The Stono Rebellion, South Carolina’s most consequential slave revolt nearly three centuries ago, is the topic of the seventh annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference in September at the College of Charleston.
The conference, the Stono Rebellion and the Atlantic World, is an in-depth look at the rebellion, the largest and deadliest revolt by enslaved people in colonial British North America led by enslaved Africans along the Stono River near present-day Caw Caw Interpretive Center south of Charleston.
On Sept. 9, 1739, a group of about 20 enslaved Africans armed themselves, killed two white men at Hutchinson Store and were headed to freedom in Spanish Florida before they were caught and hanged. The uprising ended with the deaths of 30 whites and 44 Africans.
Scheduled speakers at the conference, Sept. 8-10, include national scholars, researchers and two public school educators from North Carolina and Florida who teach about slavery and Black resistance as some lawmakers across the country are trying to bar those topics from classrooms.
In South Carolina, a grassroots coalition of civil rights and education groups were successful this past legislative session to stop five so-called critical race theory (CRT) bills that would squash the teaching of history, if it includes sex, race and slavery. While the Stono Rebellion is not specifically mentioned in standards for South Carolina students, it does appear as suggested content to explore in the Alignment Guide for Grade 8, said Derek Phillips, director of communications for the S.C. Department of Education. “It could be a part of Grade 4, 6 or U.S. history and the Constitution content, if a teacher chose to include that content in instruction.”
Co-panelists North Carolina educator Valencia Abbott and retired Florida teacher Brigitta McTigue will discuss how they teach children tough topics such as slavery and rebellion. “Yes, I teach Nat Turner’s Rebellion!” is the title of Abbott’s address. She is a social studies teacher at the Rockingham Early College High School in Wentworth, N.C. “What Slave Auction Notices Reveal about the Lives of Early African Americans” is McTigue’s presentation. She is a retired teacher at Park Vista Community High School in Lake Worth, Fla.
Abbott said because she teaches high school at an early college she has more leeway than traditional teachers. “I don’t know what is taught at the earlier grade levels, but with my interaction with a summer program for our school district for elementary and middle school students, I found that no students were familiar with what I consider basic Black history knowledge, such as who is Jackie Robinson” the first black man to play in major league baseball, she said. “This was before the CRT pushback, so I am pretty sure [there is] less emphasis on any Black history or subjects that teachers fear controversial. I have heard teachers say they don’t plan to teach anything that deals with slavery. [A teacher] is not truly teaching U.S. history or even world history unless slavery is addressed.”
Enslaved people who participated in the Stono Rebellion were headed to Spanish Florida where they were promised freedom if they fought for Spain against the English. Before the rebellion, escaped slaves from the Carolina Colony established Fort Mose in 1738 north of St. Augustine, the first town of free blacks in the present-day United States. They also joined with indigenous people, the Seminoles, to wage two wars against U.S. soldiers before they were defeated and pushed west of the Mississippi River.
McTigue said, “I don’t think that most students in Florida are taught the relationship between the Stono Rebellion and Fort Mose, Spanish Florida and the Black Seminoles. The reason for this is that although the curriculum for eighth grade U.S. history covers the colonial period, the state standards don’t require the teaching of that specific topic. It is possible that some teachers decide to include this information, however.”
The U.S. history course in Florida is required in eleventh grade, but it begins with the Civil War and continues chronologically “so colonial America is not addressed in the curriculum for that class,” McTigue said. “I taught an elective high school course called African and African American History, and in my class I did teach about the Stono Rebellion and Fort Mose. [Students] found it interesting that Fort Mose was the first free Black settlement in what is now the United States. They also recognized the fact that although Fort Mose is a very important historic site, most Florida residents probably never heard of it.”
Joseph McGill, Slave Dwelling Project founder, said some politicians fear the truth of slavery and use the feelings of white students to object to Black history. “They continue to allow white supremacy to exist by defining the teaching of Black history as critical race theory. They are protecting the roles whites played in allowing racism and white privilege to persist. This fringe element has a powerful voice and wants these children to grow up to be the racists that they are. The conference is our attempt to shine a light on that.”
Organized by the Slave Dwelling Project, the conference is a collaboration with the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program and the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program (CLAW) at the college. (For more details, visit: www.slavedwellingproject.org)
The rebellion’s lasting affect
Cato, sometimes referred to as Jemmy, led the Stono Rebellion. He was able to write. Most of the enslaved who followed him were likely born along the Loango Coast that includes modern-day Angola and the Congo. After the uprising, the South Carolina colonial government tightened the slave codes, making it illegal for Africans to learn how to write.
In the 1930s, Cato’s great-great-grandson, 50-year-old George Cato of Columbia told an interviewer with the Federal Writers Project that the revolt had been a part of his family’s oral tradition for 198 years. George Cato told the interviewer after Cato and his followers were caught, “Commander Cato speak for de crowd. He say: “We don’t lak slavery. We start to jine de Spanish in Florida. We surrender but we not whipped yet and we ‘is not converted.’’ De other 43 say ‘Amen.’ They was taken, unarmed, and hanged by de militia. Long befo’ dis uprisin’, de Cato slave wrote passes for slaves and do all he can to send them to freedom. He die but he die for doin’ de right, as he see it.”
Summerville was founded in 1847 by settlers who had moved to the area from the Stono River rice plantation region, said Summerville historian Ed West. Edward Huthinson, the first mayor or intendant of Summerville, was a second generation relative of the Hutchinsons, who operated the store that was attached during the rebellion, he said.
“I do not have the genealogical work on the Hutchinson line to link Edward Hutchinson to the owner of Hutchinson’s store at the Stono more than a century earlier,” West conceded. “It is only a reasonable speculation the Hutchinsons of Summerville had eighteenth century roots in the Stono rice plantation area.”
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