We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.
The notion of perpetual enslavement was something that those who were relegated to that condition, by and large, was a lot that they would refused accept. The hundreds of mutinies aboard slave ships and uprisings on plantations bore witness to the spirit of resistance that was present within the souls of those enslaved Africans of the past. With these acts of resistance, there was always a religious overtone that was present. While many historians record that the enslaved Africans that were involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade were either Muslim or African Traditionalists, there is a much overlooked culture that was also present amongst those unfortunates taken from West Africa; that culture being Israelite culture. The following video below from the movie Amistad depicts captured Africans on board a slave ship singing praises to YHWH, the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This footage, along many others from the age of Blaxploitation, also referenced the so-called African-Americans as the lost tribe of Judah from among the children of Israel.
It is with this conundrum in mind that this article sets out to establish the cultural significance of the Hebrew and Messianic Scriptures in the lives of Prosser, Vesey and Turner, who, at the very least, related their experiences to those of the Israelites, perhaps even going as far as identifying themselves as their flesh and blood descendants.
THE JUSTICE OF ELOHIM
Martin, the brother of Gabriel, who was the conspiracy’s leader, answered Woolfolk with a citation to Leviticus: “I read in my Bible where God says, if we will worship him, we should have peace in all our Lands, five of you shall conquer an hundred and a hundred, a thousand of our enemies.” 
In an article by Dr. Jan Garrett entitled Black Christianity and the Prophetic Church, an insight into the religious world of enslaved African people is given from the views of the founder of Black Liberation Theology, Union Theological Seminary Professor James Cone. Drawing a clear line between the religious worlds of the oppressed and the oppressor, Dr. Garrett states that
the experiences of the oppressed…produces a greater than usual concern for social justice and this concern will be expressed in religious experience as it develops within such communities.
As such, Professor Cone goes on to say that certain aspects of Western religious life, such as theology, which connotes a more “rational and highly systematized reflection about God,” was not present amongst African people in captivity. What Dr. Garrett does go on to identify amongst our ancestors was more of a practical belief system, one in which social justice was at its center. It is in this vein that the writer goes on to say that Professor Cone is a firm believer that
…[t]he justice of God has been the dominant theme of black religious thought. Blacks, says Cone, have always believed in the living presence of God who establishes the right by punishing the wicked and liberating their victims from oppression. [He understands that] one …cannot escape the judgment of God. This may happen sooner (in this world) or it may happen later (in the next). Because whites continued to prosper materially as they increased their victimization of Blacks, Black religion came to speak more often of the later than of the sooner. But the idea of hope is closely linked to the themes of justice and liberation. Cone says that Black people’s hope is based on their faith in God’s promise to not leave the little ones alone in bondage.”
It was in this hope that in the year 1800, one Gabriel Prosser of the Thomas Prosser plantation in Richmond, Virginia, sought to remove the shackles of enslavement from his and his plantation mates necks. Though not much evidence of this conspiracy by Gabriel and his two brothers is presently extant, there is an undeniable reality that Gabriel and his co-conspirators were inspired greatly by the successful revolt of Santo Dominiqueand the Haitian victory of enslaved Africans over the French and British led byToussaint Louverture.Nonetheless, what is known about Gabriel’s Conspiracy is that it set all of colonial America ablaze with a crippling fear of the ever present prospect of slave revolts.
It is said of Prosser that he was a man with deeply spiritual convictions, highly literate, and had an oratorical gift as well as the ability to organize others with his exceptional leadership skills . Challenging his fellow enslaved brothers and sisters to think, Gabriel and his brothers Martin and Solomon used stories and citations from Scripture to present ideas about claiming their liberty and overcoming their oppressors by force for the occasion of their freedom. Often referring to the tale of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, Gabriel’s voice amongst his peers was said to be like the trumpet of the archangel Gabriel, God’s messenger . Though the role that the Bible played in this conspiracy has never been irrefutably proven, James Sidbury writes in his essay, Reading, Revelation and Rebellion, that
The best evidence of the role of religion in the conspiracy, however, and the best window into the sacred world of the conspirators, is the brief exchange in which the Bible was actually cited…Given the rather sparse documentary record produced by the trials associated with Gabriel’s conspiracy, it is certain that most of what the conspirators said to one another has not survived for historical analysis. The argument between Ben Woolfolk and Martin [co-conspirators] referenced above is the only one of those recorded conversations that mentions the Bible, but that does not mean that it was the only conversation in which the Bible played a role.
