Breffu was a courageous African woman who defied the chains of oppression and led a triumphant slave revolt on the Caribbean island of St. John in 1733.
Breffu was born in the Akwamu region of present-day Ghana and was captured by slave traders at a young age. Bound for a life of unimaginable suffering, she endured the harrowing Middle Passage before arriving on St. John Island which was owned by the Danish. There, she was enslaved on a plantation owned by Pieter Krøyer in Coral Bay.
Breffu’s arrival on the John Island marked the beginning of a life of unending labour. Like other enslaved Africans, she was subjected to grueling labor in the sugar fields, her days consumed by the backbreaking work under the scorching sun. However, as the years passed, Breffu’s spirit remained strong, and she became more determined to break free from her enslavement. Secretly, she started making plans with other enslaved individuals who also desired liberation.
On November 23, 1733, the revolution began when a small group of enslaved Africans overpowered and killed soldiers stationed at Fort Frederiksvaern in Coral Bay. They also fired a cannon from the fort, signaling the start of the uprising.
The sound of the cannon signaled the beginning of the revolution. Seizing the moment, Breffu took decisive action and stormed the main house, where she killed her enslaver and his wife. Armed with stolen gunpowder and ammunition, and accompanied by fellow freedom seekers, she proceeded to other plantations.
With audacity and strategic brilliance, Breffu and her band of fighters waged a relentless campaign, targeting the very symbols of their enslavement. Plantation estates were set ablaze, and the gears of the sugar industry ground to a halt. In the ensuing chaos, European plantation owners and their overseers faced the wrath of those they had enslaved for far too long. With many slave masters fleeing the island on boats, the Akwamu people gained control of most of the territory.
The revolt sent shockwaves through the Caribbean, and its echoes reached far beyond the shores of St. John Island. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the French and Danes collaborated to reclaim the island in 1734.
They launched a relentless and coordinated assault on St. John Island in 1734, sparing no effort or resource to crush the uprising. They hit the island with everything they had, deploying their military might and strategic prowess in a bid to reestablish control over the rebellious territory.
In May 1734, as they faced imminent capture, more than a dozen men and women, led by Breffu, chose not to submit to captivity and slavery. Instead, they made a courageous and heartbreaking decision to take their own lives, shooting and killing themselves before the approaching forces could reach them.
Later, at Browns Bay, her body and the bodies of 23 comrades who made the same courageous choice were discovered. This revelation astonished a plantation owner, as he came to realize that the daring leader of the rebellion was not the man they had assumed, but an extraordinary woman named Breffu.