The Stono Rebellion of 1739

September 9, 1739

The Stono Rebellion took place on September 9, 1739, in South Carolina. It was the largest slave insurrection that took place in Colonial America.

A Slave Sale in Charleston, South Carolina. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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Summary of the Stono Rebellion of 1739

The Stono Rebellion of 1739 was a violent uprising where a large group of enslaved Africans in South Carolina attempted to escape to freedom in Florida and killed 20-30 whites. The incident started early in the morning of September 9 near the Stono River Bridge. Around 20 slaves were working there when one of them — a man named Jemmy — led the group to a nearby warehouse. They killed the two guards, broke in, and stole guns, ammunition, and gunpowder. The rebels started their march south to Florida, shouting “Liberty” and beating drums as they went. As they went along, they attacked people, burned buildings, and recruited other slaves to join them. However, not all slaves joined voluntarily. The slaves of Thomas Rose saved their master’s life by hiding him and were then forced to join the rebel march. By late morning, there were somewhere between 60 and 100 rebels marching south. They were spotted by Lieutenant Governor William Bull who alerted churchgoers to the danger. In the afternoon, a group of around 100 armed men went in pursuit of the rebels. When they caught up with the rebels near the Esosto River, they attacked and overwhelmed them. Many rebels were killed, some surrendered and others escaped. Over the course of the next two days, the militia and Native American Indian allies tracked down around 40 escapees and executed them. The South Carolina Assembly responded to the Stono Rebellion by making changes to the existing Slave Laws. The changes restricted slave activity and prohibited owners from teaching them to read or write.

Quick Facts About the Stone Rebellion

  • The Stono Rebellion is also known as the “Stono War of 1739,” “Cato’s Conspiracy,” and “Cato’s Rebellion.”
  • The apparent leader of the rebels was a man named Jemmy, who was also called “Cato.”
  • The Stono Rebellion took place on Sunday, September 9, 1739, in the Province of South Carolina. The rebels gathered near present-day Rantowles, South Carolina, in Charleston County.
  • It was the largest uprising of enslaved African Americans in the American Colonies before the American Revolution.
  • The rebels failed to make it to Florida and the uprising was put down.
Bacon's Rebellion, Bacon in Jamestown
The Stono Rebellion followed Bacon’s Rebellion, which took place in 1676. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Significance of the Stono Rebellion

The Stono Rebellion is important to the history of the United States because it led to the passage of harsh Slave Laws in South Carolina, which made conditions worse for enslaved people. It also raised concerns and fears of slave rebellions throughout the southern colonies.

Stono Rebellion for AP US History (APUSH)

Stono Rebellion APUSH Definition

The Stono Rebellion was the largest uprising of enslaved people in the colonies. On September 9, 1739, near Charleston, South Carolina, a group of slaves burned buildings and killed people as they tried to escape to freedom in Florida. Local militia stopped them. Afterward, South Carolina passed strict Slave Laws.

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Frequently Asked Questions About the Stono Rebellion

Why was the Stono Rebellion important?

The Stono Rebellion is important because it to the passage of harsh Slave Laws in South Carolina, which made conditions worse for enslaved people. It also increased the fear of slave rebellions throughout the southern colonies.

Was the Stono Rebellion successful?

No. The Stono Rebellion was not successful. The rebels failed to make it to Florida. After they were stopped, many of them were executed, returned to bondage, or sold to plantation owners in the West Indies.

Essential Facts About the Stono Rebellion

  1. The Stono Rebellion was the largest slave uprising in the British Colonies in North America prior to the American Revolutionary War.
  2. In 1733, Spain issued a proclamation that promised freedom to any fugitive slaves that could escape and safely make their way to Fort Mose in St. Augustine, Florida.
  3. The South Carolina economy relied on slave labor because plantation owners needed workers for labor-intensive crops, like rice.
  4. Slave owners used violence and slave patrols to control the slave population, but slaves were not forced to work on Sundays.
  5. The Stono Rebellion led to the passage of the Negro Act of 1740.

