The Stono Rebellion (September 9th 1739) was the bloodiest slave uprising in the Thirteen Colonies. Between 60 to 90 were killed, at least 20 of them White. It started along the Stono River in South Carolina near Charles Town (Charleston).
It was part of a wave of slave uprisings and plots in British America:
- 1733: St John
- 1736: Antigua
- 1738: Jamaica
- 1739: South Carolina
- 1740: South Carolina
- 1741: New York
Kongolese Catholics seemed to have been at the heart of the Stono Rebellion. That meant:
- They likely had experience fighting with guns from the wars in the Kongo in the 1720s and 1730s.
- The Spanish in Florida offered those who reached Fort Mose freedom and land, as fellow Catholics and to undermine the British.
Since 1732, at least 250 runaway slaves had reached Fort Mose from South Carolina.
In August 1739, South Carolina doubled its slave patrols and strengthened its militia, fearing that
“our Negroes … are more dreadfull to our safety than any Spanish invaders”
On September 7th, news hit of war between Spain and Britain. Getting to Florida was only going to get harder.
On September 9th, before daybreak, Jemmy (also known as Jimmy or Cato) and 20 other slaves assembled at a bridge on the Stono River. His master had taught him how to write, so he was able to write them passes.
They stormed a storehouse, cut off the heads of the two men who were there and took its guns and gunpowder. They left the two heads on the front step.
Then they took the Pons Pons Road south, the main road to Florida.
Along the way they killed White people who lived by the road, men, women, and children, taking their supplies, their rum, burning down their houses. They skipped past Wallace’s Tavern because Wallace was kind to his slaves.
They marched down the road shouting “Lukango!” (liberty), flying banners and playing drums while other slaves joined their ranks.
By late afternoon, when they were ten miles down the road, at the ferry crossing of the Edisto River, they numbered 70 to 100.
But then they stopped. Drunk on victory or rum or for some other reason, they danced, ate and drank.
That gave the militia time to catch up. In the shoot-out that followed, as many as 15 died. The rest ran for the woods. In the course of a week, 50 of them were hunted down and killed, their heads put on the mileposts on the road back to Charles Town. Of the rest, some probably made it all the way to Florida.
The following June, 150 slaves gathered near Charles Town to storm yet another storehouse of guns, but this time one of the slaves gave away the plot. Fifty slaves were hanged, ten at a time.
That year South Carolina became the first of the Thirteen Colonies to outlaw teaching slaves how to read. The Negro Act of 1740 also made it against the law for slaves to assemble in groups, play drums, grow their own food, make their own money and so on. It remained in force till 1865.
Thanks to Herneith for reminding me of the anniversary.
– Abagond, 2016.
- slave patrols
- Nat Turner
- John Brown
- Colonial Marines
- Queen Nzingha
- The Book of Negroes