The Royal Colony of South Carolina

The Stono Rebellion - 1739

Stono Rebellion - Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Early on the morning of Sunday, September 9, 1739, twenty black South Carolinians met near the Stono River, approximately twenty miles southwest of Charles Town. At Stono's bridge, they took guns and powder from Hutcheson's store and killed the two storekeepers they found there.

"With cries of 'Liberty' and beating of drums," historian Peter H. Wood writes in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, "the rebels raised a standard and headed south toward the Spanish in St. Augustine. Along the road they gathered more black recruits, burned houses, and killed white opponents, sparing one innkeeper who was 'kind to his slaves.'" Thus commenced the Stono Rebellion, the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution.

Late that afternoon, planters riding on horseback caught up with the band of sixty to one hundred slaves. More than twenty white South Carolinians and nearly twice as many black South Carolinians were killed before the rebellion was suppressed. As a consequence of the uprising, white lawmakers imposed a moratorium on slave imports and enacted a harsher slave code.

Several causes have been suggested for this slave revolt, and it is probably due to a combination of several circumstances: a decline in government effectiveness brought on by an epidemic in the region, talk of a war between the British and Spanish, accounts of slaves who had obtained their freedom by escaping to Spanish-controlled Florida, and the Security Act of 1739, recently passed by the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly, and which required all white males to carry arms on Sundays because of suspicions of an imminent slave uprising.

Jemmy, the leader of the revolt, was a literate slave described as Angolan, which likely meant from the kingdom of Kongo in Central Africa. Jemmy and several other leaders of the revolt probably had experience using firearms in Africa during Kongo's suppression of the Mbamba revolt.

That same year there was another uprising in Georgia, and the next year another took place in South Carolina, probably inspired by the Stono Rebellion - at the time, colonial officials believed as much. The Stono Rebellion resulted in a ten-year moratorium on slave imports through Charles Town and enacted a harsher slave code, which banned earning money and education for slaves

In a letter dated October 5, 1739, less than a month after the Stono Rebellion, Lieutenant Governor William Bull reported to England's Board of Trade, informing them of the revolt and updating them on the status of the rebels. Bull, who had personally spread the alarm regarding the revolt, also requests that rewards be offered to Indians who would help re-capture the slaves. Click Here for Lt. Governor Bull's report.
Click Here to read a Commons House of Assembly Committee Report, in a Message to the Governor's Council on the Stono Rebellion.
In 1739, the Stono Rebellion, the worst slave rebellion in South Carolina history, broke out. In response to this rebellion, the South Carolina legislature passed the new Black Codes of 1740. These harsh laws would form the basis of race relations in South Carolina until after the American Civil War. No longer would slaves be allowed to grow their own food, assemble in groups, earn their own money, or learn to read. Some of these restrictions had been in effect before the new Act, but had not been strictly enforced.
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