  5. I really liked reading this-although I love American history, this was not something I had ever heard about.

  6. I would love to get this one for Booking Daughter. Sounds perfect for her.

  7. I am excited about reading this one, and like Kathy says, the fact that it’s based on a real person entices me even further. I also like that there are historical documents in the book as well. This would make a great teaching tool as well as a great read for me and the kids.

  8. I would read this one. Need to look it up for sure!

  9. Oh how sad this sounds. Sounds like a perfect Jill book! And a Jenny book for snowstorms and hot chocolate only, so perhaps I will get on that this weekend if it blizzards as expected.

  10. I have this one from SIBA and I do want to get to it one of these days. The fact that you really liked it makes me even more interested!

  11. It can be very painful to read stories like this, but it so important to do so.

  12. I should get this for Melody. I have actually seen that marker before.

  13. I’ve had this one on my wish list. I know what you mean about it being easier to read books like this when the abuse isn’t as in-your-face, but at the same time, knowing how deeply that was ingrained is important to understanding how horrible slavery was.

  14. How hard to read, but you’re right, it’s stories like these that need to be read.

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