America’s First Black Christians
334 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Hardcover | 9780268202804 | August 2022
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268202828 | August 2022
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268202798 | August 2022
This volume examines the influence of African Catholics on the historical development of Black Christianity in America during the seventeenth century.
Black Christianity in America has long been studied as a blend of indigenous African and Protestant elements. Jeroen Dewulf redirects the conversation by focusing on the enduring legacy of seventeenth-century Afro-Atlantic Catholics in the broader history of African American Christianity. With homelands in parts of Africa with historically strong Portuguese influence, such as the Cape Verde Islands, São Tomé, and Kongo, these Africans embraced variants of early modern Portuguese Catholicism that they would take with them to the Americas as part of the forced migration that was the transatlantic slave trade. Their impact upon the development of Black religious, social, and political activity in North America would be felt from the southern states as far north as what would become New York.
Dewulf’s analysis focuses on the historical documentation of Afro-Atlantic Catholic rituals, devotions, and social structures. Of particular importance are brotherhood practices, which were critical in the dissemination of Afro-Atlantic Catholic culture among Black communities, a culture that was pre-Tridentine in nature and wary of external influences. These fraternal Black mutual-aid and burial society structures were critically important to the development and resilience of Black Christianity in America through periods of changing social conditions. Afro-Atlantic Catholics shows how a sizable minority of enslaved Africans actively transformed the American Christian landscape and would lay a distinctly Afro-Catholic foundation for African American religious traditions today. This book will appeal to scholars in the history of Christianity, African American and African diaspora studies, and Iberian studies.
Jeroen Dewulf is director of the Center for Portuguese Studies and professor in the Department of German and Dutch Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of a number of books, including The Pinkster King and the King of Kongo: The Forgotten History of America’s Dutch-Owned Slaves and From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians.
"Atlantic history at its finest, Jeroen Dewulf's Afro-Atlantic Catholics convincingly shows us why any study of social life in early modern Europe, Africa, or the Americas must take African Catholicism seriously. Dewulf not only shows us the ample reach and diversity of Catholic institutions but also offers a methodological lesson in studying the Atlantic world as an interconnected web, a single constellation. As comprehensive as it is insightful, this persuasive book is a welcome reminder that one of the most enduring legacies of Africa in the Americas might very well be Catholicism." —Michael Iyanaga, College of William & Mary
“Jeroen Dewulf revolutionizes our understanding of the development of African American Christianity. Based on an extraordinary range of historical documents, the resulting narrative restores justice and dignity to countless generations of enslaved Africans who responded to harsh living conditions by organizing their own mutual-aid organizations focused on solidarity, care, comfort, and pride.” —Hein Vanhee, curator and historian at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium
"Black Christianity in America has long been studied as a blend of indigenous African and Protestant elements. Jeroen Dewulf redirects the conversation by focusing on the enduring legacy of 17th-century Afro-Atlantic Catholics in the broader history of African American Christianity." —American Catholic Studies Newsletter