Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739

Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739

Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739

Cry Liberty: The Great Stono River Slave Rebellion of 1739

Synopsis

The story of slavery in the colonial New World is, in part, one of rebellion. In Jamaica, Hispaniola, Dutch Surinam and elsewhere, massive uprisings threatened European rule. But not in British North America. Between the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and the start of the American Revolution in 1775, the colonies experienced only one notable revolt, on South Carolina's Stono River in 1739, and it lasted a single day. Yet, writes Peter Charles Hoffer, as brief as this event was, historians have misunderstood it--and have thus overlooked its deeper significance.In "Cry Liberty," Hoffer provides a deeply researched and finely nuanced narrative of the Stono River conflict, offering uncomfortable insights into American slavery. In particular, he draws on new sources to reexamine this one dramatic day. According to conventional wisdom, recently imported African slaves-warriors in spirit and training-learned of an impending war between England and Spain. Seeking freedom from Spanish authorities, the argument runs, they launched a well-planned uprising in order to escape to Florida. But Hoffer has mined legislative and legal records, land surveys,and first-hand accounts to identify precisely where the fighting began, trace the paths taken by rebels and militia, and offer a new explanation of its causes. Far from a noble, well-crafted revolt, he reveals, the slaves were simply breaking into a store to take what they thought was their due, andchance events put them on a path no participant had originally intended. The truth is a far less heroic, but far more of a human tragedy.Richly researched, crisply told, and unflinchingly honest, this book uncovers the grim truth about the violent wages of slavery and sheds light on why North America had so few slave rebellions.

Excerpt

When historians debate the contours of their craft, the concepts of narrative and contingency are closely linked. The outcome of any series of events depends—is contingent— upon the decisions of individuals. Historical narrative traces the sequence of those decisions; each forking point signifies a split between roads taken and not taken. Understanding the broader context in which such decisions takes place is, of course, essential: the way a society is organized, the relations among classes, the cultural and intellectual landscapes. But narrative insists that individual actions are not merely an inevitable by-product of society’s overarching structures. So Peter Hoffer would have us recall when it comes to the literal forks in the road leading to the Stono rebellion of 1739.

Stono was the only full-scale slave rebellion to erupt in the British colonies of North America. Despite its relative magnitude, and despite the first panicked and then ferocious responses of South Carolina’s white residents, little information about the outbreak has survived. We catch glimpses of a band of slaves marching down Pon Pon Road, which linked Charleston with . . .

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