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Modern Voices
Margaret Washington on the idea of freedom for Stono rebels
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Q: For Jemmy (leader of the Stono Rebellion) and for others, what is their idea of freedom or liberty? Their rebellion is basically an effort to escape. Escape to where? Escape to what? What is freedom ?
Margaret Washington

A: One has to ask an African in Carolina trying to get to freedom, what is freedom? What did it mean to them? We know that the Africans who comprised the Stono uprising carried banners, and the banners said "liberty." So we know that they had a concept of what liberty and what freedom meant. They were on their way to St. Augustine because of the signs specifically that the Spanish had posted, offering liberty to any British slaves who got that far. So Florida represented freedom.

But also in Florida were independent black communities as well. So we don't have to think of them as going to the Spanish. We have to expand our concept of what they thought of as liberty. And it did not necessarily mean going to St. Augustine to be with the Spanish. It could mean setting up their own communities in Florida. It could mean setting up another community in South Carolina. But it did mean getting away from Europeans and living on their own.
Margaret Washington
Associate Professor of History
Cornell Universiy

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