In Embracing Protestantism: Black Identities in the Atlantic World, author John W. Catron argues that the people of color in the Atlantic world who adopted Protestant Christianity did not become African Americans but instead assumed more fluid Atlantic-African identities.
“The first study to consider, on a circum-Atlantic scale, how conversion to Afro-Protestant Christianity encouraged a ‘middle path’ between exclusionist ethnic African identities and deracinated Atlantic creole identities.”—Douglas B. Chambers, author of The Igbo Diaspora in the Era of the Slave Trade
“Sheds new light on the details of black Protestant conversion in the Caribbean and North America, illuminating a significant black Christian consciousness in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.”—Rosanne Adderley, author of New Negroes from Africa: Slave Trade Abolition and Free African Settlement in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean
While slavery and white supremacy dominated North America, and citizenship and economic mobility were off-limits to most people of color, the Atlantic World offered access to the growing abolitionist movement in Europe. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people of African descent living in port towns such as Charleston, English Harbor, Nassau, and Freetown created new identities—forged with inputs from Africa, Europe, and Native America—all in an attempt to achieve freedom.
Catron examines how the wider Atlantic World allowed membership in transatlantic evangelical churches that gave people of color unprecedented power in their local congregations and contact with black Christians in West and Central Africa. It also channeled inspiration from the large black churches then developing in the Caribbean and from black missionaries. Unlike deracinated creoles who attempted to merge with white culture, people of color who became Protestants were “Atlantic Africans,” who used multiple religious traditions to restore cultural and ethnic connections. This religious heterogeneity was not only a critically important way black Anglophone Christians resisted slavery, but it also helped to foster and strengthen the early black church in America.
John W. Catron is an independent scholar living in Gainesville, Florida.