Early Caribbean Evangelical Life Narrative

  • Sue Thomas
Part of the New Caribbean Studies book series (NCARS)


Sylvia R. Frey and Betty Wood attribute the success of the evangelical revival among African diasporic peoples in the American south and the West Indies by 1830 to a creolization of forms of worship and the way “evangelical institutions came to constitute important loci wherein African peoples could develop a sense of belonging and assert a cultural presence in the larger society through the creation of their own moral and social communities” (Sylvia R. Frey and Betty Wood, Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 118, 1998). The relating of life narrative in various genres, written and oral, was crucial to the formation of these communities, especially among Methodists and Moravians. West Indian evangelical life narratives circulated within particular local colonial communities, largely in oral form; in written form they reached beyond the Caribbean to different witnessing and affective audiences.

In this essay I read a range of early West Indian life narratives contrapuntally with exemplary texts of the evangelical civilizing mission in the West Indies of the plantation slavery period: the Methodist Thomas Coke’s A History of the West Indies, Containing the Natural, Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Each Island (1808–11) and a range of written and visual material by Moravian missionary Lewis Stobwasser from the 1810s and 1820s. The early West Indian life narratives offer evidence of the historical soundscapes of plantation slavery cultures and complex processes of creolization and translation in the inscription of lives, including translation of African diasporic oracy and African Caribbean cosmology to the page. The essay highlights the literary and historical significance of a genre of West Indian writing usually overlooked in accounts of the early Caribbean, draws renewed historical attention to early African Caribbean and white Creole women’s writing, and recontextualizes canonical texts such as The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself (1831).


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sue Thomas
    • 1
  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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