Gabriel in this narrative becomes a rather mythical being, of vast abilities and life-Iong preparations. He bought his freedom, it is stated, at the age of twenty-one, and then travelled all over the Southern States, enlisting confederates and forming stores of arms. At length his plot was discovered, in consequence of three negroes' having been seen riding out of a stable-yard together; and the Governor offered a reward of ten thousand dollars for further information, to which a Richmond gentleman added as much more. Gabriel concealed himself on board the Sally Ann, a vessel just sailing for San Domingo, and was revealed by his little nephew, whom he had sent for a jug of rum. Finally the narrative puts an eloquent dying speech into Gabriel's mouth, and, to give a properly tragic consummation, causes him to be torn to death by four wild horses. The last item is, however, omitted in the more recent reprints of the story.

     Every one of these statements appears to be absolutely erroneous. Gabriel lived and died a slave, and was probably never out of Virginia. His plot was voluntarily revealed by accomplices. The rewards offered for his arrest amounted to three hundred dollars only. He concealed himself on board the schooner Mary, bound to Norfolk, and was discovered by the police. He died on the gallows, with ten associates, having made no address to the court or the people. All the errors of the statement were contradicted when it was first made public, but they have proved very hard to kill.

     It is stated at the close of this newspaper romance, - it may nevertheless be true, - that these events were embodied in a song bearing the same title with this essay, "Gabriel's Defeat," and set to a tune of the same name, both being composed by a colored man. The reporter claims to have heard it in Virginia, as a favorite air at the dances of the white people, as well as in the huts of the slaves. It would certainly be one of history's strange parallelisms, if this fatal enterprise, like that of John Brown afterwards, should thus triumphantly have embalmed itself in music. But I have found no other trace of such a piece of border-minstrelsy, and it is probable that even this plaintive memorial has at length disappeared.

     Yet, twenty-two years after these events their impression still remained vivid enough for Benjamin Lundy, in Tennessee, to write, - "So well had they matured their plot, and so completely had they organized their system of operations, that nothing but a seemingly miraculous intervention of the arm of Providence was supposed to have been capable of saving the city from pillage and flames, and the inhabitants thereof from butchery.


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August 2000