Calling Out Liberty
Mississippi University Press, 2009

On Sunday, September 9, 1739, twenty Kongolese slaves armed themselves by breaking into a storehouse near the Stono River south of Charleston, South Carolina. These rebels killed twenty-three white colonists, joined forces with other slaves, and marched toward Spanish Florida. There they expected to find freedom. One report claims the rebels were overheard shouting, “Liberty!” Before the day ended, however, the rebellion was crushed and many surviving rebels executed. South Carolina responded quickly with a comprehensive slave code. The Negro Act reinforced white power through laws meant to control the ability of slaves to communicate and congregate. It was an important model for many slaveholding colonies and states, and its tenets greatly inhibited African American access to the public sphere for years to come.

The Stono Rebellion serves as a touchstone for Calling Out Liberty, an exploration of human rights in early America. Expanding upon historical analyses of this rebellion, Jack Shuler suggests a relationship between the Stono rebels and human rights discourse in early American literature. Though human rights scholars and policy makers often offer the European Enlightenment as the source of contemporary ideas about human rights, this book repositions the sources of these important and often challenged American ideals.

Available from University Press of Mississippi or 

A short podcast on ITunes U.

Cited by U.S. Catholic, Journal of Human Rights, and Counterpunch.


“Shuler argues that “[human rights] another idea, one which is coming to shape the course of national and international relations, one which may provide a framework for future world order, had an early and forceful shout out right here in the Lowcountry.”—Will Moredock, The Charleston City Paper

 “Jack Shuler’s Calling Out Liberty: The Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights…provide[s]  important new insights into the struggle for liberty and equality by people of African descent in the eighteenth-century South Carolina Low Country.”—Rhondda Thomas, The South Carolina Review

The book makes a “real contribution to the historiography of the affair by examining it in its larger Atlantic context.”—Douglas Egerton, Reviews in American History

“[Shuler’s] goal is not simply to understand human rights as they are currently presented, but rather to see them in their potentiality.”—Illan rua Wall, Law, Culture and the Humanities

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