Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World

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Overview

Rebecca's Revival is the remarkable story of a Caribbean woman--a slave turned evangelist--who helped inspire the rise of black Christianity in the Atlantic world. All but unknown today, Rebecca Protten left an enduring influence on African-American religion and society. Born in 1718, Protten had a childhood conversion experience, gained her freedom from bondage, and joined a group of German proselytizers from the Moravian Church. She embarked on an itinerant mission, preaching to hundreds of the enslaved Africans of St. Thomas, a Danish sugar colony in the West Indies. Laboring in obscurity and weathering persecution from hostile planters, Protten and other black preachers created the earliest African Protestant congregation in the Americas.

Protten's eventful life--the recruiting of converts, an interracial marriage, a trial on charges of blasphemy and inciting of slaves, travels to Germany and West Africa--placed her on the cusp of an emerging international Afro-Atlantic evangelicalism. Her career provides a unique lens on this prophetic movement that would soon sweep through the slave quarters of the Caribbean and North America, radically transforming African-American culture.

Jon Sensbach has pieced together this forgotten life of a black visionary from German, Danish, and Dutch records, including letters in Protten's own hand, to create an astounding tale of one woman's freedom amidst the slave trade. Protten's life, with its evangelical efforts on three continents, reveals the dynamic relations of the Atlantic world and affords great insight into the ways black Christianity developed in the New World.

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Editorial Reviews

Books & Culture

Jon Sensbach's Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World is a winning reminder of the grave inaccuracy of the assumption of slave religions' indiscernibility. Eminently readable, and aimed at a wider audience beyond the boundaries of academe, Rebecca's Revival recounts the story of an extraordinary mixed-race former slave, neither illiterate nor invisible.
— Jonathon Kahn

The Moravian

[A] most fascinating book.
— Paul Peucker

Washington Times

There have been many recent books on slaves and slavery, nonfictional and fictional, but for an account of the remarkable life of a freed-slave-turned-evangelist, it would be hard to beat Jon F. Sensbach's Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World. Working from documents in the German, Danish and West Indian archives, plus a German missionary's book about Protestant missions in the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) published in 1777, Mr. Sensbach has put together a fascinating story that goes well beyond the biography of one brave woman.
— John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor

Journal of American History

Jon F. Sensbach's work is a detailed account of an extraordinary black woman, known as Rebecca, whose life experiences took her from the West Indies to Europe and finally to Africa...Sensbach's book, written in a way that is clear and uncluttered, is a microhistorical study of exceptionalism. Rebecca not only is an addition to the gallery of strong black women but also lays claim to being one of the most devoted and committed of eighteenth-century evangelists...The book should be a must-read for anyone interested in women's history and also for those who study the African diaspora.

— Carol V.R. George

New West Indian Guide

This book is an excellent microhistory of a West Indian-born Mulatto slave woman named Rebecca...Sensbach skillfully describes the places and events relevant to Rebecca's life and those of her Moravian co-workers throughout her odyssey, and with this illustrates the interconnectedness of Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe on a personal level...This is a good Atlantic study that sheds light on important old questions regarding the conversion of African and African American slaves to Christianity.
— Aaron Spencer Fogelman

