Coffy: The Enslaved African Who Led a Major Slave Revolt Against the Colonial Regime in Guyana in 1763

Coffy, also spelled as Cuffy, Kofi or Koffi, was an enslaved man of Akan descent, played an important role in leading a major slave revolt, rallying more than 3,800 enslaved individuals against the colonial authorities in Berbice, present-day Guyana in 1763.

Cuffy: The Enslaved African Who Led a Major Slave Revolt Against the Colonial Regime in Guyana in 1763
1763 Monument on Square of the Revolution in Georgetown, Guyana, designed by Guyanese artist Philip Moore

Born in West Africa, cuffy was forcibly taken from his homeland and thrust into the brutal system of slavery on the plantations of the Dutch colony of Berbice, in what is now known as Guyana. However, it was in the face of such adversity that Coffy would rise to lead one of the most significant slave revolts in colonial history.

In the early hours of February 23, 1763, the Berbice slave uprising erupted with the burning of the Magdalenenberg plantation, as enslaved individuals rebelled against their dehumanizing conditions. This initial act of defiance sparked a rebellion involving an estimated 3,000 enslaved Africans.

As the revolt gained momentum, colonialists fled the area, leaving behind a group of approximately 40 people who sought refuge in a house on one of the plantations. Tragically, they found themselves surrounded by 500 formerly enslaved Africans. The house was set ablaze, and those attempting to escape were met with gunfire, as recounted by writer and historian Karin Amatmoekrim.

Coffy, already living on the Lilienburg plantation as a house-slave, soon emerged as a central figure in organizing the uprising into a formidable force. Under his leadership, the rebellion spread rapidly across neighboring plantations, striking fear into the hearts of the colonial rulers.

As the rebellion gained momentum, Coffy’s strategic acumen became evident. He transformed the disorganized masses into a disciplined military unit, seizing weapons and supplies from the plantations they overran. Coffy’s leadership prowess was recognized by his fellow rebels, who acclaimed him as their governor, marking a symbolic shift in power dynamics.

Despite their initial successes, the rebels faced formidable opposition from the colonial forces determined to crush the uprising. Governor Wolfert Simon Van Hoogenheim marshaled military reinforcements to quell the rebellion, leading to a series of bloody skirmishes. However, Coffy remained undeterred, even proposing a partition of Berbice to avoid further bloodshed.

Below is a photo of one of the letters that the Dutch governor received from Coffy – taken from the Dutch Archives in Amsterdam.

Cuffy: The Enslaved African Who Led a Major Slave Revolt Against the Colonial Regime in Guyana in 1763

Part of the letter reads, “We will give Your Excellency half of Berbice, and all the negroes will retreat high up the rivers, but don’t think they will remain slaves. The negroes that Your Excellency has on his ships – they can remain slaves.”

However, the Dutch governor postponed his response, insisting that the decision must be made in Amsterdam, a process that could take up to four months. In the meantime, he was arranging backup troops.

Internal divisions and external pressures eventually took their toll on the rebel forces. Disputes arose among the leaders, and a faction led by Captain Accara, who served as Coffy’s deputy in military affairs, emerged in opposition to Coffy’s leadership. This internal strife weakened the rebels, paving the way for their eventual defeat. On October 19, 1763, it was reported that Coffy had taken his own life, marking the tragic end of a valiant struggle for freedom.

By March, 1764, reinforcement from Holland had crushed the resistance. The 1763 Berbice Slave Rebellion cost the lives of over 1,800 slaves and about 40 of the colonists. It was the first major slave revolt in the continent of South America.

As punishment, the Dutch colonists tortured, hanged, dismembered, and burned alive those slaves they believed were responsible for the uprising or had taken on leadership roles.

Despite the ultimate failure of the rebellion, Coffy’s legacy endures as a symbol of resistance and resilience. In Guyana, he is revered as a national hero, and his courageous stand against oppression is commemorated annually on Republic Day. The 1763 Monument, also known as the Cuffy Monument, stands as a towering tribute to his memory and the indomitable spirit of those who dared to defy tyranny.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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