In these terms, both Gabriel and his brother Martin were not of the mind, as were many of their contemporaries, of waiting for the justice of the Most High to be dispensed by some supernatural force or event; instead they were intent on actively participating in the cause and pursuit of justice through their means and agencies as inspired by the Hebrew and Messianic Scriptures. In this light, Gabriel and his followers were said to have used the Scriptures to both interpret the injustices they experienced and to get an understanding of what their role was in relation to their unjust conditions forced upon them. Given these terms it becomes more than evident that their plan to revolt against their enslavers was thought to be righteous, noble and even holy. Yet and still, Gabriel was full aware that it would take more than just stories from the Bible to persuade his plantation mates that they had the power to not only revolt against their slave masters, but also to gain their long sought freedom. Even though Gabriel’s plan of insurrection had gathered over one thousand recruits who were ready to carry out the plot of laying seige to Richmond and kill anyone who had attempted to stop them, his plan was foiled by two members of the plot who had told White Virginians of the plan to capture Richmond due to the word of postponing the insurrection not reaching them in time and their proceeding to carry it out, only to be captured and interrogated, willingly confessing that Gabriel was the conspiracy’s leader. Eventually, Gabriel and his other conspirators were rounded up at the behest of the then Virginian governor and later President of the United States, James Monroe. At his trial, Gabriel remained silent throughout the deliberations. Along with co-conspirators, Gabriel Prosser was sentenced to death and was hanged on October 7, 1800. The aftershocks of Gabriel’s conspiracy pierced the thinly held veil of security that was already present among White enslavers, being that news of the Toussaint victory had reached nearly every plantation in the embryonic American colonies. It was clear to the plantation owners that there was a looming sense of justice that lied deep within their prized livestock, and Gabriel’s conspiracy nearly brought the fears that surrounded that for the enslavers to life.
LOVE KNOWS NO GREATER SACRIFICE THAN TO LAY DOWN ONE’S LIFE
At almost every meeting, it was said, Vesey or one of his comrades read to us from the Bible, how the children of Israel were delivered out of Egypt from bondage. That theme was struck insistently: the deliverance from Egypt, the movement of God among his captive people. No wonder then, that in some Black tradition it was said that Vesey or his fellows were the inspiration for the ageless Black song of faith and struggle, ‘Go Down, Moses… (Vincent Harding, from There is a River).
The city of Charleston, South Carolina, was a cultural hotbed for people of African descent during the early nineteenth century. Boasting of one of the largest centers of Black populations in the United States, a whopping 51,585 Blacks to 15,402 Whites according to the 1790 census, Charleston during this time, had well up to 90 percent of tbe city’s wealth and political power in the hands of Blacks. Though there were more enslaved Blacks than free in the city, there were also notable Black institutions such as the Brown Fellowship Society and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as Black figures like Morris Brown that caused Blacks in Charleston to strike constant fear and suspicion in the hearts of their White residents. To add to their apprehensions, in comparison to the developing Richmond, Virginia, where Gabriel’s conspiracy had just taken place, Charleston had more literate Blacks and access to more knowledge about current events and history which extended much further in Charleston, moreso than any other city of its time with the exception of New Orleans. It is with these elements in Charleston where Denmark Vesey’s plot was hatched.
Scholars are unsure of the date of birth for Vesey, whose given name was Telemaque but one thing is for certain about his life, he was fully convinced that there was no peaceful way to end slavery. A well educated and traveled man and also extremely literate, Vesey purchased his freedom at the age of thirty after winning the lottery in Charleston the very same year that Gabriel’s rebellion was planned in 1800. Possessing an entrepreneurial heart and considered an able carpenter, Vesey operated a successful carpentry shop from which he was able to earn several thousand dollars by 1817, making him a wealthy man by the standards of his day . It would have been easy for Vesey to selfishly continue to enjoy the fruits of his labor and not take notice of the suffering of his people around him, but being that his wife and children were still enslaved in Charleston, Vesey took on the spirit of a liberator due to this fact in addition to the love he had for his people and willing gave his life for the cause of his people’s deliverance from enslavement.
