Princess Breffu, a proud African woman who is from Akwamu, in the nation of Ghana, who was enslaved in the Danish West Indies, has been credited with leading one of the longest recorded slave rebellion in the North American history.
Denmark began to involve itself in the African slave trade in 1657. Fifteen years later, in 1672, after defeating the local Taino Indians, they began colonizing three West Indies Islands, which were St. Jan which is now St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, the Danish West Indies which is now also the U.S. Virgin Islands. These islands soon became the center for these three cash crops: sugar cane, cotton, and coffee. Plantations were then established, sugar mills were built, and the people who were enslaved were brought from West Africa to provide labor for these enterprises.
By the beginning of the 18th century, the Danish West Indies and Guinea Company had focused its slave trading operations in and around the city of Accra in what we now call Ghana. The Akwamu people of the Akan region had defeated the Accra slave trade and enslaved the conquered tribal members before selling them to the Dutch. Eventually the Akwamu were defeated by the Akyem people after the death of their ruler, King Ansa Sasraku, and by 1730, many Akwamu people, who were now enslaved, were sold to Danish slave traders and transported to the island of St. John, in Danish West Indies.
Later in the year 1733, in retaliation for the rough treatment and harsh living conditions, the enslaved people across the island of St.John, including many arrived Akwamu people who were new, fled their plantations and hid in the woods where they planned a rebellion. They were organized by members of the Akwamu royal family who were also enslaved and were residing on different plantations. The leaders included: Prince June, Prince Kanta, King Bolombo, Prince Aquashie, and Princess Breffu who was also enslaved on the plantation of Pieter Kröyer in Coral Bay, in St. John.
Early on November 23rd, in 1733, slave insurrections begun on the St. John island. A local magistrate, Johannes Sodtmann, was killed at Coral Bay’s plantation. Soon afterwards the enslaved people were admitted into Fort Fredericksvaern to deliver wood as regularly as they did, and once they were inside, they killed the guards at the entrance with knives which were previously hidden inside of delivered wood.
At the sound of the cannon being fired at the fort, the signal which was first, Princess Breffu burst into the main house of the Kröyer plantation and killed both Kröyer and his wife. Breffu and her followers took all the guns, gunpowder and ammunition on the Kröyer plantation and accompanied by fellow slave called Christian, Breffu then proceeded to the Van Stell family house, where she killed three members of the plantation owner’s family.
Some of the slave masters were able to get off the island on boats and canoes and the people of Akwamu gained control of most of the territory. With Breffu as their leader, the Akwamu people took control of most of St.John Island, destroying a lot of homes and burning crops. The plan of taking over the plantations was successful until the early part of 1734, lasted until early in April 1734 when the French military agreed on helping the Danes gain control of the island once again.
In late April, Breffu and twenty-three of her followers committed suicide in a ritual ceremony on Brown’s Bay to evade the capture. By April or May 1734, her body was discovered at Browns Bay, along with the other 23 rebels who had committed suicide, at which a plantation owner recorded his surprise that, “one of the leaders of the rebellion, Breffu, whom none of us ever knew, and whom we have assumed to be a man having murdered my son Pieter Krøyer and his wife, is a woman.”
The French soldiers had crushed the rebellion and Dutch plantation owners returned to their properties. The last of the Akwamu rebels were killed by August in the same year, ending the nine-month slave trade rebellion. Breffu is remembered till now as the “Queen of St. John” and is celebrated every year with a parade and re-enactment of the insurrection.
Breffu has been dramatised as the “Queen of St John” in the play “Three Queens” In a 2006 production, Princess Breffu was portrayed by the academic Jaweh David.
She has also featured as a subject in festival floats at St John celebrations.
- St. John Tradewinds (19 June 2006). “Three Local Queens Embodied in Chautauqua Series”. St. John Tradewinds. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
- Andrea Milam (5 July 2014). “New Troupes Dance Through Cruz Bay Alongside Old Favorites at 60th Anniversary Festival Parade”. St. John Tradewinds. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
- “The story of Breffu, a female slave from Ghana who led a massive slave revolt to take over the West Indies in 1733”. Face2Face Africa. 2018-09-03. Retrieved 2019-09-17.