Jon Butler
Rebecca's Revival is one of the most daring books ever published on New World slavery, a book of triumphant scholarship with a heart. Sensbach has constructed a unique biography of an enslaved convert to Christianity from startlingly detailed previously unknown sources. Sensbach's unforgettable portrait of Rebecca's circuits through Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe may be the most powerful account of African resilience in the face of New World slavery since Frederick Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom."
John Thornton
While most people think of African American history as the story of slavery, often told in statistics and usually about anonymous people, Jon Sensbach has found a fascinating biography. Painstakingly reconstructing Rebecca Protten's story from widely scattered sources, he weaves it skillfully into the Afro-Atlantic world bringing to life the whole complex web of interactions that made the early modern Atlantic such a dynamic place. Sensbach combines the patience of a master researcher with a novelist's touch for detail and human interest to give Rebecca her place in history.
Marcus Rediker
How fitting that Rebecca's life, lived with grace, commitment, and beauty, should be rendered in precisely the same way by Jon Sensbach. Here is a powerful example of biography 'from the bottom up,' a deep and moving account of an Atlantic pilgrim's progress.
Sylvia Frey
Jon Sensbach's bold historical imagination has produced an important book rich with fascinating insights about the role of African Americans in the international movement of evangelical Protestantism and the centrality of women in this movement. Sensbach's beautifully written narrative follows the travels of Rebecca Protten, the earliest known black missionary in the Americas, through Europe, Africa, and the Danish island of St. Thomas, revealing the movement of ideas and peoples to have been circular rather than an east-west progression.
Books & Culture - Jonathon Kahn
Jon Sensbach's Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World is a winning reminder of the grave inaccuracy of the assumption of slave religions' indiscernibility. Eminently readable, and aimed at a wider audience beyond the boundaries of academe, Rebecca's Revival recounts the story of an extraordinary mixed-race former slave, neither illiterate nor invisible.
The Moravian - Paul Peucker
[A] most fascinating book.
Washington Times - John M. And Priscilla S. Taylor
There have been many recent books on slaves and slavery, nonfictional and fictional, but for an account of the remarkable life of a freed-slave-turned-evangelist, it would be hard to beat Jon F. Sensbach's Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World. Working from documents in the German, Danish and West Indian archives, plus a German missionary's book about Protestant missions in the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) published in 1777, Mr. Sensbach has put together a fascinating story that goes well beyond the biography of one brave woman.
Journal of American History - Carol V.R. George
Jon F. Sensbach's work is a detailed account of an extraordinary black woman, known as Rebecca, whose life experiences took her from the West Indies to Europe and finally to Africa...Sensbach's book, written in a way that is clear and uncluttered, is a microhistorical study of exceptionalism. Rebecca not only is an addition to the gallery of strong black women but also lays claim to being one of the most devoted and committed of eighteenth-century evangelists...The book should be a must-read for anyone interested in women's history and also for those who study the African diaspora.
New West Indian Guide - Aaron Spencer Fogelman
This book is an excellent microhistory of a West Indian-born Mulatto slave woman named Rebecca...Sensbach skillfully describes the places and events relevant to Rebecca's life and those of her Moravian co-workers throughout her odyssey, and with this illustrates the interconnectedness of Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe on a personal level...This is a good Atlantic study that sheds light on important old questions regarding the conversion of African and African American slaves to Christianity.
Publishers Weekly
Sensbach, a professor of history at the University of Florida, offers a fascinating study of a woman and a religious revival in the 18th century. His heroine is Rebecca Protten, a freed slave living and working in the Dutch colony of St. Thomas. Born around 1718, Rebecca was freed by her master, for reasons the historical sources do not reveal, sometime after 1730. Always religiously inclined, her commitment to Moravian Christianity blossomed under the tutelage of Friedrich Martin, a German missionary who came to St. Thomas in 1736. Within two years, Rebecca's piety and religious education had impressed Martin so much that he commissioned her as a fellow evangelist. Sensbach chronicles Rebecca's remarkable life, which included two marriages (one interracial), a grueling arrest and lots of travel, including to Europe and Africa. During an age when thousands of Africans were transported as slaves to the Americas, Sensbach notes that Rebecca "lived as a kind of reverse cultural bridge." Scholars will appreciate Sensbach's ability to successfully translate what is often understood as an "American" story into the whole Atlantic world. This book is a rare gem, reminiscent of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale; Sensbach's detective work in piecing together spare Dutch and German sources to recreate Rebecca's life is astonishing. His prose is fluid and graceful, his mind is sharp and the story he tells is riveting. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674022577
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 387,201
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon F. Sensbach is Associate Professor of History, University of Florida.
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Table of Contents

Prologue

1. A Baptism of Blood

2. Rebirth and Remembrance

3. A Priestly Woman

4. The Path

5. Witness

6. The Devil's Bargain

7. A Pilgrim in Europe

8. Christiansborg

Epilogue: Rebecca's Shadow

Abbreviations

Notes

Sources

Acknowledgments

Index

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