Seemingly a rebel by nature, Vesey refused to accept the prevailing notions of Black inferiority, and believed himself to be, and taught his children, otherwise. He was considered a courteous and considerate man, but he had adamantly refused to take on a subservient nature to his White Charlestonians; never bowing before the Whites or yielding to their demands to step aside when they walked past him. Considered an anomaly of his day, Vesey regularly read from the Scriptures to his children, as well as to enslaved Africans who would often visit his house. It is said that after reading from Scripture
…he would apply the theme of the story to everyday life. “You are as good as any man,” he told them. “We are slaves,” they would reply. “And for saying so, you deserve to be enslaved,” he’d fire back. “You will remain slaves as long as you believe you are!” 
Refusing to accept the lot that had fallen on his people, Vesey was zealous for the liberation of his people. A man of unshakable integrity and deep conviction, Vesey is said to have embodied everything that he professed. His demeanor was threatening to the local authorities, but nevertheless, he refused to compromise his principles to appease and make comfortable the Whites of Charleston. The McKissack’s write that it was Vesey’s profound spiritual lifestyle, in particular, as well as white paranoia about Blacks gathering together in large numbers without White supervision, that was the main factor that led up to Vesey’s idea of insurrection. Seeking to exploit their fears, Vesey, who in league with other leaders from the AME church, which was viewed with great suspicion from its inception, such as his in command Peter Poyas, his chief lieutenant Gullah Jack, an enslaved Angolan who would lead the conspirators in prayer and rituals and gave them amulets to protect them when in battle, and Monday Gell, who would regularly read news chronicles to stay abreast of the present conditions in Charleston and the world, highly organized his band of rebels to carry out their plans. Unlike Gabriel’s conspiracy, Vesey’s revolt is well documented and it is clear that the spiritual dimension of their efforts was central to their ideology. So much so, that Sidbury states
The most important text was the Bible. Vesey’s conspiracy centered on a church–the Charleston congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church–and Vesey and other leaders laid repeated and specific claim to a special ability to interpret God’s Word. In part these assertions grew out of the leaders’ institutional responsibilities in the city’s various evangelical churches: a resident of nearby Savannah, Georgia, reported that the “ring leaders” were all “[Methodist] class leaders or [Baptist] Deacons.” Vesey and his followers enhanced the authority of their church offices by actively contesting white interpretations of the Scripture. The insurrectionary leaders denied that the Bible sanctioned slavery or that it required obedience. Vesey reinforced his allegation that whites offered slaves an adulterated interpretation of God’s word by pointing out to his followers that a white clergyman had “made a Catechism different for the Negroes”–an observation whites had to concede. The Charleston magistrates who reported on the Vesey conspiracy implicitly conceded on the importance of biblical interpretations by effectively attempting to refute his theology of resistance in their public proclamation of Vesey’s guilt. Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy, then, offers an unusually richly documented example of slaves and some free people of color coming together through the evangelical efforts of a small charismatic group to forge a textual community….
Being that Vesey’s vision was well rooted in the imagery and ideas of the ancient Israelites, it was natural for him to identify his people and himself as the natural descendants of those people described in the Scriptures. This accounts for the rationale of his exclusive exegetical methods by which he applied various biblical texts to the remedies for the conditions that he had once before and others who had actually lived in during those times. Largely drawing from the Exodus narrative, it was his focus on the TaNaK/Old Testament that he scrupulously studied in order to prove from it that the enslavement of his people was anathema. It was through his scholarship, reasoning processes and ability to effectively articulate his vision that Vesey had gathered to him a willing cadre of men who would also come to bear the vision that he was given about the Scripture’s promises of their deliverance based on their obedience to the law and willingness to stand against their oppressors. And though Vesey’s plot was thwarted by co-conspirators who had sold him out after too been racked by fear, he was captured on 22 June, 1822, and hanged on 3 July 1822. On the day of his hanging, Vesey died at the age of fifty-five, not once speaking a word to his captors, chosing to die a martyr’s death for the sake of his people.