Effects of the Stono Rebellion

  • The South Carolina Assembly restricted the importation of slaves from Africa and the West Indies.
  • The Assembly required a ratio of one white for every ten blacks on plantations.
  • The Negro Act of 1740 restricted the activities, education, and freedom of slaves. It allowed slaveowners to regulate, control, and punish their slaves. It prohibited slaves from assembling in groups, learning to read, and learning to write.
Slave Auction, New Amsterdam
Slave auctions like this one in New Amsterdam contributed to the New York Slave Revolt of 1712. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Interesting Facts About the Stono Rebellion

  • In 1739, the black population outnumbered the white population in South Carolina.
  • In August 1739, a war between Spain and Britain was imminent. South Carolina passed the Security Act, which required all men to carry firearms to church on Sunday.
  • About six weeks later, on October 22, the War of Jenkins’s Ear started between Britain and Spain.
  • The rebels chose Sunday morning for the rebellion because most whites were at church.
  • The leaders of the rebels were from Angola and apparently gained military experience in Africa.
  • During their march, they passed by Wallace’s Tavern and let the owner live, because “he was a good Man and kind to his Slaves.”
  • Lieutenant Governor Bull hired Indians to help track down the escaped rebels.

Stono Slave Rebellion: A Documentary

This video from the South Carolina Film Institute provides an overview of the causes, events, and outcomes of the Stono Rebellion.

Narratives of the Stono Rebellion

Governor William Bull’s Account

My Lords,

I beg leave to lay before your Lordships an account of our Affairs, first in regard to the Desertion of our Negroes…On the 9th of September last at Night a great Number of Negroes Arose in Rebellion, broke open a Store where they got arms, killed twenty one White Persons, and were marching the next morning in a Daring manner out of the Province, killing all they met and burning several Houses as they passed along the Road. I was returning from Granville County with four Gentlemen and met these Rebels at eleven o’clock in the forenoon and fortunately deserned the approaching danger time enough to avoid it, and to give notice to the Militia who on the Occasion behaved with so much expedition and bravery, as by four a’Clock the same day to come up with them and killed and took so many as put a stop to any further mischief at that time, forty four of them have been killed and Executed; some few yet remain concealed in the Woods expecting the same fate, seem desperate…

It was the Opinion of His Majesty’s Council with several other Gentlemen that one of the most effectual means that could be used at present to prevent such desertion of our Negroes is to encourage some Indians by a suitable reward to pursue and if possible to bring back the Deserters, and while the Indians are thus employed they would be in the way ready to intercept others that might attempt to follow and I have sent for the Chiefs of the Chickasaws living at New Windsor and the Catawbaw Indians for that purpose….

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My Lords,

Your Lordships Most Obedient and Most Humble Servant

Wm Bull

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South Carolina Commons House of Assembly Committee Report on the Stono Rebellion

November 29, 1739

1. That upon Inquiry your Committee find that a negro man named July belonging to Mr. Thomas Elliott was very early and chiefly instrumental in saving his Master and his Family from being destroyed by the Rebellious Negroes and that the Negro man July had at several times bravely fought against the Rebels and killed one of them. Your Committee therefore recommends that the [said] Negro July (as a reward for his faithful Services and for an Encouragement to other Slaves to follow his Example in case of the like Nature) shall have his Freedom and a Present of a Suit of Cloaths, Shirt, Hat, a pair of stockings and a pair of Shoes.

2. That the several Slaves heareafter named Ralph, Prince, Joe, Larush, and Pompey belonging to the [said] Mr Thos Elliott, Sampon belonging to to Mr Wilkinson, two Negro Men and a Negro Woman (whose names your Committee do not know) belonging to Mr Thomas Rose, Two Negro Men (whose names are also unkown to your Committee) who belong to the Estate of Mr John Haynes dec’d. And one Negro Man (his name not known by your Committee) belonging to the Estate of Mr Christopher Wilkinson dec’d a Negro man belonging to Mrs Wilkson Widow named Mingo; a Mustee Man have behaved themselves very well and been a great source in opposing the Rebellions Negroes; For which your Committee recommend that they be rewarded as follows (that is to say) the Men to have each a Suit of Cloths, hat, shirt, a pair of Shoes, and a pair of Stockings, And the Women to have each a Jacket and Petticoat, a Shift, a pair of Stockings, and a pair of Shoes and also the sum of 20[lb] in Cash to each of the Slaves above named…

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7. That several of the Neighbouring Indians did assist in hunting for, taking and destroying the [said] Rebellious Negroes, For which your Committee propose that the [said] Indians be severally rewarded with a Coat, a Flap, a Hat, a pair of Indian Stockings, a Gun, 2 pounds of Powder and 8 Pounds of Bullets, Which Indians Names are as follows (that is to say) Tobb, Old Jack, Peter, Tom and Philip and five other Indians (whose names your Committee do not know) that came down to Stono with Captain Coachman.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Stono Rebellion of 1739
  • Coverage September 9, 1739
  • Author
  • Keywords Stono Rebellion, Slave Codes, Slave Laws, Negro Law of 1740
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 2, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 31, 2022

The Stono Rebellion of 1739 is Part of the Following on AHC

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