The First Atlantic Revolution? Islam, Abolition, & Republic in West Africa & the Americas, 1770-1806

Professor Butch Ware, Department of History at UC Santa Barbara

In the last decades of the 18th century intrepid revolutionaries overthrew a centuries-old monarchy and forged a new state—one without kings and committed to radical new principles of human liberty. But this revolution did not unfold in France, neither in her Caribbean colonies, nor even in those of the British crown. Africa was the theatre for these early struggles over the moral, intellectual, and political stakes of the age of revolutions. This talk will rehearse the tale of an Atlantic drama whose main actors were Black Muslim clerics, soldiers, peasants, and former slaves. These men and women conceived a vision of government by a particular set of Islamic principles as the solution to the unprecedented problems of the age of enslavement. For almost forty years they sought to manifest that vision—against long odds and with imperfect execution. Their struggle has been largely forgotten, but it was once well known in many quarters of the Atlantic World. The revolution was discussed in fashionable drawing rooms in London and Paris, and recounted in slave quarters from Antigua to Georgia. Revisiting it here recasts Muslim Africans at the center of the dramas convulsing revolutionary America.