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Modern Voices
Margaret Washington on the impact of the Stono Rebellion
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Q: Tell me about Stono itself. What was the impact of that rebellion at that time, and how did it transform ideas about slavery for South Carolina and the nation?
Margaret Washington

A: Stono is important because it changed the face of slavery in Carolina, and had ramifications for other colonies as well. It solidified slavery in a way that it hadn't been before, and probably would have happened anyway. But Stono was the catalyst. And it created a sense that they had to have a population of Africans who were American-born. They largely blamed this rebellion on the fact that the Africans were African, as opposed to being Negro, that is, born in America. So the first thing they wanted to do was cut off the trade. And they did that for ten years. And, of course, economics dictated that they would open it up again. The interesting thing about opening it up again is that they began to import for the most part different ethnic groups, a long way from the Congo-Angolan region. And this fed into their whole mythology about which Africans make the best servants, when in fact it was probably dictated by the economic needs and the fact that the Africans whom they imported were familiar with what they were going to cultivate on a massive scale, which was rice.

So Stono was sort of the beginning of the development of large-scale slavery in South Carolina and the concept that the black population had to be utterly controlled. And the legislation that came out of Stono, the Negro Act, took away whatever liberties the Africans had. And even those liberties that they didn't have, which the planters allowed them anyway, even though it was breaking the law, all of those things were rescinded.
Margaret Washington
Associate Professor of History
Cornell Universiy

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