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Modern Voices
Thomas Davis on the empowerment of Africans and the Stono Rebellion
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Q: What does a revolt of this magnitude say about the Africans themselves and their sense of empowerment or sense of power within this slave society that's set up at that time?
Thomas Davis

A: In reconstructing events such as the Stono Rebellion, one of the difficulties is to understand what plan, what vision, was in the minds of the Africans and African Americans who were acting these things out. They do not often get to leave some memoir of what they had in mind. What develops from the testimonies that we usually gather are some conflicting stories as to whether the sense was that the rebels in Stono were going to be able to cut a swath from South Carolina down through Georgia into Florida. One would say that that looks like an unreasonable perspective. They were able to enjoy the success that they did in part because of the strategic moment, when they struck on a weekend without traffic around to immediately alert the remainder of the society as to what was going on. But as soon as it was learned that this group, perhaps nearing a hundred Africans, had massed and armed themselves and actually killed whites and burned plantations, the entire force of English North America was going to come down on them. Because this was an issue not merely for those in South Carolina immediately surrounding this area, this was an issue for every European colonist everywhere in the colonies -- to quash this and to provide some exemplary punishment.
Thomas J. Davis
Professor of History
Arizona State University

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