REVELATIONS OF FREEDOM
For six years, from 12 May 1825 to February 1831, the outcast prophet remained silent about his insurrectionary visions. He prayed and fasted, but he did not tell the blacks of Southampton about his premonitions of war. According to The Confessions, he told no one of his visions until an eclipse of the sun in February of 1831: “[T]he first sign appeared…and immediately on the sign appearing in the heavens, the seal was removed from my lips, and I communicated the great work laid out for me to do, to four in whom I had the greatest confidence” (An excerpt from Dr. Jakobi Williams’ Nat Turner: The Complexity and Dynamic of His Religious Background).
Old Bridget was wise and gave the boy her knowledge of roots and herbs for healing purposes. Nat’s mother believed in the “old ways” from Africa. She believed in reading prophetic signs. She must have seen something at Nat’s birth, because according to him, “she told me I was here for some great purpose” .
In William Styron’s classic book The Confessions of Nat Turner, Turner recounts from his childhood how his earliest first impression and central memory was how he had been anointed a prophet by others in the Black community. He considered himself to be a child prodigy, being highly literate, though untutored, and profoundly conscious of spiritual realities, Turner had taught other slaves to read and write mere months before the rebellion, something too had been recently outlawed in Virginia by Whites due to the fear instilled in them by educated Blacks who were able to actually read the Bible and deduce that their lot was something that should not have been. And though it was largely unlikely that Blacks were able to read even when it was legal for them, Turner had excelled with his literacy and naturally gravitated towards reading the Hebrew and Messianic Scriptures. The combination of Turner’s rearing by his grandmother in the old ways of Africa and his reading of the Scriptures created a unique ideology within him. Though he had taken on many of the views of Gabriel and Vesey, Turner’s world was marked by more ecstatic visions and dynamic, prophetic language. In fact, Dr. Jakobi Williams, an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky, says about Turner in his essay, Nat Turner: The Complexity and Dynamic of His Religious Background, that
Nat Turner’s religious conditioning and upbringing were extremely dynamic. For the most part, the substance and intricacies of African Christianity and pre-Christian African religions in the culture of the enslaved, which have an indelible place in the formation of Nat Turner, are undervalued. In order to understand Nat Turner’s religious background, one must first understand the dynamics of the merger of African religion and European Christianity, which resulted in African Christianity, and its role in the “New World.” Once these understandings are established, one must consider the roles that these complex and dynamic religions played in the development of slave religion and how this aspect of slave culture was responsible for the religious conditioning of Nat Turner.
Nat Turner was deeply religious and faithful to God. He had several revelations that he interpreted as instructions for him to lead his people out of bondage. Thus, Turner led the insurrection believing that he was fulfilling his duty to God and that God was on side. Turner’s first revelation occurred during early 1825 while he was at his plough. This revelation consisted of a “Spirit” that told him, “seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.” Later on in this decade, Turner had other revelations: He envisioned “white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened…” he discovered “drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven”; and he “found on the leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes, portrayed in blood…” Finally, the Spirit visited him once again and “said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that [he] should take it on and fight against the Serpent…” Turner interpreted these revelations as his duty to God to rise up and overthrow his oppressors. He accepted his duty and waited for God to give him a signal to strike and do what he understood to be the work of God. After witnessing a day-long eclipse of the sun and moon on August 13, 1831, Nat Turner was convinced that God had given him a sign to lead his people out of bondage.
Confirmed in his own mind and that of the community as a prophet, Turner worked to divine his sacred mission. He had to serve the Lord, but what he was called to do remained unclear. Turner redoubled his spiritual effort to learn what the God of the Israelites had in mind for a modern prophet of a different people enslaved people. At the same time, he prepared other slaves to hear God’s revelations from his lips. Communicating with his fellow slaves the revelations he witnessed, Turner noted, “they believed and said my wisdom came from God.” He told them more and more of his visions and related that “something was about to happen that would terminate in fulfilling the great promise that had been made to me” .
Because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against authorities, against the world-rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual matters of wickedness in the heavenlies (Ephesians 6.12).
by Qorbanyahu bayn Israel