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Coffey, John

Coffey, John

Professor of History @ University of Leicester


Professor of History at the University of Leicester. I am currently working on two projects: a book (to be co-authored with Trevor Burnard) on the Demerara revolt, and an edition of the diaries of William Wilberforce for Oxford University Press. I have published widely on religion, politics and ideas in Britain and America, including Exodus and Liberation: Deliverance Politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr (Oxford University Press, 2014). My essay on 'The Biblical Identity Politics of the Demerara Slave Rebellion' was published in G. Atkins, S. Das and B. Murray, eds, Chosen Peoples: The Bible, Race and Empire in the Long Nineteenth Century (2020).

Geographical location : Leicester, UK

Research Area and Interest : religion, politics and ideas in Britain and America

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Caribbean Warfare and Rebellion


The Origins of the Demerara Revolt: A Reassessment of 'the Ringleaders'
Summary: This year marks the bicentenary of the Demerara Revolt (1823), one of the major slave risings in the history of the British Caribbean. Although it has not received the kind of attention given to slave rebellions in the United States, the events in Demerara have been closely studied by a number of historians, most notably the Brazilian scholar, Emilia Viotti Da Costa, in her magisterial book, Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood (1994). This paper aims to build on Da Costa's work by producing a more sustained analysis of 'the ringleaders': Jack Gladstone and his father Quamina, Joseph and Telemachus, Sandy, Paul, and Paris. Using the fragments of evidence in the colonial and missionary archives, including some neglected documents, the paper reassesses their social and religious identities and their political imagination. It argues for the distinctiveness and novelty of the Demerara revolt, noting its connection to Bethel Chapel, which enhanced the status of Quamina and other teachers on the estates, shaped their political awareness, and exposed them to religious persecution from white colonists. It also puts the revolt in comparative context, setting Quamina alongside Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and Sam Sharpe.

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