Please join me in welcoming a great author guest post from Gigi Amateau,author of Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel.
I will have a review of her new release soon! Stay tuned.
Fire and Water: The blacksmith and the laundress
How is Gabriel like fire and Nan like water?
I scribbled this question in my journal while revising Come August, Come Freedom, a historical novel inspired by the eighteenth-century Virginia blacksmith, Gabriel, who organized perhaps the largest slave rebellion in American history. Fire and water were the tools of Gabriel’s trade. He put those tools to use for the rebellion, too, making weapons and bullets at his forge. He recruited thousands of enslaved men and readied the countryside for war against Virginia in demand for freedom, but this is not only the story of a fiery plot by men. One woman helped Gabriel set his plan in place. His wife, Nanny.
That Gabriel had a wife named Nanny is recorded in trial testimony. The public historical record hints that theirs was a partnership of depth and trust. Women were present at social gatherings where Gabriel recruited soldiers – at fish frys, funerals, and worship – but recruits were forbidden to share information with their wives, excepting Nanny. During the autumn trials of 1800, an enslaved man named Daniel testified that it was Nanny who revealed to him the details of the plot. She relayed the day, time, and place and informed him of the strategy of setting fire to the city as a diversion.
There, the scant public record on Nanny and Gabriel ends. I drew from my own experience of romantic love to write theirs, believing that it is possible for two people to accept each other fully as equals, that love really is generous and kind, that in love independence can flourish and produce new levels of trust and self-revelation, and that in such love neither partner has to be perfect because – flaws and all – each knows they are loved. This is the love that I aspired to create for Gabriel and Nan.
They most likely lived apart, the Commonwealth didn’t recognize their marriage, and the outcome of their future together resided largely outside of their control. Despite the cruelty of their enslavement, with each draft the fictional Gabriel and Nan took new risks and grew stronger as a couple. Gabriel forging gifts for Nan – a spoon, a necklace, a garden hoe. Nanny sewing Gabriel an extra shirt. She, asking Gabriel to teach her to read. And, he too confessing that he is afraid.
Every blacksmith uses fire to transform iron; every smith reaches for water when the work is done. As I worked on the final revision, my question had changed to: How is Nan Gabriel’s water? I read the book from the beginning and there she was: the young laundress washing clothes in Shockoe Creek, showing Gabriel where to draw water for the forge and falling in the creek because she had set her eyes on him. Nan, there by the river, helping Gabriel set his path and sealing the heat of his vision into something tangible and real. The blacksmith and the laundress, fire and water.
[amazon_link id=”0763647926″ target=”_blank” ]Come August, Come Freedom[/amazon_link] by Gigi Amateau
Candlewick | September 11, 2012 | 240 pages
An 1800 insurrection planned by a literate slave known as “Prosser’s Gabriel” inspires a historical novel following one extraordinary man’s life.
In a time of post-Revolutionary fervor in Richmond, Virginia, an imposing twenty-four-year-old slave named Gabriel, known for his courage and intellect, plotted a rebellion involving thousands of African- American freedom seekers armed with refashioned pitchforks and other implements of Gabriel’s blacksmith trade. The revolt would be thwarted by a confluence of fierce weather and human betrayal, but Gabriel retained his dignity to the end. History knows little of Gabriel’s early life. But here, author Gigi Amateau imagines a childhood shaped by a mother’s devotion, a father’s passion for liberation, and a friendship with a white master’s son who later proved cowardly and cruel. She gives vibrant life to Gabriel’s love for his wife-to-be, Nanny, a slave woman whose freedom he worked tirelessly, and futilely, to buy. Interwoven with original documents, this poignant, illuminating novel gives a personal face to a remarkable moment in history.
Connect with Gigi Amateau
Gigi Amateau is the author of Come August, Come Freedom, a work of historical fiction for young adults (Candlewick Press, September 2012), selected by SIBA as a Fall 2012 Okra Pick. She also wrote the young
adult novel, [amazon_link id=”0763630098″ target=”_blank” ]A Certain Strain of Peculiar[/amazon_link], a 2010 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year and [amazon_link id=”0763645230″ target=”_blank” ]Chancey of the Maury River[/amazon_link], a William Allen White Masters List title for grades 3-5. Her debut novel, [amazon_link id=”0763633119″ target=”_blank” ]Claiming Georgia Tate[/amazon_link] was selected as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.
She was born in northeastern Mississippi and raised in Mechanicsville, Virginia, just outside of Richmond. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Urban Studies and Planning, she worked for nearly twenty years in Richmond’s non-profit community. Gigi lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and daughter.