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Calling Out Liberty

Calling Out Liberty: The Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights

Jack Shuler
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Calling Out Liberty
    Book Description:

    On Sunday, September 9, 1739, twenty Kongolese slaves armed themselves by breaking into a storehouse near the Stono River south of Charleston, South Carolina. They killed twenty-three white colonists, joined forces with other slaves, and marched toward Spanish Florida. There they expected to find freedom. One report claims the rebels were overheard shouting, "Liberty!" Before the day ended, however, the rebellion was crushed, and afterwards many surviving rebels were executed. South Carolina rapidly responded with a comprehensive slave code. The Negro Act reinforced white power through laws meant to control the ability of slaves to communicate and congregate. It was an important model for many slaveholding colonies and states, and its tenets greatly inhibited African American access to the public sphere for years to come.

    The Stono Rebellion serves as a touchstone forCalling Out Liberty, an exploration of human rights in early America. Expanding upon historical analyses of this rebellion, Jack Shuler suggests a relationship between the Stono rebels and human rights discourse in early American literature. Though human rights scholars and policy makers usually offer the European Enlightenment as the source of contemporary ideas about human rights, this book repositions the sources of these important and often challenged American ideals.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-473-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XIII)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. XIV-XVI)
    (pp. 3-10)

    Stories shape lives and perspectives. Thus, how history is told generation after generation is crucial. I am reminded of an event from my own childhood in South Carolina. I cannot recall the exact circumstances, but on one occasion a friend’s father told me that, in fact, African Americans had it easy during slavery. When I told my father about this conversation, he was apparently disturbed and decided this was a teachable moment. He took me to the county courthouse and showed me a list etched into a wall of all the men from Orangeburg County who had died fighting in...

    (pp. 11-34)

    One account of the stono rebellion describes the scene, early on the morning of September 9, 1739, as a group of slaves made its way down the Pon Pon Road in the direction of Florida. The writer, who may or may not have been James Oglethorpe, claims, “Several Negroes joined them, they calling out liberty, marched on with colours displayed, and two drums beating, pursuing all white people they met with, and killing man, woman, and child when they could come up to them” (“Account” 234). That these slaves were shouting “liberty” may simply have been in the author’s imagination....

  7. Chapter 2 DISSENSION IN THE RANKS Regarding, Evaluating, and Revealing Slavery in Eighteenth-Century America
    (pp. 35-65)

    In the fall of 1774 Englishman Thomas Paine arrived in Philadelphia carrying with him an introductory note from Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s first media moguls. At that time, Philadelphia was the center of colonial communications, displacing Boston in no small part due to Franklin’s press. Having achieved much since his humble beginnings working for his abusive brother in Boston, Franklin was connected to printing presses throughout the Americas. This network included partnerships in Philadelphia, New York, Lancaster, New Haven, and Antigua. In 1731, after the South Carolina government offered a reward of 175 pounds sterling to any printer willing...

  8. Chapter 3 CLAIMING RIGHTS The Stono Rebels Strike for Liberty
    (pp. 66-95)

    One of the earliest contacts Europeans had with the land that some natives calledChicorawas during a reconnaissance mission supported by a Spanish planter named Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón. These Spanish explorers invited a group of Native Americans onto their ships and then proceeded, without warning, to set sail for Hispaniola. In some ways this auspicious beginning would serve as the opening salvo in the continuous warfare of slavery that would eventually entrench itself in the sands of Carolina. From the moment a group of English investors gained control of the territory in 1663—a gift from King Charles...

  9. Chapter 4 NEGRO ACTS Communication and African American Declarations of Independence
    (pp. 96-115)

    For a colony trying to establish its presence among the growing community of British colonies on the east coast of North America, a violent slave rebellion would be horrible press, to say the least. American colonists were generally aware that slave rebellions were common in the West Indies but wished to ignore the potential and actual rebellions in their own backyard. After Stono, theSouth Carolina Gazetteexerted a media blackout, but word of the event leaked nonetheless, and letters and reports written by white South Carolinians depicted heightened anxieties and desires for swift retribution.¹ Stories of the rebellion appeared...

  10. Chapter 5 THE HEIRS OF JEMMY Slave Rebels in Nineteenth-Century African American Fiction
    (pp. 116-140)

    Benedict anderson asserts that a nation is “an imagined political community” (6). Such a nation “is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this alliance that makes it possible, over the past two centuries for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings” (7). Nations promote “fellow-feeling”; they create bonds of identity. As I note in chapter 1, Anderson also acknowledges that in early America “print-capitalism . . . made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to...

  11. Chapter 6 PLANTATION TRADITIONS Racism and the Transformation of the Stono Narrative
    (pp. 141-166)

    At first glance, the business card appears somewhat innocuous. One side reads: “Stono Phosphate Co., Charleston, SC, Established 1869.” But on the other side is a cartoon image right out of the blackface minstrelsy tradition or, perhaps, plantation myth literature: a happy “darky” with a wide grin on his face and a hoe in his hand chases after a smiling watermelon. In the background, one espies an “African” hut. Below the image is the following text:

    Stand back, Nigger, drop dat hoe.

    You can’t ketch melon of de ole Stono.

    A little nonsense now and then,

    Is relished by the...

  12. Chapter 7 DOIN’ DE RIGHT The Persistence of the Stono Narrative
    (pp. 167-183)

    We’re standing on a narrow causeway jutting into the marsh grass about one hundred yards to the west of Highway 17, the Savannah Highway, a stone’s throw from where the rebellion supposedly began. It’s a warm spring day, sun shining, fiddler crabs darting away as we walk along a narrow path. Centuries ago, rice would have been growing on either side of us. Here and there you can just make out the earthen banks that would have surrounded that rice. From the highway, all one can see is a strip of land strewn with oaks and cedars—in the midst...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 184-194)
    (pp. 195-210)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 211-217)